Irony of a country: Hounding peaceful protesters; Pampering bandits -by Lateef Adewole

Lateef Adewole
Lateef Adewole
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By Lateef Adewole

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Deal of the day

“To ignore evil is to become accomplice to it.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

Some days ago, I saw a viral picture containing two other pictures merged in it. One part shows Sheikh Gumi and his crew sitting in the midst of gun-toting, fully-armed multitude of bandits.

Many of them in military outfits. The picture was taken while he visited their enclaves two weeks ago in his self-appointed intervention efforts to appeal to the bandits terrorising the northern Nigeria to give peace a chance, air their grievances and lay down their weapons.

The other in the merged picture is the picture of the peaceful protesters in Lekki tollgate, who were arrested last Saturday for daring to express their displeasure and attempt to voice their opinions peacefully, against the pronouncement of the Lagos Judicial Panel on Restitution for Victims of Police Brutality. They are also to investigate the incident of shooting of peaceful protesters, which happened last year on October 20th.

The panel, in a ruling by five members, gave permission to the operator of the tollgates, Lekki Concession Company (LCC), to proceed to take over and begin repairs of the facilities. Subsequently, they will start operation. This was perceived as injustice to the victims of the shooting of that night, given the allegation of complicity against LCC in the whole saga. And since the panel has not gotten to the root of the matter with many questions still remained unanswered. This shocked and angered many people, especially the youths who looked up to the panel for justice.

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Some members of the panel also disagreed with that decision. Consequently, the youth representative on the panel, Rinu Oduola, pulled out of the panel. The representative of the Civil society Organisation (CSO), Mr. Ebun Adegboruwa (SAN) also excused himself from sitting in the panel for few days. Two other members also disagreed. With all due respect to the eminent members of the panels remaining, the truth is, many people will not take the panel seriously again and will not expect much from it, especially concerning the investigation of “Lekki shootings”, as October 20th is called.

One prominent person, whose membership gave serious credence to that panel is Mr. Adegboruwa. Being an activist who many trusted could not be compromised, had given hope to them that the Lagos state government is sincere about the panel to give restitution, though, an interested party too, given that the request to deploy soldiers was said to be at the instance of the state governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu. So, the disagreement of these people, who are seen not to be “government’s people” could cast aspersion on the panel and it’s outcomes.

My worry is that, let this not affect the cases against those SARS and other police officers, whose human right abuse cases were brought before the panel. They are incredibly too many to mention. Anyone who has followed the panel’s sittings will cry for many of the victims of police brutalities. Some are permanently deformed from it. Many lost everything they had except their lives. Many lost loved ones. So, all their cases should not go to naught.

Mr. Adegboruwa said he could not sit on that panel investigating police brutality and human right abuses, while the same police continues in the same acts as witnessed last Saturday. The people, who were about 40 in all, including the comedian, Debo Adebayo, popularly known as “Mr. Macaroni”, were arrested immediately they came out to protest. They were striped naked, tightly packed in a commercial bus like “sardines”. Some were transported in “black maria”, a vehicle used to carry prisoners.

The police were mindless of Covid-19 protocols. They helped to observe them in breach because, before the arrest, the protesters were all in nose masks. The viral video of the incident must have embarrassed the State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Hakeem Odumosu, who issued a statement where he directed the Deputy Commissioner of Police, State CID, Panti, Adegoke Fayoade, to analyse the video and bring the culprits to book.

It could be seen and heard from the video, how the police officers ill-treated the innocent protesters. One even cursed and threatened them in Yoruba language; “ogun lo ma pa yin” (god of iron will kill you). My reaction was like; “haba, olopa, ewontepe?” If such acts could be displayed publicly in broad daylight, what would have happened when they took them to their stations?

This made many to believe the subsequent narration by Mr. Macaroni, of their ordeals in the hands of the police officers, in another video he did after their release. He claimed that they were transferred to Adeniji Police Station, where they were given thorough beating and dehumanised while being naked. He also said they were told that they would have all been “wasted” (killed), had it been the incident was in the night. What does that mean?

Was that an admission of extra-judicial killings by those police officers accused of making that statement? Did that ring any bell? It sounded like a pattern. But, I will stop my mind from running riot. Why would police officers behaved so unethically, so unprofessionally in such manners they did on Saturday? Will they ever learn anything? Similar acts of brutality, abuses and extrajudicial killings were what led to the massive #EndSARS protest last year, which snowballed into the unfortunate conflagration. What is wrong with these people?

I will never be party to violence by anybody under any guise, not even protest. I will also never be party to gagging of citizens from expressing their opinions and abuse of their rights, worse still, in a democracy. That’s unacceptable and unconstitutional. Let us wait and see what the Commissioner of Police will come out with in the directed investigation. Many won’t expect much but I am an optimist, that the Commissioner meant well. I will wait to be proven otherwise.

While this was going on in Lagos, with hundreds of well-armed, well-kitted police officers deployed against peaceful protesters, Shasha in Ibadan was on fire, with no police in sight. Videos of ensuing crisis flooded the internet. Things like this often make many to question if the police do get their priorities right. Police are quick to show their muscles against unarmed citizens but disappears whenever needed desperately against armed bandits and criminals. Many attacks have been going on in Yewa area of Ogun state in the past two weeks with many lives lost. No such agility and promptness were seen from the police and government.

It is this same country where such inhuman, despicable, dehumanising treatments were meted out to citizens, that criminals are being “pampered”, as many referred to how the notorious bandits who have taken over many parts of the country, including towns, villages, highways and forests, are treated, with kid-gloves. These are criminals who kidnap, maim, rape, and kill Nigerians in hundreds and thousands now. They overrun villages, kill everyone and everything in sight, destroy homes and farmlands, and sometimes, take over the communities. They are lords onto themselves. And it seems the security agents are helpless.

Imagine the various narratives that have been emanating from both official and unofficial quarters in recent times. Just last week, Governor Bala Muhammed of Bauchi state made case for Fulanis carrying assault riffles, AK47. He justified why they carry it. How reckless, insensitive and irresponsible can an elected political office holder be? Yesterday again, he reiterated that Akeredolu had no right to ask them to come out of the state’s forests and be identified by registering with the state government.

On Thursday, Governor Matawalle of Zamfara made a ridiculous statement that “not all bandits are criminals”. What are they then? Comedians? This is a governor whose state leads the pack when the ravaging bandit activities are stacked. He must have said that to placate them. That is what our country has been turned to, where constituted authorities now fear bandits. They now massage their egos, speak pleasingly about them and give reasons why they commit all those atrocities. What a calamity that has befallen the country. We have lost our sovereignty to criminals.

Afterall, a “supposedly repentant” bandit, Auwalu Daudawa, a leader of a criminal group operating in Katsina and Zamfara claimed to have led the kidnapping of the school children in Kankara last year revealed so. What did he say was his reason? He wanted to “teach Governor Aminu Masari of Katsina, a leason”. He claimed that he wanted to prove to him and the government that they were capable of wrecking havocs because the government said they would not dialogue with them again. Just imagine that? Can we now see where Matawalle and Bala’s statements could have come from? That is where we are in Nigeria today, unfortunately.

Governor Sani Bello of Niger state has also added his own rhetorics about how some of the bandits are “already tired”, need government to listen to them and re-absorbed them. This is following four different abductions carried out within his state in the spate of 48 hours. They include 42 School children and teachers in one, 21 passengers with the state transport bus in another, some people in two other locations within the state. The insurgents were so bold and unperturbed that they even recorded videos where they were celebrating their “conquests”, brandishing weapons and shooting up to threaten and scare their victims. The video has been in circulation since.

The “almighty” Sheikh Gumi has been an “advocate” of pardon, amnesty, compensation for the bandits, sending them to schools abroad, establishing businesses for them, so that they can let the country have peace. I now see why Governor El-Rufai disagreed with him. His interventions are getting overboard as far as I am concerned. Sadly, these criminals he has been pleading for are unrepentant. They kept kidnapping and killing more and more. So, what is he talking about?

Let us not even go into the issue of supposedly repentant Boko-haram who have been having the best time of their lives. They were camped, washed up, kitted in uniforms and treated to sumptuous meals as they went through what government called “rehabilitation”. All these, while their victims languish in abject penury and suffering in the IDP camps across the country since they were displaced by the same Boko-haram. How successful was their rehabilitation? There was once a news of how military captured one of the “rehabilitated” insurgent again after he returned to Boko-haram camp. Can a leopard change its spots?

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It is high time government stopped being hypocritical and got their priorities right. Orlu in Imo state has been under heavy airstrikes and bombardment in the past days while bandits are having field days in Niger, Kaduna and other states in the north, within the same period. It is such quick response and iron fists that Nigerians asked the government to use in dealing with these killer herdsmen or bandits across the country, instead of “pampering” them.

Government and security agencies should cease to expend their energies on innocent peaceful citizens who protest bad governance but should direct those efforts at criminals who are doing everything to bring the country down. Otherwise, what message will the government be passing to peaceful people? That only violence can get their attention? That is not good at all.

May God continue to protect us and guide us aright.

God Bless Nigeria.

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