Former Chairman of Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG) and President of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa, has said the #ENDSARS protest rocking the nation was a struggle for the creation of a new Nigeria, as it was against police impunity, excessive use of force, bribery, extortion, corruption and extrajudicial killing. He cautioned that if Nigerian leaders failed to use this opportunity to create a new Nigeria where justice and equity would prevail, a worse crisis with worse consequences is coming.
In this exclusive chat, he spoke on some other national issues.
The #ENDSARS protest started on a good note but was alleged to have been hijacked along the line by hoodlums in so many parts of the country forcing some state governors to impose a 24-hour curfew to control the situation. What is your assessment of the protest?
The #ENDSARS protest was within the youths’ democratic rights because it was against police brutality. But, as you know, police brutality is symptomatic of the corruption, impunity and all the problems in the country. So, the youths for me, used the protest as an opportunity to vent their anger at the problems of this country which are the long years of bad governance, long years of inability to provide and improve the quality of life of our citizens, long years of deprivation, poverty, corruption, injustice and insecurity. These are problems that have pervaded the country for many years. So, the #ENDSARS campaign was just the stimulant or the instigator of the campaign.
How do you describe the way and manner the government handled the protesters?
Sincerely, I thoroughly applauded the government. I used every opportunity to applaud the government for the restraints because it was unlike the government to be able to allow this free expression. For many days, I prayed and wished that the protest would end in that way and that the youths would come to that point where the government is making efforts to respond to what they have said so that the whole thing would end. But unfortunately, the fifth columnists spoilt the whole thing. The people that ordered the Lekki Toll Gate shooting which instigated other violent eruptions, giving way for hoodlums to loot and destroy public and private property didn’t mean well for Nigeria. They are agent provocateurs; they didn’t mean well because it was at that point that everything changed colour. I know that any time you have a prolonged crisis, there is going to be miscreants but those miscreants could have been well taken care of by the security agents. As far as I am concerned, the protest was peaceful all over the country especially in Lagos. All they did was to inconvenience citizens somehow by blocking the roads and all that; but, that was a price to be paid if our country has to be good. We must pay some price by some inconvenience to express ourselves to our government and leaders that we are not satisfied with the level of development in our nation. I believe that those who caused the Lekki shooting and rough-handling of the youths are the haters of the country. They just turned the whole good thing upside down and then miscreants took the opportunity. So, I condemn the miscreants, I condemn looting, I condemn destruction and killing of innocent people or even the policemen or anybody. It is not right. I am very offended. I don’t think we should be shedding the blood of anybody. We should discuss our problems, use political and constitutional means to express ourselves. So, I believe that all these things happened because those who wanted to perpetuate their wickedness on the nation saw that the protest was going to make some positive impacts in our system. We were at the verge of change because the president had already responded by disbanding the SARS; something that has never happened before. So, things were beginning to change in such a way that the citizens were becoming important office holders; where the servants are now beginning to listen to citizens who hold the power. That was what was already evolving and then it was truncated by agent provocateurs who hate the country and who just want to run us into difficulties and cause more problems than we are able to solve.
From the moment the protesters were shot, the situation turned violent forcing state governors, including that of Lagos to impose curfews on their various states. Some people have argued that the curfew aggravated the situation. Do you think the curfew achieved any meaningful result?
The Curfews are aimed at solving problems because no government anywhere will see anarchy or mayhem and keep quiet. Any government that does that is irresponsible. Lagos State Government for example, in my opinion, did excellently well. The governor, for me, was so impressive in the way he handled the protest until the point of the order to shoot the protesters and there was confusion as to who gave the order. Even his response after the shooting was so statesmanly and shows a servant leader. He worked hard to control the situation. I just wished it did not degenerate because he worked hard. I am really impressed with his democratic credentials and the way he showed himself as a servant leader but that split moment of who gave this order or what happened, which up till now we are not sure what happened, kind of rubbished everything, every work, and every sacrifice he has made.
Now, the other state governors had a responsibility to find a way of maintaining peace and the curfew was their best option. I believe that if they didn’t impose the curfew, maybe the situation would have been worse. I don’t think the curfew caused more problems; it was actually supposed to have curbed or reduced the problem. So, I think the governors did well by imposing those curfews to bring sanity and reduce the propensity of the agent provocateurs and the country’s enemies to spoil what was a great move.
One thing that was clear during the looting and burning of public and private property, particularly in Lagos, was that the security agents were conspicuously absent, giving the miscreants the ample opportunity to have a field day. What do you think could have been responsible for this care-free attitude of the security agents?
For me, I believe that having seen this little intervention of the security agents that caused death and more anger, it is only natural that they say, let’s stay away from this problem; let’s not get more involved. And, I am sure that after that mysterious shooting, they may have received orders not to get involved and seeing that there was a growing enmity between the police, the youths and the civilian populace, it was good to reduce their interaction. So, I think it was at that moment that looters took advantage. That is my belief. But, you see, it is a question of what level of distance should have been created. I think that if you look at the total security architecture, maybe it would have been better handled. I mean, asking all the security agents to get out of the way, perhaps, to please the youths and avoid further conflagration, maybe, was taken to an extreme. Maybe, we should have been more strategic by ensuring that while the youths were protesting, we kept security to even protect those protesting. You can always anticipate that if there was no security, it was going to be hijacked. So, I believe that probably that was where there were some bits of error of judgment. We ought to have anticipated this to happen. Most of the hoodlums were not armed; they were just running around with sticks. So, I think that there was extreme response by the security agents in a bid to avoid causing more problems. But, in that process, we lost a very important work that security does everywhere. In good or bad times, security must protect, whether people are protesting or fighting; security must be around. The protest was not against security but against police impunity, excessive use of force, bribery, extortion, corruption and extrajudicial killings which was visible to the whole world. So, the protest was a struggle for the creation of a new Nigeria. We are tired of old Nigeria. The old Nigeria is a nation where you have manifest poverty, corruption, injustice and insecurity. We are looking for a new Nigeria. We started a new Nigeria with what happened in the Edo State governorship election. That was the beginning of a new Nigeria where for once we had an election that was regarded as free and fair since after June 1993. Every Nigerian, including external people applauded it. That was the beginning of the new Nigeria we are looking forward to and #ENDSARS was going to follow on that in dealing with corruption, because the moment you can deal with police corruption, you have dealt with 50 percent of corruption in Nigeria. And all that was aborted but it is not completely aborted; it has only been suppressed.
Where do we go from here?
I think the government and leaders in Nigeria have received enough warning. Those who are leaders, past and present, have received enough warning that Nigerian youths and Nigerians can no longer remain indolent and become powerless in a nation they are supposed to be powerful. The sovereignty is supposed to be with the people but they have been disenfranchised; citizens are made to look like they have no power. The people they hired or elected have now become their lords and masters and don’t care about the people that hired them. I think that was the message that went forth. So, no matter what we have lost; it is a pity people have died and it is bad; property have been lost but those property can be regained; I think the important thing is that we should not lose the message which is that the youths and all Nigerians have started a movement to create a new Nigeria. And you can’t suppress a popular movement; you can stop it or repress it but it will resurface. I think it is time to go back to the drawing board and begin to create a new Nigeria. If we don’t create this new Nigeria, and we keep this old Nigeria that should be dying and we bring it back, I can assure you that a worse crisis with a worse consequence is coming. This is a warning to past, present and future leaders to reset this nation and begin to deal with issues that will deal with poverty. We must deal with poverty, corruption and injustice. It is injustice that breeds inequality and insecurity. If we deal with injustice, we would have dealt reasonably with insecurity and our nation will become a new nation.
Many Nigerians have described President Muhammadu Buhari’s nationwide broadcast as empty and uninspiring as they said it lacked empathy; do you agree with them?
Every Nigerian knows the President as a soldier and a General. We all know that Generals have their own way of behaviour. They are not as sentimental as civilians. They don’t speak so much. I think we are trying to make the president who he is not. One thing President Buhari has done is that he has not pretended to anybody. He has remained who he is. So, I don’t know what Nigerians are expecting if they know their president. For me, what we got is what we got because that is the President and that is who he is; we can’t change him. He is a product of his background, his experience and his training. If you want people that will be crying on the radio or television and showing empathy, we have to look for another person, not President Buhari. What he said is what he believes in and he does not pretend and doesn’t lie to anybody. He is not like some presidents that lie or dance to the crowd or want to please; he doesn’t please. He does what he believes in, and that is who is and that is what Nigeria has.
Credit: The Sun