By Dare Babarinsa
October is a special month for Nigeria. That was when the national flag was first hoisted at the old Race Course, now Tafawa Balewa Square, on October 1, 1960. It was on October 19, 1986 that Dele Giwa, the first Editor-in-Chief of Newswatch magazine, was killed with a parcel bomb. In October 2020, Nigeria celebrated 60 years as an independent country.
The same October, the youth of Nigeria gathered at the Lekki Toll Gates to actualize a campaign that started on the social media asking for the scrapping of the notorious police unit, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SAS. It was an impressive campaign and they soon gained the attention of Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State. He visited the scene of the protest and promised to take their petition to President Muhammadu Buhari. He did. The President directed Mohammed Adamu, the Inspector General of Police, IG, to disband the SAS. He did. He later announced that he was set up another unit called SWAT. He defended himself that while SAS was off-duty, the criminal elements would not go on leave.
The protesting youths would not agree. They accused the IG of playing on words and that there is no difference between SAS and SWAT. The IG ignored them and decided to concentrate on his job of setting up the new outfit. The protest continued. Soon imitation groups sprouted up across the country like wild plants. The new groups, sympathetic to the demands of the Lekki originals and driven by social media, were more muscular and demanding. Soon we started hearing stories of broken heads, rape, robbery and arson. An attempt was made to assassinate the Governor of Osun, Alhaji Gboyega Oyetola. Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State also came under attack. In Edo State, protesters broke into the local prison and freed more than 1000 inmates. Before you know it, more than 20 people had been killed in Lagos, Abuja, Osogbo, Ibadan and other places.
I called a friend of mine close to the Presidency to advise that President Buhari needed to give a national broadcast on the youth demanded. I also thought it would have been so dramatic and effective if the President had flown to Lagos and address the rally at Lekki, and as the father of the nation, advise the protesters to disband. My advice was not considered important enough. The President kept his cool. The governors, rattled by the vehemence of the youth demands, harried to Abuja. It was not the best of times.
It was becoming clearer that a fifth column was on the rise, especially in Lagos, when hoodlums started attacking police stations and policemen. In a number of places, police stations were burnt down and local government offices torched. Governor Sanwo-Olu decided to take action. He informed Lagosians on his twitter handle that he was imposing curfew from 4 p.m. on Tuesday October 20. Knowing that some Lagosians were at work in places far from home, he later extended the curfew time to 9 p.m.
In desperate times, there were traditional procedure of imposing curfew in Nigeria. This is done usually by the governor making a broadcast which must be aired by all the television and radio stations domiciled in the state. Therefore, because the governor did not give any broadcast, the curfew story sounded more like rumour to many people. They panicked and there was gridlock in some places. But it promised to be a night of horror.
At about 7 p.m., two hours before the curfew was to begin, scores of soldiers descended on the Lekki Toll Gate to interrupt the protesters in their evening session. As was expected at such a situation, the soldiers did not read the riot act to the youth. They were supposed to use the megaphone to tell them to disperce within a specific time frame, saying 30 minutes or one hour. Instead the soldiers started shooting! The youth did not believe what they were seeing and experiencing. They realized the bullets were real when they started seeing bodies dropping down. Finally, what started as a storm in a tea cup has become a real tsunami.
It is on record that the authorities did not try to use tear-gas, or water cannons or blank bullets to disperse the crowd at the Lekki Toll Plaza. The protesters were shot at point-blank range. With the cracking of the marching guns, the EndSars protest finally ended and another kind of protest was born. Something we never thought could happen is finally upon us.
It is clear some people are having the clear agenda of destroying assets in Yorubaland. The instruments being used are mostly Yoruba youth who are self-employed as hoodlums or area boys. In the 19th Century, after the coup against Afonja, the lord of Ilorin, the Yoruba people could not muster a unified response against the strange Fulani elements who had seized power in the city. Instead, each polity saw it as an opportunity to better its neighbour. Therefore, you find Yoruba embarking on wars among themselves, destroying cities like Owu, Igbon, Iresa, Ikoyi, Ijaiye and others. They left the Fulani to continue their rulership of Ilorin and who now extended their suzerainty to Offa and other towns in the Ibolo district of the old Oyo Empire. The Ijesa, Ekiti and Igbomina, suffering from incessant harassment from the Ibadan, formed a military alliance with the Ilorin. The repercussions are with us till today.
I wonder what would be the agenda of those who are trying to shut down private television stations like Channels? What should anyone destroy the BRT buses or attempt to burn down the Lagos City Hall? No one can be sure of historical process and the outcome which may include regret. One of the most influential scientists of the 20th Century, Julius Robert Oppenheimer, was the leading American physicist that developed the atomic bomb. It was an accomplishment he regretted in his later years. Confronted with the enormity of what he had wrought, Oppenheimer declared, quoting Vishnu in the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita: “I have become death, the destroyer of lives.”
Yoruba leaders and traditional rulers need to wake up so that they do not follow the inglorious example of the 19th Century. They must not allow this land to become a theater of war.