By Oliver Okpala
There is no doubt that citizens have the right to protest any unfavorable or abhorrent situation or policy in their country.
Dissent is a part of every democratic process and should be accommodated for the overall good.
It was an American rights champion, Dr. Martin Luther King, who said it is those who disagree that often move society forward.
But this should be done in an appropriate manner that would promote a stable atmosphere at the end of the day. We must never lose sight of the fact that the end of every popular struggle must be to achieve good governance and peace in the final analysis.
The EndSARS protest should not have been hijacked by criminals and miscreants who hid under the agitation to wreak havoc and all kinds of crimes.
In the future, when youths or any group gather to carry out protests, they should be wary of infiltrators who may take advantage of the situation.
The reason for the EndSARS protest was briskly addressed by the federal government as the Special anti-robbery squad (SARS) was promptly disbanded by the Inspector-General of Police, a move which President Muhammadu Buhari quickly approved in a nationwide broadcast.
But as if there was something else underlying the protest; some of the youths continued the upheavals under the guise of expanding their demands from EndSARS to ‘End police brutality’ and ‘End bad governance.’
Even when governments began to address these issues, setting up commissions of enquiries over the activities of the police in their domains, the protest continued and degenerated into criminality. How could people go to other people’s houses and wreak havoc; cart away properties acquired with their hard earned resources in the name of protests? That was daylight robbery!
Let us, for a moment, accept and assume that some of the youths targeted the warehouses where the COVID-19 palliatives were kept, but what was the essence of invading private residences and setting many of them ablaze? What was the reason for setting BRT buses ablaze in Lagos? The buses are very vital public infrastructure that even those who destroyed them would need to commute in?
Notwithstanding their shortcomings, Nigerians must not forget that the police are saddled with the responsibility of protecting the citizenry. When an arm of the force has fallen foul of the law, and the arm has been scrapped because of the protest, the right thing to do at that stage was to stay action and monitor the implementation of the new direction.
It seems to me that we have done ourselves more harm than good in attacking police stations and their personnel.
We should therefore resolve as a people never to allow a repeat of this kind of widespread jungle justice and mayhem in our country again. It exposes us to international ridicule, casts us as a banana republic and projects us collectively as a lawless society.
Now that we are at this parlous state, there is the need for government at all levels and their agencies to quickly find ways of reviving and rebuilding what have been destroyed.
The police authorities should take their setback with equanimity and see whatever has befallen them as an opportunity for a fresh start.
The federal government should take it as a serious emergency to embark on quick win measures to ensure that the right atmosphere is created for the police to fully return to work.
Police brutality is condemnable across the world, but the youths must however thread with caution so that they don’t throw the baby with the bath water. Wisdom is profitable to direct.
- Chief Okpala is a public affairs commentator