Nigerian Army, resist the temptation, stay off #EndSARS protests
Two recent press statements in close proximity by the Nigerian Army have triggered apprehension around the country, heightening tension at a time young people are forcing the nation and its leaders to confront the long-endured dark reality of police brutality.
The #EndSARS protests have swept across the country and different parts of the world, with thousands of young Nigerians and supporters of the cause sustaining the movement demanding an end to the notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigeria Police Force, and long overdue reform of the Nigeria police in general.
The protests have been so effective that the government quickly caved, acceding to virtually all the demands of the protesters, chief among which is the disbanding of SARS.
But it has not been entirely smooth sailing for the #EndSARS movement. There have been incidents of violent repression of protesters by law enforcement and thugs believed to be sponsored by interests within government or other reactionary forces within the established order. These ugly incidents have sadly led to deaths and injuries. How devastating that a movement championing an end to naked brutality is met by naked brutality!
The protesters, as widely commended as they have been, coupled with their peaceful form of protest, have also attracted the ire of some Nigerians. Their strategy of blocking off major roads has been described by some Nigerians, including those positively disposed to their cause, as an infringement on the freedom and rights of others.
The inconvenience appears to be instigating some disaffection among some members of the public and sparking some embers of resistance. Just embers at the moment. The government, whose officials have also suffered the rare inconvenience of complete traffic shutdown, has been putting pressure on the protesters to suspend the street protests.
In an apparent reaction to the continued protests, the Nigerian Army sent out a press statement on the 15th of October, emphatically restating its commitment to the peace and stability of the nation, and sternly warning “subversive elements” against destabilising the nation.
The statement was an almost unmistakable indicator of the army’s itchiness to join in on the rumble in the nation; not surprising as it is not known for its propensity to steer clear of civil agitations.
On the 17th of October, the army released a more precise statement, announcing the launch of Operation Crocodile Smile which it describes as an annual offensive to rid the country of terrorists and other criminal elements. It is to hold from 20th October to 31st December. The campaign will alongside physical combat, involve cyber warfare.
With the heightened tension around the country over the #EndSARS protests and how they threaten the established order, we believe a patriotic demand must be made on the Nigerian army not to further escalate the tensions or cause a further degeneration of civil-military relations. We sadly recall instances of clashes between the Nigerian army and civilian groups during the enforcement of similar strategic campaigns. Its near-universally infamous Operation Python Dance stands as a dark testament to this sad reality.
Nigeria is at a crucial point. Its most prized asset— the youth— are battling to redeem its beleaguered soul. They are fighting to awaken the sleeping conscience of a betrayed nation; a nation betrayed by its leaders, and sadly, a vast majority of its people.
This is a time for deep reflection. A time to confront the ills that the #EndSARS movement seeks to exterminate, and not a time to confront the liberators. The army must make sure that it contributes to shifting this moment from a crucial point to a turning point, one that ushers in a new order of things. The people have long been repressed under the jackboot of the state. It is time to breathe.
It is time for the military to succumb to the pull of patriotism and let the people—the young people —breathe. We urge the Nigerian army to remember that it exists to serve the people, not the narrow interests of those in power. The military belongs to the country, not the government. We demand that the leadership and entire force of the Nigerian army respect their primary responsibility which is to protect the territorial integrity of the nation and not become embroiled in manageable civil dispute, upending the ideal order.
This must be a Nigerian moment. Not another primitive ‘us vs them’ episode. We are all Nigerians first. And the country, which we all purport to love, demands our patriotic allegiance to mutual respect, ordered coexistence, and peaceful relations.
Surely, the military, ever so willing to pay the ultimate price for the protection of the collective, cannot fail to grasp the demands of this great Nigerian moment! If they must, the Nigerian Army can carry out their their scheduled Op, but we warn and plead seriously that it steers clear of the path of the patriotic youths who have so far comported themselves in a commendable manner in exercising their inalienable right to speak out against what the feel is not right.
If a meeting between both groups become unavoidable, we seriously urge the Army to act professionally and restrain from whatever temptation to use any form of force against the protesters. Because in the end the protesters are also fighting for the same thing: A better Nigeria for all.
Finally, we call on President Muhammadu Buhari, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, on whose shoulders rest the ultimate responsibility for the conduct of the army, to translate his widely loathed non-responsiveness into the rules of engagement of Operation Crocodile Smile combatants in their encounter with the #EndSARS protesters. If ever there was a need for inaction, this may present the best example yet.
Perhaps, finally, use (and possibly redemption) may be found for the president’s inexplicable aloofness!