As leaders of the youth miscreants who invaded the palace of Oba of Lagos, Rilwan Akiolu, triumphantly made away with the monarch’s insignia of office last Wednesday, writ large in my subconscious was same image in celebrated cinematographer, Tunde Kelani’s epic, Saworoide. Though Saworoide’s plot and the unmitigated arson, murder and lootings in Lagos the day after that black Tuesday may be dissimilar, they are united by a single motif: no matter how long it takes, the oppressed will someday find their grits.
Saworoide is Kelani’s eloquent metaphor of the festering governance crisis in Nigeria, a vote of no confidence on contemporary model of leadership and a ramp-up of the abysmal failure of state. It is the outcome of a breakdown of the pact between citizens and their rulers. Through the symbolism of a brass bell ritual, tantamount to modern day constitution, succeeding kings in the ancient town of Jogbo are bound to their people. However, despotism, mis-governance, illegal ascension to power, inordinate ambition, the criminality of the ruling elite, upheavals in the system and illegitimacy become an oxymoron on a Jogbo people who were forced to react to a cruel strain of bad leadership. In Saworoide, there is a connect between alale ile – the ancestors and their offspring. It is Kelani’s own way of deploying figurative arts to express society’s abhorrence of bad leadership, expressed through revolt.
By the way, the Lekki protest was a success in all regards. Like Saworoide, the protest, in a unique and manifest way, succeeded in showcasing the possibility of an emergence of a fresher Nigeria from the current ashes of hopelessness. It tells us of the possibility of emancipation of society from its current decadence, misrule, oppression, exploitation and widespread poverty. In few days, those youths displayed higher intelligence than us. In demonstrable capacity for mass mobilization, deft organization and strategies for mass action, they sent messages to us.
Without identifiable leadership, the success of the protest taught us the danger inherent in hyped leadership, especially ones anchored on leadership with strong personality. They thereby drew our attention to the need for strong institutions, as against strong leadership. More fundamentally, those youths mirror Nigerians’ (except beneficiaries of the leadership rot) craving for revolt but which our existential contradictions impede. The Yoruba, in their wisdom, justify such acts by saying omode la fi ns’ogun igboya – elders use youths to test the waters of bravado.
Regrettably, the protest fell into the hands of hooligans who burnt, looted and destroyed public institutions. The social media thereafter witnessed a gush of emergency rationalists who claim that there was no massacre on that Tuesday. They went ahead to criminalize the protest and introduce ethnic colourations into it. Some even alleged that it was youthful exuberance at its apogee. The truth is, the Lekki protest was predicated on the breakdown of leadership of Nigeria and its attendant hardship. The options those boys and girls had were whether to continue to religionize their sufferings as we, their parents, have done for ages or demand a discontinuance. They chose the latter.
The emergency rationalists are like a swarm of locusts on social media now, spinning their abstruse logics and bringing, as usual, the divide of PDP and APC into their arguments. They claim that the protest failed because the massacre claim could not be matched by hundreds of dead bodies and blood-soaked asphalt. The question to ask is, must there be mass murder for Lekki to qualify as massacre? Even if only one person died as a result of misbegotten shots from those vampire soldiers or soldiers, there was a massacre! Were the injured of gun wounds, scattered round infirmaries in Lagos, even confirmed and visited by Lagos State governor, Jide Sanwo-Olu, shot by the soldiers or soldiers so that those shot could live or die? Highly respected Amnesty International, which said it conducted on-the-ground investigation, aftermath the Lekki imbroglio and found out that the Nigerian army and police killed at least 12 peaceful protesters in two suburbs of Lagos, Alausa and Lekki, must be hallucinating as well?
Is it more convenient to believe Buhari and his hirelings on the social media than the youths on ground in Lekki who claimed that the soldiers killed some youths and went away with their bodies? Is it easier to believe government’s emergency attempts to cover its tracks or the emerging photographs and names appearing on the social media who allegedly partook of the protest but whose whereabouts are not known till now? Or to disbelieve Counselor of the US State Department, T. Ulrich Brechbihl who, in company of others, met VP Yemi Osinbajo on Friday and “expressed US condemnation of the use of excessive force by military forces that fired on unarmed demonstrators in Lagos”?
The motive of whoever deployed those messengers of death was satisfied by their deployment in the first instance. It is confirmed by the resultant ta-ta-ta-ta sounds, audible to all ears, from the ricochet of the guns that followed. The massacre is the spent cartridges on display after the messengers of death had finished their gun battles. These shots could have killed hundreds of those protesters, as they killed defenceless South African protesters during the Soweto massacre. How many sane countries of the world and run by sane leaders, are gun-toting soldiers unleashed on peaceful youth protesters as Muhammadu Buhari did?
Methinks the appropriate question to ask is: whose emissaries were those soldiers whose deployment has become shrouded in secrecy? Were they really unknown? If they were unknown, was their message unknown too? If their message looks unknown, isn’t it known from the temperament of their rifles, the impatience of their hands to massacre as they cocked the guns with such manic desperation?
Alas, the soldiers’ message is known! It was to stop the embarrassment that those youths constituted to Buhari, Bola Tinubu and the ruling political elite. The protesters were so audacious. They even put a call to the Lord of the Manor, turned him into jelly and asked him very embarrassing questions that no one had the temerity to pose to him over the years. I reconstruct the interface in my own words: Sir, we heard that you have fled? Something like that. Sir, you sent soldiers because you couldn’t continue to collect money from your Lekki Toll gate... What impudence!
It is a crying shame that the Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai could claim ignorance of the presence of soldiers or soldiers at the Lekki Toll gate that black Tuesday. It is even more calamitous that insinuations are flying in the sky that those killers were probably local marksmen dressed in army uniforms. Remember that the Chief Security Officer of Lagos State, Governor Sanwo-Olu, confirmed the presence of soldiers or soldiers that night but attributed their deployment to higher authorities. Thus, it is absolute balderdash to claim that there were no soldiers or soldiers there.
Reason for deployment of emergency rationalists is obvious. Their sponsors had been badly tar-brushed and suffered massive credibility damage as a result of the unfortunate fiasco. How can anyone imagine that a political class which had held power for 21 years in Lagos, which we were made to believe lasted that long because they were beloved of the people, now had their properties that maniacally torched, with some escaping like frightened hares from rampaging thugs they recruited over the years?
Aware of the weaponry of ethnicity, these emergency social media recruits have done pretty well in ethnicizing the revolt and criminalizing the youths’ act of patriotism. They however failed woefully in excusing the Nigerian state from being held accountable for the escalation of that peaceful revolt. Indeed, the fact that the well-organized protest was hijacked by criminal elements is a pointer to the failure of government. In saner climes, security personnel are made to form a ring round protesters so that the protests are not hijacked by criminals. Not so for the Nigerian government. They hid in their shell, shell-shocked by the superior argument of the youths that they could not continue to dress gangrenous social wounds with beautiful plasters.
Really, the destruction meted on public property by the criminal elements defies logic. Those properties would still be replaced and contracts for their replacement would be awarded to the selfsame political leeches whose criminal dalliance with Nigerian rulers resulted in the problems of state we are currently facing. The thugs who visited that unmitigated destruction on public property were certainly of rainbow colour – Ibo, Yoruba and probably sprinkle Hausa. They were ostensibly thugs nurtured over the years by prebends from the Lagos political class. These were selfsame thugs, the same messengers of death and vote-rigging leeches, nurtured by Lagos politicians in the last 21 years. The thugs merely capitalized on the protest to take their pound of flesh on their masters. When they were recruited to cause mayhem at polling booths and snatch ballot boxes, their Lagos politician masters didn't demand their ethnicity. Why did they now remember their places of descent, after the thugs turned the end of the stick and unleashed agony on Lagos, their Lagos?
It is a gross indictment on the Nigerian ruling class that thousands of people, as recorded in Lagos and other states, were gleefully liberating bags of rice in the looting of Covid-19 palliatives warehouses. By weekend, the anarchy had escalated. Homes of prominent politicians were being burgled, looted and torched. It points at the intense hunger in the land and scary frustration of the people. They were taking selfies with looted items in daylight and gleefully exhibiting their loot. These people had left the level of shamelessness and mounted a higher realm of despair. This level is an ominous slide that no one – those in government and outside – can afford to discountenance.
When Northern Governors Forum (NGF), in the words of their chairman, Simon Lalong, claimed that the youths should be grateful for the “magnanimity” exhibited by Buhari, he was apparently spewing manifest garbage. Which magnanimity? NGF and Southern Governors Forum (SGF) also claimed that some elements – internal and external – used the protest as smokescreen for regime change. They stated the obvious. Nigerians want regime change. They are hamstrung from getting it via ballot box by the political class which has perfected means of eating its cake and having it through vote-buying, violence and rigging. In the words of Frantz Fanon, when you make peaceful regime change impossible, you invite massive thirst for violent change which we all saw last week.
More than 48 hours after the horrendous Lekki Tollgate fiasco, President Muhammadu Buhari didn’t utter a word, either in denunciation of it or instilling hope that Nigeria would come out of it stronger. Even the weekly talk-shop jamboree, otherwise called the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting, held without a whimper from the so-called leaders of Nigeria. Buhari’s colleague, Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Aido, spoke to instill hope. Former American Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton spoke. Even American Democratic Party presidential hopeful, Joe Biden, spoke.
In the more than 48-hr ominous silence from a man notorious for his noxious taciturnity, Nigerians confirmed their impression that Buhari holds the people with disdain or that he is too removed from the Nigerian or worldly realities to be bothered about such slide of affairs. Alas, he eventually spoke, for 13 minutes, more than 48 hrs after! It was drab as usual, tinged with mirthless arrogance and governmental self-conceit. His brand of “hope” for the angry youths is government’s miserable dole-outs, given some funny names like Trader Moni and co. He even gloated at the deaths of the youths by calling them “so-called.”
Let it be told: The Lekki protest is justified in all respect. It is the culmination of Nigeria’s bad leadership. It is the concatenation of all the grim projections, doom prophesies and blood-soaked divinations by analysts and opinion volunteers over the decades. A neglected beehive of unemployed youth, for instance, leaves schools every year, hopeless. Those grim prophecies predicted that these youths would someday break the barrier to hold their elite captors captive. That prophecy came to pass last week in the pent-up anger of hopelessness demonstrated in the revolt for which the Lekki disaster was a final denouement.
First, lest the symbolism of that Lekki protest be lost on us all: It was a grim demand by the youths that their jailer released them. Though it is home to Lagos’ rich and mighty, historians tell us that, originally known as Ileke town and established about 200 years ago, Lekki was a major slave-trading route. It was strategic in human shipment because of its access to the hinterland and the sea. There was a steady supply of slaves, ramped up from all Yorubaland. Ileke town quaffed about 180 kilometres of Lagos shoreline and is festooned with relics of ancient ports and caves that housed slaves. It was under the suzerainty of sea captain, Portuguese and slave merchant called Mr. Lecqi, whose name was corrupted to form Lekki. This Portuguese lived there until he died and was said to have been buried upright until his remains were relocated to Portugal. A stone cenotaph in his memory still lies in Lekki, as well as the British Union Jack, symbol of freedom for shackled slaves. Buhari, as symbol of bad leadership, may as well represent Mr. Lecqi, from whose noose and shackles Nigerian youths are seeking freedom.
It would be foolhardy for government and those profiting from the festering crisis of Nigerian state to believe that Lekki was a failure. No government would be as dumb as to go back to its vomit and pretend that all is well. The only antidote to a more consuming conflagration is to reform and restructure Nigeria, the police inclusive. Those boys and girls surpassed every imagination and demonstrated their ability to bring a state to its knees. They have also learnt from their mistakes. Next time they strike, those making Nigeria a Lilliput in the comity of nations would probably flee. We have to recalibrate our minds to the impending doom next door. The social realities, with such youths as were gathered in Lekki, are manifest and point to the fact that Nigerian oppressors have a short time to inflict their oppression on the people. Could anybody have accurately predicted that a day would come when Lagos property owners would boldly advertise the caveat emptor, This House Does Not Belong to Tinubu, to ward off angry mob attacks and protect their property? It happened! That was a name Lagosians gleefully hoisted… until the protest. It only shows the temporality of those castles and hyped names erected on quicksand.
How could anyone imagine a group of brigands ransacking the palace of a Yoruba monarch and escaping with his insignia of office? In ancient times, when monarchs had not soiled their hands, they would instantly meet their waterloo. These days, no recompense would come the way of such brigands because today’s rulers have polluted the stool in pursuit of the dross of modernity and meddling in profanities.
In all, the alert signals are beeping red. This looks like the time of purgatory for Nigerian leaders and the elite generally, in the hands of the people. A stitch in time can still save nine if we collectively avert the doom to come.