I commend the organisers of Wednesday’s anniversary of the historic #EndSARS protests of 2020.
The mass demonstrations against police brutality, which began as a social media campaign symbolically against the murderous Special Anti-Robbery Squad, gained widespread participation by Nigerians worldwide. The protests represented a campaign against the atrocious governance of the President, Major General General Muhammadu Buhari (retd) government.
It is a sign of hope that despite the government’s shameful shooting of protesters last year, Nigerians ignored police threats this year to participate in the anniversary.
That watershed event was the notice of younger Nigeria that it would not accept the status quo: the pliant, compliant willingness of us—their parents—to endure brutal policing.
The youth made something else even clearer: that the betrayal of their 2015 votes by the Buhari government would not go unpunished.
It is that sense of conviction that made last week’s anniversary so pivotal because one year later, things are far worse: governance is far more pathetic, and the country is on the verge of disintegration.
But how did the government prepare to demonstrate its response? It sent to London—not Enugu, not Ogbomoso, not Kano, and not Maiduguri—Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, armed with the ‘good’ news.
Here was Osinbajo’s sermon: “[Buhari] is possibly the most popular Nigerian politician that we ever [sic] had in generations…possibly the only person who can go into a place or somewhere without bossing people to gather and they will come and listen to him speak.”
According to the vice-president, a former lawyer who has been in power with Buhari for six and a half years, this is the key ingredient for Nigeria to succeed.
“We need that level of credibility to be able to solve problems in our country. And I think because of his level of credibility, despite everything, he is still the only one that can call everyone, and even people who do not necessarily agree with him know that he is a man of his words.”
He was making the case that Nigeria should not “break up,” because Buhari is popular and credible and can resolve Nigeria’s problems.
The vice-president was not speaking in Abuja. Not in Aso Rock, persuading Buhari about the import of his “credibility.” He was not speaking at a Town Hall in London, fielding questions from thousands of Nigerians eager to know whether they would have a country to return to.
He spoke to senior Nigerian diplomats in the United Kingdom. In other words, here was a top official of the palace going abroad to convince other palace officials that the king is great and this is the reason why the restive people they would rather divide or avoid must stop fighting.
Summoning his best prosecutorial powers, Osinbajo argued: “Everywhere in the world today, people are coming together to form stronger units, they are not breaking up, this is not the time to break up…How does a country with all the potential and everything that we have, think that the best way is to break up?”
Imagine the kind of impact this kind of sophistry might have made were he speaking to hundreds of exasperated younger Nigerians in Lagos, or Ibadan, or Kano, or Enugu. Instead, he travelled several hours on the presidential jet, at taxpayers’ expense, to address officials who are unable to implement a flawless passport renewal scheme.
He declared: “If you look at all of us sitting here, we represent all the geo-political zones. This is the Nigeria that will succeed, anything else doesn’t make sense.”
But this is exactly what is wrong with the Buhari government, which chooses to worship itself, and then to broadcast that the entire world worships it.
Every Nigerian, especially Buhari’s supporters, knows that to claim he is credible and popular is worse than a joke: it is a crime. That is why it can only be committed in front of people who are programmed to nod their heads.
Yes, some of us one believed—even argued—that Buhari was the opportunity Nigeria needed for a reset. It took him less than six months in office to cure us of that delusion in the hospitals of his insincerity.
Buhari is credible and popular? Where, exactly?
What accomplishment has he: a credible speech on his own? Can he be accused of remembering something he ever said, such as an electoral promise?
Has he honoured a court order, any court order? Did he build the VP’s residence?
Did Buhari give Nigeria electricity? Did he recover the $16bn he said he would from officials of the Olusegun Obasanjo government on the electricity file?
Did he bring home all our abducted children? Did he give a child—any child other than his—hope?
Did he build a hospital? Or declare how much of Nigeria’s resources he squanders annually abroad, he who banned medical tourism?
Did Buhari triumph over Boko Haram and we failed to notice? Are not Nigeria’s federal roads and rail and forests and farms overrun by criminals as security has collapsed in his hands?
If Buhari is credible and popular, was Osinbajo referring to his consistent efforts to attract to his APC party the most corrupt politicians from other parties?
In Buhari’s years, businesses have left Nigeria in droves, heading for anywhere else. Nigerians are fleeing wherever they can.
Where, exactly, has Buhari been praised, by whom and for what: by his hired staff shamelessly singing his praises in public?
The longer Buhari has stayed in office, the longer has Nigeria’s list of woes grown. He may be president, but militancy, insurgency, secessionism, banditry, and violent cattle-herders now run the country. Nigeria was corrupt before and Buhari’s cabinet is the nation’s filthiest since October 1960, but so routine is corruption now that Buhari holds photo celebrations in Aso Rock to welcome recruits of the most corrupt politicians from other parties. This is “credibility”?
How bad is the situation? Nigeria is currently scrambling to discredit a story by the Wall Street Journal that the security agencies recently paid $50,000 to retrieve an anti-aircraft weapon which threatened Buhari from a kidnapping gang.
In its current edition, The Economist reports on how, under Buhari, Nigeria is spiraling into ungovernability, observing that the collapse of security and state authority is to blame.
And contrary to the self-serving narrative of the Osinbajos, the Economist says: “Two factors help explain Nigeria’s increasing instability: a sick economy and a bumbling government…Economic troubles are compounded by a government that is inept and heavy-handed…[Buhari] has failed to curb corruption, which breeds resentment.”
This is the truth the world sees. It is how the #EndSARS generation sees Nigeria. Neither Buhari’s increasingly pedestrian, passionless, and visionless speeches nor the manipulation by ruthless politicians can change it.
If Osinbajo said anything of value in London, it is that we are better off as one nation. Paradoxically, the Buhari he praises has actively worked against that prospect for over six years.
This is what #EndSARS reminds us of. And if we are to keep alive the hope of one nation, real Nigerians must propagate its message.
And #EndSARS should make it a keep principle to actively reject whoever and whatever Buhari supports ahead of 2023.