As the nation continues to count its losses to the arson perpetrated by hoodlums at the wake of the protests against police brutality, President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday pleaded again for peace, assuring the victims of the violence that justice would be done.
A wave arson, looting and killings have convulsed many states of the federation since last week when hooligans seized the #EndSARS protests against police brutality to vandalise public and private assets.
The violence, which worsened after last Tuesday’s shooting of peaceful #EndSARS protesters at the Lekki Tollgate, Lagos, has spread to states in all the six geopolitical zones, with those in the South-west worst hit.
Buhari, briefing while briefing the Council of State, comprising his predecessors, had said last Friday that at least 69 people have been killed in the protests raging across the country.
He had given the breakdown of the death toll as 51 civilians, 11 police officers and seven soldiers.
With the breakdown of law and order occasioned by the violence, many states have imposed curfews to curtail looting and vandalism.
However, the president, in a statement yesterday by his media aide, Malam Shehu Garba, pleaded with Nigerians to maintain peace and brotherhood, saying the incidence of last week did not speak well of the country.
Explaining that he had avoided going into a debate about the Lekki Tollgate incident until all the facts are established, he assured Nigerians that the victims of the protests would get justice.
Buhari commended the decision of the Lagos State Ministry of Justice to prosecute 229 suspects arrested for allegedly using the protests to destroy and loot public and private property.
He condemned hate messages and eviction notices to ethnic and religious groups asking Nigerians to take pride in the fact that the country’s diverse people have been living with one another in harmony for ages.
He came down very hard on the attacks and the organised looting and plundering of public and private property in many states, saying they are inimical to public good.
The president, who described the actions as criminal, added that it could weaken and erode the confidence of the people and that of foreign businesses in investing in the economy.
He warned that his government will not fold its arms when an otherwise legitimate and peaceful protest is turning into a free-for-all vandalism and looting.
Buhari stated: “A government that has launched a massive crackdown on corruption, brought in strong laws for a decisive battle against corruption, pursues loot recovery at home and abroad, and taken strong decisions against those who thought they were above the law, will not fold its arms when an otherwise legitimate and peaceful protest is turning into free-for-all vandalism and looting.
“While the administration has, for its part, blocked so many means of looting public money in a war against corruption, it is the expectation that all civil authorities, community and religious leaders in the country must rise against the organised looting and plunder we are witnessing in parts of the country. Families must turn back children who bring home unaccounted goods, in the same way, wives must ask their husbands to return looted items brought home.”
He warned further that looting and vandalism will hurt trade and investment growth in the country, both large and small industries, as well as our hardworking people in the informal sectors of the economy.
The president added that the incidents did not reflect well on any society, as they were wrong and condemnable and should not be supported by reasonable members of society.
Buhari also expressed optimism that the judicial panel of inquiry would assist the nation to give justice to peaceful protesters who lost their lives, security men who were murdered and property owners whose assets were vandalised and looted.
The president stated that it is important that the police and other security agencies move in to restore calm and normalcy as quickly as possible.
Meanwhile, in furtherance of the presidential directive to ministers to go to their home states to calm frayed nerves, the Minister of Defence, Maj. Gen. Bashir Magashi (rtd) and his Agriculture and Rural Development counterpart, Mr. Muhammad Nanono, yesterday appealed to youths in Kano State to always embrace dialogue as a tool for negotiation with government in pressing home their demands, and to give peace a chance in all their undertakings.
A statement by the office of the Minister of Defence said the appeal was made by the ministers at an all-inclusive stakeholders peace meeting organised in Kano at the instance of the ministers aimed at complementing the efforts of the state government in achieving lasting peace in their domains as directed by the president.
The parley, which came a few days after Buhari’s nationwide broadcast, focused on the way forward to taking the youths off the streets for useful engagements in nation-building.
In a joint speech read by Magashi, the ministers advised the youths to explore the profitability of buying into the various government initiatives targeted at making them key drivers of the nation’s Micro Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME), while taking ownership of the N75 billion National Youth Investment Fund meant for their upliftment.
The statement, signed by the Special Assistant, Media, to the Minister of Defence, Mr. Mohammad Abdulkadir, said the Kano State Governor, Dr. Abdullahi Ganduje, represented by the Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Mr. Murtala Garu, thanked the president and the ministers for their commitment to promoting peace in Kano State.
He also admonished the youths to shun fake news capable of threatening national unity.
Attacks Targeted at Weakening South-west Economy, Say Govs, Ministers
In a related development, South-west governors and ministers from the region yesterday expressed shock at the level of the destruction of the public and private assets in Wednesday’s arson and looting in Lagos State. They described it as an attempt to weaken the economy of the South-west.
The governors and the ministers were in Lagos to commiserate with Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu over the large-scale destruction of public and private facilities by hoodlums who had hijacked the #EndSARS protests by youths.
The delegation of governors and ministers was received by Sanwo-Olu who showed them pictorial evidence of the violence before visiting some the torched assets – the Lagos High Court, the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) building and the Forensic Lab.
Many sighed endlessly; others were simply shaking their heads. Some brought their phones and took photographs of the “scenes of war.”
At a joint press conference held after the tour, Chairman of South-west Governors’ Forum, Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State, likened Lagos to a war zone given the extent of the destruction.
He said the violence was unwarranted, suggesting an agenda beyond the youth demonstration against police brutality.
He said: “We are deeply concerned with the ease with which public buildings, utilities, police stations and investment of our people have been burnt despite the proximity of security agencies in those areas. The development leaves us with no other option than to believe that there may be other reasons for continued protests, well-coordinated and funded.
“We are particularly worried that 48 hours after the unfortunate incident at the Lekki Tollgate by persons adorning military outfit, there has been no definitive statement from the military authorities on the incident. Our anxiety becomes heightened by the categorical denial of the governor of Lagos State concerning military deployment. No governor has powers to authorise the deployment of military personnel in Nigeria.”
The governors also condemned “sacrilegious” attack on the palace of the Oba of Lagos and decried what they called “vile attack” on All Progressives Congress (APC) National Leader, Senator Bola Tinubu, and businesses in which he has interests.
Akeredolu said the regression into savagery exposed South-west’s vulnerability to manipulation by divisive elements bent on annihilating the region’s economic prosperity and destroying its common heritage.
The governors applauded Sanwo-Olu for his patience and the manner with which he handled the situation.
The forum demanded an investigation into the circumstances that led to the destruction of public assets and private businesses in Lagos.
“We commend Governor Sanwo-Olu for his administrative acumen. We note his patience and understanding in the face of unwarranted provocation by agents of darkness. We stand resolutely with him at this trying period. We urge our youths to rise up and defend our land against diabolical incursion ravaging our space. We cannot continue to fold our hands and watch our heritage destroyed,” Akeredolu said.
The South-west governors also disowned the war-mongering rhetoric of a man, Adeyinka Grandson, in a video circulating on social media. They urged the Yoruba and non-Yoruba residents in the South-west to disregard the threat of violence issued in the video, saying the “secessionist” has no authority to speak for the Yoruba.
Akeredolu said: “The element (Adeyinka Grandson) has no authority to speak on our behalf. We call on our brothers who are non-Yoruba natives to go about their normal businesses without fear. South-west region will continue to be made habitable for all.”
Minister of Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, said the visit by the ministers was at the instance of the president, noting that they were shocked by the extent of the destruction wreaked by the arsonists.
Fashola hailed Sanwo-Olu for his untiring efforts to restore peace in the state and cautioned those posting inflammatory comments in social media to desist from the act.
He urged all Lagos residents to unite and collectively address the cause of the violence, stressing that the state government needed the support of all in unravelling the truth.
Other governors in the delegation included Oyo and Ekiti States, Mr. Seyi Makinde and Dr. Kayode Fayemi.
Other FEC members, who visited Sanwo-Olu, include Minister of Sports and Youth Development, Mr. Sunday Dare; Minister of Interior, Mr. Rauf Aregbesola; Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Chief Adeniyi Adebayo, Minister of State for Health, Senator Olorunnimbe Mamora; Minister of State for Niger Delta, Senator Omotayo Alasoadura, and Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Mr. Olamilekan Adegbite.
Lagos Requires N1tn for Repairs, Says Gbajabiamila
Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, who also visited Sanwo-Olu, condemned the violence and destruction of property in Lagos, saying the state will require N1 trillion to rebuild damaged facilities.
“The governor was just telling me now, it is going to take about a trillion naira to rebuild Lagos; that makes my heart heavy and I asked the governor how much is the next budget, and he said, it’s about a trillion naira. That will cover salary, overheads, capital, growth, development. Now, you are forced to look for a trillion naira to rebuild and compensate.
“You can see we are going backwards; in reverse, we must always think of consequence – foreseen or unforeseen and intended and unintended action. I encourage the young people to let us sit at the table,” he stated.
Gbajabiamila, who was accompanied by members of the House from Lagos State, urged people not to read ethnic dimension to the issue, promising that the National Assembly will assist in rebuilding Lagos and other states affected by the violence.
He said: “This certainly is not Lagos State of our dream that we all talk about. I believe that no matter how brave or face anyone put into it, even the protesters have their regrets that things went this far.
“From my understanding and from what I have seen, those who were for the protests and those who did not join were all affected. It is very unfortunate to see the level of destruction.”
Akpabio, Enang engage youths in Akwa Ibom
Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, also told stakeholders in Uyo that Buhari has directed all ministers and aides to appeal to youths in their states and regions to eschew violence.
Addressing the youths at Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital, Akpabio urged them to shun violence, stressing that Buhari also noted with concern that the region has suffered enough destruction by militants before now.
Akpabio said he was saddened by the violence caused by hoodlums, who hijacked the #EndSARS protest to cause destruction and looting of public and private property in Uyo.
The minister urged the youths to shun acts capable of truncating the peace enjoyed in the region.
He urged the youths to embrace programmes and policies rolled out by the president aimed at addressing the challenges of the area.
“We have gone round and seen the level of destruction in the state; it is a sordid site. People were working in all these places they destroyed. This is very sad and regrettable. This must stop.” He said, adding: “I am constraint to address you on the #EndSARS protest, which started peacefully and has turned into mayhem and criminality.”
Also, the Commissioner representing Akwa Ibom in the Federal Character Commission, Mrs. Dora Ebong, and Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta, Senator Ita Enang, advised the people to shun violence.
Ebong urged those who are aggrieved about federal character issues to forward their demands to the commission for attention.
Duke Embarks on Trouble-Shooting Mission to C’River
Also, a former Governor of Cross River State, Mr. Donald Duke, has stated that the youths have been badly bruised by the older generation, hence their quest for redress.
Duke said the reaction of the youths was an expression of indignation over the manner they have been cheated by the older generation that has mismanaged the resources of Nigeria.
Duke, during an interview with journalists in his Calabar residence, said having spoken in their own way, the youths must be heard and their grievances addressed.
He said: “The youths have been badly bruised and their scars must be well taken care of. The youths are telling us something not in words but in actions; they are speaking in their own manner because people speak differently, some speak in parables too.
“The youths have to forgive us first because we are the ones who are managing their resources, and they are telling us that our management is poor; they cannot be silenced; they must be heard.
“If there is right to life, then there is right to livelihood. Giving them a job or engaging them is not a privilege but a right. There is a trust deficit between the people, especially the youths and the government. Our democracy is 21 years already; we can’t wait to be fools at 40.”
The former governor said it was high time the youths were listened to and attended to in order to bridge the trust deficit that exists between them and leaders in government.
On the violence and looting of public property in Calabar and its environs during the weekend, the former governor said: “What we experienced in Cross River for the first time is a deep-seated resentment from the people who feel a certain state of hopelessness. We must, therefore, ask ourselves as leaders where we got it wrong with a view to doing more because what the youths are saying is that we have not done enough.”