Army Offers To Help Maintain Order As EndSARS Protests Escalates

Richard Ginika Izuora

The Nigerian Army has expressed support for President Muhammadu Buhari and said it was prepared to quell continuing demonstrations against Police brutality in major cities across the West African nation.

The protests that started on October 5 have claimed as at least 10 lives,,reports Bloomberg.

“The Nigerian Army is ready to fully support the civil authority in whatever capacity to maintain law and order and deal with any situation decisively,” spokesman Colonel Sagir Musa said in an emailed statement Thursday. It warned “all subversive elements and trouble makers to desist from such acts as it remains highly committed to defend the country and her democracy at all cost.”

The statement signals a potential escalation in the standoff between protesters and the government of Africa’s biggest oil-producing nation. It also marks a change of stance from an earlier government directive that prohibited the use of force against marchers after Buhari disbanded the controversial Special Anti-Robbery Squad.

The protests erupted after a video was shared on social media that purportedly showed the killing of a civilian by the anti-robbery squad. Demonstrations have taken place in the capital, Abuja, the commercial center of Lagos, and the oil hub of Port Harcourt, among other cities.

The hashtag #EndSARS has trended on social media, with Twitter Inc. Chief Executive Officer Jack Dorsey highlighting the protests in a tweet on Wednesday. Google LLC added its voice with a tweet Thursday condemning police oppression in the country.

“It’s people revolting against bad governance but using the symbolism of police brutality,” said Idayat Hassan, executive director of the Abuja-based Centre for Democracy and Development. “It goes deeper.”

About 60 per cent of Nigeria’s more than 200 million people are under 30 years old, with those under 14 years accounting for more than 40 per cent of the entire nation, according to the National Population Commission.

The latest unemployment figures released in August showed the jobless rate at 27 per cent the highest in a decade, with youth unemployment at 34 per cent according to the National Bureau of Statistics.

In contrast, President Buhari is 77 years old and the average age of his cabinet is above 60, creating a massive generational gap between the political elite and most Nigerians.

Many young people complain about being unfairly targeted by the police on suspicion of being criminals, especially if they have tattoos or dreadlocks or carry laptops. Among the protesters are people who have had personal experience of the impunity for which the SARS unit became known, according to Aisha Yesufu, a leader of the demonstrations in Abuja.

“They’ve been extorted, their family members have been killed, or they are missing or taken away by anyone,” Yesufu said. “One of the protesters has a family member that has been missing for eight years; they were taken away and they don’t know whether they’re still alive.”

Some have expressed concern about the government’s sincerity since previous pronouncements about disbanding the police unit five years ago weren’t implemented.

Buhari’s spokesman Garba Shehu and Information Minister Lai Mohammed didn’t immediately answer calls on their mobile phones for comment. The Federal Capital Territory Ministry in charge of Abuja said in a statement Thursday the protests were no longer necessary as of the protesters demands had been met. It warned against further protests, saying they violated Covid-19 regulations.

The nature of the protests, without any clear leadership structure and being run via social media, makes it difficult for the government, according to Hassan. It would’ve been easier to reach an agreement with the protest’s leadership and get to followers to comply. “But here everybody is a leader in his or her own right and everybody is follower and the protests continue to grow,” she said.

For protest organizer Yesufu, there’s a danger that the situation could get out of hand.

“And if it spills over, only God knows what will happen,” said Yesufu. “I think the more the government quickly puts things together and ensures that there is trust and sincerity of purpose, the better it is for the government and for the nation itself.”

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