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DÉJÀ VU – In tragic vein: Wole Soyinka on Nigeria’s unrest

PUBLISHED: Wed, 21 Oct 2020 17:07:55 GMT

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By Wole Soyinka
To the affected governors all over the nation, there is one
immediate step to take: demand the withdrawal of those
soldiers. Convoke Town Hall meetings as a matter of
urgency. 24-hr Curfews are not the solution. Take over the
security of your people with whatever resources you can
rummage. Substitute community self-policing based on
Local Councils, to curb hooligan infiltration and
extortionist and destructive opportunism.


I arrived home from external commitments just over a week
ago to an extraordinary homecoming gift. It took the form of a
movement — sometimes angry, sometimes entrancing,
poignant, sometimes strident, certainly robust in expectations
but always moving, visionary and organized. That movement
demanded an end to brutality from state security agencies,
focusing on a notorious unit known as SARS. But, of course,
SARS merely stood for the parasitic character of governance
itself in all ramifications. That dimension – albeit not in those
very terms of course – was acknowledge by the first formal
response of government, delivered through the Vice-President.
The movement involved members of the Nigerian Bar
Association, Feminist Groups, Professionals, Technocrats,
Students, Prelates, Industrial institutions, and Artistes – writers,
cineastes, actors, musicians. It was markedly a youthful
movement, its energy, creativity and resolve diffused
throughout the nation through impressive strategies.

It was,above all, orderly. In places, one felt vibrations that seemed to
echo concert grounds like Woodstock, other times, the massed
processions of France’s Yellow vests or waves of Lech Walesa’s
Solidarity movement. Even closer, more recently and pertinent,
the patient, stoical gatherings in Mali that lasted weeks and, in
whose resolution, our own nation played a critical role.
As I stated in my Message to Youth at the Freedom Park 10th
anniversary events on Saturday, 17th, these youths brought
fresh blood into tired veins. It was bliss indeed to be alive, to
watch youths finally begin to take the future into their own
hands.


But – and haven’t we been here before? — suddenly, virtually
overnight, it all changed. State security services – which specific
branch, we have yet to identify – transported thugs to break up
the protests. The videos exist, they have been widely
disseminated – sleek motorcades with number plates covered –
moved to recruit and disgorge thugs and breeds of hoodlums to
break up the peaceful protests. Those mercenaries set fire to the
protesters’ vehicles where parked, set upon the gathered youths
with cudgels and machetes.

They broke open at least one prison
to let out the inmates. It has since been established that some of
those vandals were actually recruited prisoners who, we can
only presume, have been paid not only in cash but in kind.
Casualties began in single, sporadic numbers, climaxing in the
shooting dead last night of a yet undetermined number of
protesters in a Lagos sector called Lekki.


The mood, and climate of protest changed abruptly, and
devastatingly with that diabolical intrusion. For the first time,
anger and nihilism entered the lists, moving to dominate
emotions. Organized militancy has been replaced by vengeful,
omni-directional hatred. The capital, Abuja, has been torched in
places, including the famous Apo market – that name itself
evoking memories of an ancient massacre of youth – known as
the APO Six — by SARS.
Yesterday, October 20, I set out to drive to my hometown,
Abeokuta, to be on my own turf as the violence was spiraling
mindlessly in multiple directions. After negotiating my way
through some eight or nine protesters’ road-blocks, I was
compelled to turn back. It was all déjà vu – the uprisings in the
former Western Region of Nigeria, the anti-Abacha movement
etc. etc. etc. The attempt however enabled me to assess the

mood and transformation of the movement. I was better
prepared. I rescheduled my trip for the following day ,– that is,
this morning.
In the meantime, however, that is, within the next eight to ten
hours, the tension has become unimaginable! At that earlier
mention Lagos sector, Lekki, where most of the affirmative
action gatherings had taken place, soldiers opened fire on
unarmed demonstrators, killing and wounding a yet
undetermined number. One such extra-judicial killing has
drenched the Nigerian flag in the blood of innocents – and not
symbolically. The video has, in accustomed parlance, ‘gone
viral’. I have spoken by phone to eye-witnesses. One, a noted
public figure has shared his first-hand testimony on television.
The government should cease to insult this nation with petulant
denials.


I resumed my trip to Abeokuta at 6 am, this morning as
scheduled, again negotiating road-blocks -– this time
somewhere between twelve and fifteen, all distinguished by an
implacable state of rage. It was in stark contrast to the
inclusivity of the protesting ‘family of common cause’ of earlier
days. All inherent beauty of instant bonding and solidarity
evaporated. At the block just before the Lagos Secretariat, the
protesters proved the most recalcitrant. In the end, they
exacted from me just the one offering to the rites of passage – I
could sense it coming — I had to come down from the car and
addressed them. I did. Little did they know what was churning
in my mind: This is not real. This is Back to Abacha – in grotesque
replay!


It is absolutely essential to let this government know that the
Army has now replaced SARS in the demonic album of the
protesters. My enquiry so far indicates that the Lagos governor
did not invite in the Army, did not complain of a ‘breakdown in
law and order’. Nevertheless, the Centre has chosen to act in an
authoritarian manner and has inflicted a near incurable wound 6
on the community psyche. Need I add that, on arrival in
Abeokuta, my home town, I again had to negotiate a road
block? That went smoothly enough. I expected it, and have no
doubt that more are being erected as this is being written.
It is pathetic and unimaginative to claim, as some have done,
that the continued protest is hurting the nation’s economy etc.
etc. COVID-19 has battered the Nigerian economy – such as it is for over eight months. Of course it is not easy to bring down COVID under a hail of bullets – human lives are easier target, and there are even trophies to flaunt as evidence of victory –
such as the blood-soaked Nigerian flag that one of the victims
was waving at the time of his murder.
To the affected governors all over the nation, there is one
immediate step to take: demand the withdrawal of those
soldiers. Convoke Town Hall meetings as a matter of urgency.
24-hr Curfews are not the solution. Take over the security of
your people with whatever resources you can rummage.
Substitute community self-policing based on Local Councils, to
curb hooligan infiltration and extortionist and destructive
opportunism. We commiserate with the bereaved and urge
state governments to compensate material losses, wherever. To
commence any process of healing at all – dare one assume that
this is the ultimate destination of desire? — the Army must
apologize, not merely to the nation but to the global community
– the facts are indisputable – you, the military, opened fire on
unarmed civilians. There has to be structured restitution and
assurance that such aberrations will not again be recorded.
Then both governance and its security arms can commence a
meaningful, lamentably overdue dialogue with society. Do not
attempt to dictate — Dialogue!


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