As the authorities continue efforts to restore normalcy following the looting and arson being perpetrated by hoodlums across the country after the #EndSARS protests by the youth against police brutality, HAKEEM GBADAMOSI, SUNDAY ADEPOJU, INIOBONG EKPONTA and YOMI AIYELESO write on the effect on high profile politically exposed individuals.
GLOBAL index on acts of violence rates Nigeria as one of the top most violent countries in the world. For example, a study by the World Economic Forum (WEF) ranks the country third among the top five of such countries. A common denominator in all the studies, including the one by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), considers domestic conflicts, number of violent crimes, economic deprivation, the cause of such unenviable records include terrorism and prevalent acts of violence, which is generally among the youthful segment of the more than 200 million population. Conditions that bred and led to such unenviable record by the country are in legion. Data obtainable from the reservoirs of studies, research and survey by reputable national and international organisations is frightening on the shape of violence in world’s most populous Black nation.
Experts say, going by the data obtained from the report of the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the population of youths eligible to work is about 40 million but with only 14.7 million fully employed and another 11.2 million not employed. Many concerned individuals, including senior citizens, world leaders and international organisation had consistently warned against the potential danger in the burgeoning number of unemployed youths in the country. In particular, a former President Olusegun Obasanjo and former British Prime Minister, David Cameron had separately in the past raised the alarm over the levity the country was handling the crisis of confidence between government and the youths over the state of affairs. According to them, the problem constitutes a time bomb because of the lack of profound and affirmative action by the authorities to tame gang violence, including banditry, militancy, abduction, kidnapping, cultism and insurgency. Coupled with those challenges are the criminal neglect of rural areas where majority still reside, over-population and the influx of small arms into the country due to porous borders.
To assuage the angry populace, the political elites are already offering Greek gifts. For instance, Governor Udom Emmanuel, of Akwa Ibom State offered job palliatives to no fewer than 3,000 beneficiaries in a desperate bid to assuage protesting youths in his domain. It was in the wake of hoodlums hijacking the protest and burning banks and other public buildings, looting shops. A bewildered Emmanuel quickly announced job palliatives, including vocational trainings in Information and Communications Technology (ICT); agriculture, oil and gas and Small Medium Enterprises (SMEs) as part of his plans to calm frayed nerves.
Suddenly, there are frenzied talks about a myriad of schemes being rolled out for the youths. One of them is the new N75 billion Nigerian Youth Investment Fund, with 500,000 youths as target and loans ranging from N250, 000 to N5 million per applicant. It was approved by the Federal Executive Council (FEC) in July 2020 at a time the National bureau of Statistics (NBS) estimated that 21.7 million youths were roaming the streets due to unemployment, while the political elite display ostentation. While the people generally wallow in poverty, the ruling class flaunt their wealth acquired because of their singular privilege of having access to political power.
Campaign promises are substantially in the breach after elections; youths hired as thugs to prosecute elections are left in the cold to fend for themselves ostensibly with lethal arms and ammunitions already in their possession. Crumbs are only thrown at a few of the electorate by those helped to secure public mandate or offered appointive offices. Scores are made sacrificial lambs before, during and after elections, especially during electioneering. And politics has virtually become a veritable platform for illegal enrichment, as well as a monopoly of the money bags with questionable means and resources to capture power.
During the activities of the rampaging hoodlums, it was intriguing that politicians were literarily left to sort out themselves with their constituents as the ‘bad boys’ went berserk in a number of states. Streets were deserted; the hoodlums and miscreants occupied the nooks and crannies of the major cities and highways. While soldiers were confined to their barracks, policemen, including the feared Riot Policemen were also withdrawn and kept at bay, despite their being the friends of the people.
From Kaduna to Plateau, Kano, Kogi and Kwara states in the North down to Lagos, Edo, Rivers and a number of other states in the South, some politicians were made to bear the brunt of the inadequacies and defects in governance in the country. Hoodlums vented their spleen on the properties of high profile politicians. In Cross Rivers State, a former governor of the state, Donald Duke, was said to have tendered an apology to the rampaging hoodlums on looting spree to sheathe the swords and embrace peace. His appeal came on the heels of wanton destruction of property through arson and looting by the criminals that capitalised on the peaceful EndSARS protests against the police brutality in the country.
In neighbouring Akwa Ibom State, hoodlums also engaged in brigandage, attacking and setting ablaze government buildings, banks, shopping malls. There were also cases of brigands descending on Kaduna; Kogi; Kwara; Ekiti; Anambra; Imo; Enugu and Ebonyi with most terrifying scenarios recorded in Edo, where the hoodlums forced jailbreaks and in Delta State, where they wreaked havoc on public facilities. The atmosphere in Oyo was equally tense, culminating in pockets of violent confrontations between hoodlums and law enforcement agents. The home of a serving senator, Teslim Folarin, was invaded by hoodlums. Generally, however, many have commended the mature way the state governor managed the period of the protests and the attendant fallouts. While virtually all the states in the southern part of the country imposed partial or total curfews in their states to stem the tidal wave of mayhem and arson, the governor adopteda different but thoughtful and dynamic approach to absorb the pressure occasioned by the hijacking of the protest by hoodlums. So, many applauded the maturity Makinde deployed to tame hoodlums in their rapacious appetite for arson and looting. The governor acknowledged the cooperation of the youths with him to restore law and order after the EndSARS protest and announced plans by his government to roll out policies that will further address their grievances and demands of youths. A statement by Mr Taiwo Adisa, the Chief Press Secretary to Governor Makinde, said: “Today, the rest of the country is acknowledging the fact that normalcy has returned to Oyo State without locking anywhere down. So, I want to use this opportunity to thank everyone in the state for their cooperation, particularly our youths. They protested and communicated the grievances they had. They put all of them forward. We have heard them and I have personally engaged them. And I want to give them the assurance that we have listened and in weeks to come, we shall roll out policies that will address those grievances.”
Reports from Akure showed that most highly exposed politicians in Ondo State were in the panic mode as hoodlums attacked public and private property, especially those belonging to politicians. The hoodlums attempted to attack the residence of the chairman of All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state, but were repelled by security operatives. However, they headed to the Oyemekun office of the APC and torched the building after looting and vandalising the place.
The hoodlums also moved to the state secretariat of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Alagbaka and set the whole building and property ablaze. In Okitipupa, vandals visited the residence of the Executive Director of the Niger Delta Power Holding Company (NDPHC) and an aspirant of the APC in the just concluded governorship election in the state, Mr Ife Oyedele, destroying and set some section of his house on fire. A number of other public property were also set ablaze in Okitipupa, including police station, school shuttle buses, a Correctional centre in Okitipupa, among other structures.
But the governorship candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) narrowly escaped being killed when he ran into hoodlums along Ijare road. They accused him of selling out during the recent election in the state by supporting Akeredolu against his kinsman, Eyitayo Jegede. “As they moved towards me, I pulled back in reverse for about 500 metres, to avoid accident and then I jumped down and started running while they started running after me throwing stones. I was lucky to get an okada rider who took me away. It was one of my ex-students who later came to collect my car keys in my house and brought it home.” The hoodlums, though, razed the campaign office of Akeredolu and some vehicles parked in the premises, with most political leaders in the state condemning the attack on individual and destruction of property by the hoodlums. At a joint meeting, the state chairmen of the PDP and APC, Fatai Adams, and Ade Adetimehin respectively, condemned destruction of property, especially in Akure, advising the youths against being used by politicians. The PDP chairman, Adams, said that any hoodlum that attacked any individual or property should be handed over to security agents. He noted that: “Political leaders have come together and agreed that the peace, progress and development of Ondo state is our priority. I want to appreciate our youth, political leaders and security agencies for their understandings. The APC chairman, Ade Adetimehin, described the “destruction of property in the state as uncalled for. “We are appealing to all indigenes of this state that we must all come together to put an end to this violence and burning of our property. I appeal to you all to embrace peace. This peace can only be initiated by you and it is only from you that peace can return to our land and on behalf of political leaders in the state, we are appealing to you that this is your state we must all put our hands together to develop this state.”
In Ekiti, a former deputy governor of the state and chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) , Dr Sikiri Tae-Lawal, noted that the #EndSARS protests demonstrated the fact that government always considered the people in all its dealings. In his opinion, the protest will make government to be responsible and responsive to the yearnings of the masses. #EndSARS protest is the fact that it make government to behave responsibly and think of the masses at all times and let me say that I hope president will work on the demands put forward by our teeming youths. All that is happening now in the country is because the economy is extremely bad and our people, especially the youths are suffering, no employment for them and government must do something to address the situation. It is my belief that our country going forward will be a change and responsive nation.”
On his part, the South-West publicity secretary of the APC, Mr Oladapo Karounwi, said that the protest confirmed the assertion that power truly belongs to the people and not those in position of authorities. Karounwi explained that programmes and policies of government must, at all times, reflect the desires of people and that the people should not be taken for granted. “Going forward, there must not be gap between the people and the government in the best of the country and that when any decision is to be taken, the masses should always be considered.
Other prominent individuals also offered the way forward in the face of the crisis, which they said called for soul-searching. Speaking on the protests and the aftermath, Senator Kola Balogun representing Oyo South Senatorial District said that both those individuals out to effect profound change in the running of the government and the main political actors had some useful lessons from the whole development. His words: “Yes there are a number of lessons to learn from EndSARS Protests. One, government officials, elected and appointed, must embrace governing philosophy that will be in tandem with the yearnings and aspirations of the people. Two, when the agents of change are planning to bring about the desired change, the political economy of the operating environment must be taken into consideration, lest the movement be hijacked by the criminal elements, and 3, the authorities must be circumspect in the use of force in dealing with the situation in a democracy.”
About two months ago, Obasanjo challenged the youth on the need to bring an end to the politics of hegemony and gerontocracy in the country. In a keynote address he delivered at an interactive session to mark the 2020 International Youth Day organised by the Youth Development Centre, an arm of the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library in Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital, the former Nigerian leader asked them to realise that their destiny was in their hand. “Unless you squeeze out those who are in the office and those who want to remain in office perpetually, some after the age of 80, they will not want to be out. The type of change I am talking about, that I believe we can all embark upon, is to subscribe to the constitution of political parties in favour of youths; or if you like it, you call it affirmative action in favour of youths. For instance, if you say, in the constitution of a political party, not less than 50 per cent of those who hold executive office within the party will be less than 40 years,” Obasanjo reportedly said.
Has the buildup to that template begun with the #ENDSARS protests by the Nigerian youth?