There is power in speech. Words can heal. Words can kill. Great orators wield the power to move the world with the power of their words. Their eloquence can be like a melody, melting the heart of melancholy. Oratory could be a gift, or an art that can be learnt. It is in doubt whether President Buhari has the gift or has learnt the art. But as the President, he has access and the resources to engage one of the best writers in Nigeria.

#EndSARS Protest and Black Tuesday

The famous #EndSARS protest in Nigeria has been one of a kind. It is a protest against Police brutality, especially the atrocities of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and more importantly, a protest against bad governance. Thus, the #EndSARS hash tag has become a tagline used by the masses to make legitimate demands on the Government of Nigeria at all levels. While citizens in several Nigerian cities joined the protest, the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja (FCT) and Lagos State are the leading locations for the protest.

On a Black Tuesday (20/10/2020), in what appeared to be a well-organised military assault at the Lekki Toll Gate, Lekki, Lagos, some men adorning the uniform of the Nigerian Army (and who were believed to be Nigerian Army officers) were caught on video as they opened fire, causing grievous bodily harm to many peaceful protesters as well as fatality – what many described as pure massacre – #LekkiMassacre. The point must be made that even if it were only one Nigerian that died as a result of the shots fired on live bullets, it is as good as a million Nigerians were killed! This is why the approach is highly condemnable.

The Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, released a statement confirming that as at the time of his hospital tour, no death was recorded. This appeared to run contrary to the news making the rounds in the social media. Talking about the power of words, the Governor ought to have been more circumspect in his choice of words as it is believed that his comment at the time that no fatality was recorded was like rubbing salt on an open wound, which probably increased the rising tension that led to the rampage that followed. The Governor also made reference to “forces beyond his control” as being responsible for the ugly incident which led to the call for his resignation, notwithstanding his much admired response in the early days of the protest.

As the heat was on, Nigerian citizens were looking out for their President but no word came from Aso Rock until 7pm, 22/20/2020, roughly 48 hours after the Lekki incident. In the public domain, President Buhari is perceived as a President who does not care about his people and who appears to love Nigeria and not necessarily Nigerians per se. It is difficult to articulate the reason for the nonchalant posturing of the Nigerian President but it may not be unconnected to the level of abuses donated to his person over time which often make him look like an angry dad. Whatever the case, addressing the citizens promptly and properly, with true passion, (and without necessarily reading out from written notes) is an obligation owed, and a powerful antidote which Buhari has failed to employ in his relationship with the citizenry.

Bushels of Chaff

Listening to President Buhari’s speech in the face of the crisis in Lagos State and other parts of Nigeria, one is tempted to liken Buhari’s speech today to what Bassanio said about his friend, Gratiano, in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice (Act 1 Scene 1) thus:

Gratiano speaks an infinite deal of nothing, more than any man in all Venice. His reasons are as two grains of wheat hid in two bushels of chaff: you shall seek all day ere you find them, and when you have them, they are not worth the search.

President Buhari’s speech lacked the vibe and ointment that is capable of healing and reuniting the nation. There is no assurance or reassurance in the speech. This was unfortunate.

The Formula

President Buhari and all our politicians must be reminded that there is one formula for addressing critical issues like the one recently being witnessed which is oftentimes neglected. Beyond ensuring that steps are constantly taken to guarantee good governance and deliver the much needed reforms, our leaders must learn to adopt one of their political campaign strategies in dealing with the masses. During election campaigns, the President, in company of other Governors and top party stakeholders often converge where they physically engage the people on a one on one campaign. This is notwithstanding their busy schedules. Imagine if Buhari and his political entourage had done this at Lekki Toll Gate instead of the lifeless speech delivered, the people may likely be appeased. During elections, our leaders condescend to the lowest levels to appeal for votes but will ascend the throne of their hallowed offices in times of crises to make largely unconvincing remarks.

Sovereignty belongs to the People

True sovereignty belongs to the people. Without the people, there is no Government. Section 14 (1) and (2)(a)(b) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) provides:

The Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be a State based on the principles of democracy and social justice. It is hereby declared that sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria from whom government through this Constitution derives all its powers and authority; the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of Government.

Importantly, it is the duty of the Government to provide adequate security to protesters in order to ensure that the protest is not hijacked by hoodlums. This failure is also responsible for the escalation of the crisis. The Government must be proactive in beefing up security to ensure that any breakdown of law and order is contained and that there is no destruction of lives and properties. The duty to protect lives and properties is a duty that must be performed especially in the most demanding times and not in moments of tranquility only.

Peace and Unity! Rest in Peace all our fallen heroes.

Stephen Azubuike
Author: Stephen Azubuike
Stephen is a lawyer with expertise in Commercial Dispute Resolution and Technology Law practice. He is a Partner at Infusion Lawyers. He has successfully argued cases from the High Courts of various jurisdictions to the Appellate Courts on behalf of financial institutions, other corporate bodies and multinationals. He has worked with a number of startup tech companies. He tweets @siazubuike.
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