EDITORIAL: Averting future protests — Daily Times Nigeria

EDITORIAL: Averting future protests

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Not long ago, six eminent men who have managed the affairs of this nation in the past met with President Muhammadu Buhari in the heat of the #EndSARS protests.

The roll call: General Yakubu Gowon, General Olusegun Obasanjo, General Ibrahim Babangida, Chief Ernest Shonekan, General Abdulsalami Abubukar and Dr. Goodluck Jonathan.

Their gathering for the specific purpose of bringing an end to the excruciating crisis epitomises the severity of the problem that the nation faces.

But it was an admirable show of patriotism and their desire to use their experience in solving a knotty existential crisis. In their words of wisdom, these former Heads of Government reaffirmed their commitment to peaceful protests and other fundamental rights as enshrined in the Constitution.

They also condemned the violence and the excesses of those who turned the country into a bloody battlefield.

They called on our youths to always use only peaceful means to seek redress for grievances with the Government.

In their measured remarks, they also asked the government to have a conversation with the youths and other stakeholders.

Their words had the effect of pouring cold water on the steamy situation and reducing the country’s rising temperature.

But perhaps the most notable remark of the six statesmen was not about the immediate solution to the problem but why it arose in the first place.

They suggested that the government must grow the economy and generate employment.

The assumption implicit in that statement is that the major cause of the crisis was unemployment and its accomplice, poverty.

Certainly, that is correct to say. Poverty was largely responsible for the looting and hooliganism that followed what was largely a very peaceful and well-organised protest.

Poverty is an allergy that makes people unusually sensitive to money and those who possess it.

In a system where the political elite, elected and appointed, earn such huge salaries and allowances that are far beyond the carrying capacity of our fragile economy, there is a likelihood of disenchantment.

The disenchantment is visible because of the huge income disparity that exists between the rich and the poor.

So it would be wise for the government to seek to narrow the income gap, initiate policies to help the very vulnerable groups in the society and not leave the poor only to their own devices.

Right now only the Social Darwinism theory exists: the survival of the fittest.

The Federal Government has announced that it wants to lift 10 million people out of poverty within the next 10 years.

That is both ambitious and romantic but the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

We must see, to believe, that there is a sound implementable national programme on the table for reducing poverty to which major stakeholders must subscribe.

That way, no government that comes in the immediate future will truncate the programme. Besides, the evil companion to poverty is illiteracy.

Most of the people who burnt BRT buses in Lagos during the crisis are those who need the buses most. Today, there are hordes of them waiting at the bus stops for buses that they reduced to ashes.

That was illiteracy at work. That illiteracy is compensating them with business today.

But unemployment, poverty and illiteracy are not the only issues in this crisis.

They only represent in a stark way the symptoms of a deeper malaise: leadership failure.

Anyone who cares to do an empirical study of how our leaders lead in our democracy will discover that they pay, virtually all of them, scant attention to promises made to the electorate at campaigns.

As soon as they mount the saddle of leadership, those promises are thrown out of the window. Take the ruling APC’s promise to bring about true federalism, a matter that is entrenched in their Constitution.

The party sent out a group led by the Governor of Kaduna State, Mr. Nasir El-Rufai, on a tour of the country after which a report was submitted.

It is about two years now. None of those recommendations that were based on the desires of the people expressed during those tours has been implemented.

Setting up the committee and going on that junket looked by the gift of hindsight, like a means of fooling the people, a way of making a motion without a movement.

Secondly, for several years now, the salaries and allowances of our elected and appointed officials have been treated as a top secret.

When the public knew how unrealistically disproportionate they are to what they do and what is earned by public officials in other jurisdictions, they cried foul.

The battle to get these humongous salaries and allowances reviewed to realistic levels is an unresolved issue which featured in the later stages of the protest.

So while police brutality was the immediate trigger of the protest, the more enduring issue of poor governance cannot be glossed over.

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This has manifested in the failure of the government to effectively protect the lives and property of its citizens.

This failure has elicited calls from various stakeholders for the change of the leaders of the Armed Forces which have received no positive attention from the Government.

Numerous people from all parts of the country have called for a restructuring of the country so that things can work seamlessly but those calls seem, up till now, to be falling on deaf ears.

We have serious problems in such other sectors as education, health, roads, corruption and general infrastructure but because of the unitary nature of our federalism, these issues have not been addressed.

They have simply been festering like a sore.

The Daily Times is of the view that while the protests have ended regrettably in bloody riots, the assumption that everything is over is to paper over the cracks.

The extant issues that many Nigerians, old and young, have been asking for redress need to be addressed urgently to avert a resurgence of more protests in the future. Besides, we all need a much better life than the one we live now.

With responsible governance that is possible.

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