By Magnus Onyibe
Nigeria has become the cynosure of all eyes globally. Not for the positive contributions or inventions by its citizens that would move mankind a tad forward in positive progress, such as when man first visited the moon on July 20, 1969-all hail the pair of American Louis Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin; or when penicillin was discovered for the cure of small pox in 1928-thanks to Alexander Fleming of Scotland. But Nigeria is in the eyes of the storm for a negative reason globally, because our countrys soldiers allegedly turned their guns on innocent youths who dared to protest police brutality. The situation becomes even more gruesome, when it is considered that the youths whose bodies were pierced viciously with bullets from the barrels of guns paid for with Nigerian tax payers funds, and fired by military men, who are also paid with tax money from the sweat of patriotic Nigerians. Guess what , all these happened to the youths while they were only armed with Nigerian flags and singing the national anthem while seating down. Can you imagine the USA army opening fire on USA athletes when they take a knee in solidity with Black Lives Matter, (BLG)campaign before engaging in their sporting activities? The only time that Nigerians have been killed in the manner that lekki youth protesters were fired upon with live bullets would be during the civil war 1967-70. And of course the sad event of Asaba massacre , October 5, 1967 perpetrated by the federal troops comes to mind. As horrific as the Asaba tragedy that claimed about 1, 000 lives was, it was perpetrated under the cloak of war. The other time that such barbarism was exhibited would be during the so called bar-beach shows from 1971 to the 1990s when convicted armed robbers or drug traffickers were tied to the stake by the bar-beach in Victoria Island, Lagos and executed by a firing squad in the full glare of members of the public. Remarkably it happened for the last time on April 10, 1985, when five Nigerian youths were tied to the stake and executed behind Kirikiri prison complex in Lagos for drug trafficking which was punishable by death under the retroactive military Decree No 20. The difference between those presumably misguided and convicted drug traffickers, and the youths slaughtered at the Lekki Lagos toll gate on October 20, 2020, is that while the alleged armed robbers and drug traffickers were tried and convicted by fire arms tribunals before execution, the October, 20, 2020 victims were not tried by even a kangaroo court. But sadly, they got viciously executed in cold blood allegedly by their countrys army that was supposed to protect them from external aggression. And it is even more gut wrenching that their offense, for lack of a better term, is that they dared to peacefully speak up against police brutality in a country operating a multi party democratic system of government, which obviously can not pride itself of liberalism , in the 21st century. Yes, there was a period in medieval European history, when the Queen of England would say off with the head and an indicted or convicted bandits head was cut off with alacrity. But that was centuries ago compared to the fact it is barely one week ago that the dastardly act of murdering innocent youths at Lekki, Lagos toll gate in a similar fashion was carried out. The question of who gave the order to pull the trigger which is reminiscent of the practice of the Queen of medieval England, giving the order, about a century ago, has so far remained a mystery, as it is being attributed to an unknown soldier or possibly emperor. As a fallout of such barbarism, and better still governments act of terrorism against its citizens, look at where we are now in the optics of the free world and its leaders: The United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Guteres; African Union; AU leaders; former US Vice President Joe Bidden, who is currently the presidential candidate of the Democratic Party; the former Secretary of State of the USA and ex presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton; and the current Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo; as well as Karen Bass, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus of the USA, including parliamentarians in the United Kingdom; plus Archbishop of Canterbury, William Shelby, have all weighed in with a word or two of advise and caution to our countrys current leaders. Even Pope Francis of the Catholic Church, with over a billion followers, from the 7.8 billion people on earth, prayed last Sunday for the repose of the souls of the #endSARS protesters. That simply means that practically the whole world is aware of abysmal human rights record of our government. When the list of global celebrities, ranging from sports to movie and pop music stars have added their voices included, the names of Nigerian international footballer, Odion Ighalo, along with other soccer stars plying their trade in Europe- Ozil, Rashford, Rudiger, Kanoute, race car driver, Lewis Hamilton, music stars would be on parade. The catalog of world famous people who see Nigeria from a negative prism would also include pop stars – Beyonce, Cardi B and Nicki Minaj, Treyz Song, Kanye West, Gabrielle Union and Noami Campbell as well as Rihanna amongst many others too numerous to mention in this piece. That ignominious and moronic act of butchering Nigerian youths on October 20,2020 for daring to express dissent against violent policing as evidenced by the epidemic and heinous crime of extra judicial killing by SARS , has now eclipsed, (amongst other sterling attributes) the settled wisdom in the world that Nigerians are the most educated set of immigrants in the USA, which is one of the laudable accomplishments of our compatriots internationally. How can such a grisly event at Lekki toll gate, Lagos on 20-10-2020 define the good people of Nigeria and the Nigerian army that has won several professional excellence awards while on United Nations peace keeping missions abroad? It was bad enough that our country has in the past five years taken over from India as the worlds poverty Headquarters, according to the rating by the worlds poverty index; and it is competing with the Syria, lraq , Afghanistan, and Pakistan as one of the five most terrorised countries based on the survey by global terrorism index , and ranks at no 18 in the top 20 corrupt countries in Africa just as she occupies the no 144 position in the worlds most corrupt countries rating, using the corruption perception index of the anti corruption watch dog, Transparency International, TI. How can it be explained that on top of the woeful records highlighted above, the killing of protesting youths in Lekki toll gate, another negative epitaph or toga that makes our country one of the most dangerous places in the world for youths to thrive, has just been added. The ignominious and an unenviable position which is shared with countries like Libya and Somalia , to say the least, is a very frightening, disheartening and dreadful place to be as a nation. Given the fact that the whole of northern Nigeria, including the middle belt states of Benue and Plateau, have literarily been floating in the blood of innocent victims of insecurity in the past half decade, owing to the unrelenting mowing down and hacking to death of our compatriots by terrorists, bandits as well as herdsmen; one is compelled to conclude that our leaders may be the equivalent of the mystical movie character, Dracula- a vampire that takes pleasure and delight in sucking human blood. That seemingly harsh conclusion is underscored by the fact that after all the terrorists and bandits engendered blood shedding in the north east and the herdsmen blood letting nationwide, the shooting to death of youths protesting violent policing in the heart of Lagos-the economic nerve center of the nation, would be taking total disregard for lives in Nigeria , beyond the imagination of the producers of the movie Killing Fields, which is a movie depiction of Hobbesian state of life in Cambodia in 1984. Thats simply because , one would have thought that since our country has witnessed more than its fair share of the shedding of the blood of innocent citizens, it would exercise utmost restraints before its military opens fire on protesting civilians youths in our countrys most populous city. Assuming one can excuse the dastardly extermination of lives by terrorists and bandits which is currently going on unabated in the countryside, how can one phantom the reality that our legitimate army would also take pleasure in slaying by a hail of bullets from the barrels of the guns paid for with funds from Nigerian government coffers and fired by soldiers paid with funds from the sweat of the brows of Nigerian tax payers, who would likely to be , the parents, uncles or aunties of the deceased youths? That terrible decision to fire live ammunition at unarmed youths holding Nigerian flags and chanting the national anthem is not only preposterous and immoral, but also damning and despicable. Astonishingly, the authorities were forewarned by men and women of goodwill of the possibility of the horrific outcome, should it adopt the strong arms tactics in de-escalating the tension generated by the #EndSARS protesters. And they failed to harken to the voice of reason from the well meaning Nigerians and foreign countries alike. Instead, they choose the most dishonorable path to perdition by confronting the unarmed youths with live bullets fired by our own army, which is simply contemptible and horrifying . On my part, a day before the unwarranted killing of the youths by the army, precisely October 19, l wrote and published an article titled Nigeria, A President, Glory And Violent Policing. In the piece that was widely published across both traditional and online mass media platforms, I appealed to Mr. President to show up in a broadcast to Nigerians with #EndSARS face cap on his head, and a placard bearing the message #EndSARS in his hands. I also advised that if he did as suggested, he would melt the hearts of most protesters, no matter how enraged they were. Then l also urged Aso Rock Villa not to approve the proposed military exercise tagged Operation Crocodile Tears scheduled for the next day, Tuesday by the army, as it would only aggravate the very volatile atmosphere. With the same aim of averting the likely ugly consequences of a confrontation with government forces, l also admonished the youth protesters not to test the resolve of government by trying to engage in a fight to finish with security agencies. Rather, l counseled the aggrieved youths to go into negotiations with government where a case for the allocation of at least 25-30 of public offices to youths (from age 18-45 years) and the setting aside of the post of junior ministers in the cabinet, can be made or bargained for. By the way, my good friend, HE Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq , Governor of Kwara state, is far sighted enough to be a leader in the engagement of our youths in government, when he recently appointed a teenager, 26 years old Joana Nnazua Kolo, as the states commissioner of youths and sports. I urge other state governors to follow suit. Perhaps, owing to what can be referred to as the leaderlessness of the protesters, obviously for tactical reasons, the authorities could not engage the youths in negotiations, even if they wanted to do so. And it turned out that, rather than considering the merit of the case that l tried to make in the opinion piece, the authorities panicked after the 12 days old protest got hijacked by criminal elements. Thats what compelled the governor of Lagos state, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who was earlier in the front and center of brokering peace, to impose a 4pm curfew that was later extended to 9pm. According to eye witness account, thereafter, at about 6:30 pm , without breaching the 9pm curfew deadline, probably owing to breakdown in communications, guns were rolled out and trained on the protesting youths and triggers were pulled. See how the lack of respect for human lives by our leaders have beamed negative light on our country. The ugly aftermath is that, a yet to be ascertained number of youth protesters have been sent to their early graves. My heart goes out to the families of the fallen heroes even as l pray that the Almighty God would forgive the barbaric soldiers that perpetuated the savage act. l equally hope that the authorities would honor the memory of the departed souls of our departed youths, by pursuing to its logical conclusion, and bringing to book of the army personnel that pulled the trigger that killed unarmed youths at the Lekki toll gate on 20 October , 2020. lt is also my fervent hope that the authorities would implement in an expedited manner, the five point police reform agenda that President Buhari had in his national broadcast to Nigerians committed to implementing. The APC national leader, and former governor of Lagos State, Bola Tinubu, has suggested that the Lekki toll gate be perpetually shut down or the proceeds should be used to compensate victims. I align with his proposition and venture further to recommend that the toll gate should be a memorial monument dedicated to the victims of the shooting. The names of all the youths whose lives were cut short by bullets in that location, should be engraved on the pillars in the manner it was done in the USA at ground zero for the victims of 9/11 terrorists attack on the World Trade Center, New York , September, 2011. Lets ensure that the fallen Nigerian youth protesters are not forgotten like those who died in the Oke-Afa canal when on 28 January 2002, ostensibly owing to slip-up in the management of its armoury, military ordinances in Ikeja cantonment started exploding and the massive sound of the explosions mimicking a war situation was so fiery, that it scared some Nigerians in the suburb of Lagos into fleeing through a canal where they got stuck and drowned in droves. Till date, the canal which is their mass grave yard has been marked, but the victims have been unsung. That, in my considered opinion is a blight on the conscience of our leaders. Finally, I do not subscribe to the notion by the governors and South west political leadership, who while on a solidarity visit to Lagos State, expressed the view that the unfortunate incidents of looting and arson by depraved arsonists and vandals who seized upon the retreat of security agencies from the streets to perpetrate heinous crimes, are calculated attempts to weaken the economy of Lagos State, and by extension the South west. In the first instance, the fact that the looting was spontaneous, invalidates that narrative. Secondly, the fact that Abuja, Kano, Port Harcourt, Asaba and Warri as well as Benin City and Jos witnessed similar mayhem by the nefarious ambassadors, also vitiates the notion that Yoruba nation was being specifically targeted. Obviously, because it is the economic nerve center of Nigeria, Lagoss economy received a more devastating and crushing attack by the looters, which is sad and unfortunate. The critical role that Lagos plays as a melting pot is evidenced by the humongous amount of lnternally Generated Revenue, IGR, of N398bn harnessed in the state monthly. That makes it the number one in lGR in our country, where the thirty six (36) states generated a total of N1.3b in 2019. With Lagos alone grossing nearly N400bn, Ogun N70bn and Ondo N30bn, Lagos state rakes in more than the total IGR earned by all the six western states combined. Based on the statistics and logic above, the state was bound to bear the highest brunt of the devastation, as its population of between 15-20 million, makes it an equivalent of four (4) to five (5) states in Nigeria, with an average ratio of four (4) million people per state. The most ironic thing about the whole shebang is that the police, and indeed members of the armed forces who are the villain in this instant case, would also be the prime beneficiaries of the #EndSARS facilitated reforms about to be carried out and which has set Lagos State back with a about a trillion naira in the estimation of the Speaker of the House Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, who expressed the view during the solidarity visit to Lagos. Unfortunately, the perils and consequences of the infrastructure deficit arising from the mindless destructions inflicted on properties and other state owned assets in Lagos State, considered to be the equivalent of New York in the USA and London in the UK, are the burden that we Lagosians – indigenes and residents alike would have to find quick solutions to or put up with for a long time. And governor Sanwo-Olu, would have to develop a coping mechanism to manage his double jeopardy of not only losing government properties to the brigands, which is obviously giving him nightmares, as to how he would rebuild or in particular, replace the mass transit buses damaged, but he also suffered the personal loss of his mothers home that was torched by the arsonists. That means he has to also manage his home front. With such double whammy misfortune, he can be said to be one of the worst victims of #EndSARS alive. So he needs our sympathy. l believe he would not have imagined that in the space of just two weeks, the cataclysmic events that have befallen Lagos would swing him from the bliss of being number one (1) citizen of the state, to one without a family home, as his mothers house, which could serve as home away from home for him, has been consumed by the blistering #EndSARS protests. While acknowledging the governors dilemma, he should not forget that we will hold him to his promise to pursue to reasonable conclusion, justice for the Lekki toll gate mass killing.