The title of this piece is a dictum of people of my nationality, the Yoruba. It speaks to the grace of vision (the capacity to see) in the vortex of griefs. And indeed, Nigerians, in millions began to experience a new wave of grief yesterday when soldiers fired live ammunition – types that could be used in conventional warfare – on unarmed youths who were legitimately protesting the uncanny savagery and extortion by a notorious special unit of the Nigeria Police, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad. That kneejerk response to a peaceful protest dwarfed our status. Just as the inability to see the protest of such magnitude ahead also signalled poverty of intelligence gathering.
There is absolutely no justification for the actions of the soldiers. It is against extant principles of international law, it’s a travesty of the Nigerian Constitution and it is unGodly. As I write, the number of those killed in that infamy is uncertain, perhaps tens or even scores, only God knows. Some facts related to that we may never know, especially if it’s true that some corpses were taken away.
But even if it’s one person that was killed, it is still as significant, the right to life is inviolable, at least not under such circumstances. Dele Giwa underscored the sanctity and value of life when he reasoned that “once life is taken in cold blood, it is as gruesome as countless of it that may go down in a pogrom, so let’s forget about number and talk about life”. He wrote in his Newswatch magazine column in 1986 when men of the Nigeria Police invaded ABU Zaria, and used live ammunition on protesting students, terminating the precious life of Farida Mustapha in that blatant operation. Giwa himself would succumb to death just a few months after writing the piece. He was killed in a manner so novel in the history of terror against journalism in Nigeria, and the 34th annual memorialisation of his being held just a day before the massacre at Lekki in Lagos.
So, it is really tragic that soldiers would be ordered to dislodge the mammoth crowd at Lekki using live bullets. It is so inconceivable in any civil society, especially a supposed democracy because the rights to assemble and to protest are constitutive of civil liberties in a democracy. I guess that the realisation of the incivility and the attendant shame explained the denials and buckpassing among certain state actors over who authorised or carried out the premeditated invasion of the protest ground.
The closest and most recent historical occurrence akin to what happened in Lagos last night was the Tiananmen Square Movement, led by students in Mainland China, from April 15 to June 4, 1989. The reason it is also called the June Fourth Incident, for it was on June 4, 1989 that the Chinese authorities ordered the military to disloge the protesting students who had gathered at the Square, just like our people did at Lekki and other theatres of resistance for #EndSARS. May God rest the souls of the martyrs and bring speedy recovery to the injured.
It is preposterous, if not outright unpardonable folly for anyone to think that an organic, psychologically-bonding, spontaneous and decentralised movement like #EndSARS could be extinguished through the barrels of guns. I mean, we are curating Nigeria’s largest youth-led protest in decades. In the annals of digital movements, #EndSARS remains a distinctive episode as the hashtag generated over 28 million tweets in its first week. As a scholar-activist of digital public communication culture, I reckon that a new vista of research into digital movement has been opened with #EndSARS. It will be of interest to Castells, to Mutsvairo, to Jenkins, to Fourie, to Tufekci, to Fuchs and even those in multidisciplinary research, but that’s a discourse for another day.
So, why is it important to possess the power of vision and discernment while we grief? I have monitored closely what is interpreted to be reprisals on the investments of people believed to be the masterminds of the attack on the protesters and I am trying to make sense of what’s happening in that sphere. The pattern of attacks on some media and other infrastructure (irrespective of the owners) brings a dimension we need to interrogate to discern the motives of the ‘enemies’. And I am not talking about the hoodlums – indeed, the Mephistophelean plan to terminate the lives of unarmed protesters or to set fire on infrastructure of economic interests to some people may not have been nursed in the hearts, minds and spirits of the ‘thugs’, who may have offered to be instruments of carrying out reprisals.
It is also improbable that a majority of those who have conducted peaceful protests for almost a fortnight would react in the manner we have seen today in terms of damage to properties. I may be wrong but attacks on private, corporate and public facilities conflate and compound perspectives on the analyses of motives for the attacks.
Perhaps, it will be a mark of wisdom to also focus less on Eleko of Eko, Bola Tinubu and Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu in their personal capacities (even if momentarily). That may enable us to do have deeper perception and to see the real and the more vicious ‘enemies’, including ‘enemies’ we probably didn’t know but who have been waiting for an opportunity to strike. I am just coming out of a personal encounter with ‘frenemies’, so my intervention or reflection here is both contextual and experiential.
I am not a fan of any of the three men I had earlier mentioned but we may need to see beyond their possible or noted ‘desperation’ as political actors with vested interests in Lagos and beyond. Perhaps, we are taking more than a mental note of a misadventurous political narrative which perfectly suits the paradigm of a single story. Chimamanda Adichie already told us about the pitfalls of a single story, and I would add that another motive of a single story is to distract from the main issues, and in this instance the Satanic agenda of the real, more virulent enemies. Some people need to watch their backs, or perhaps it is a whole region. I am going to stop here as I express my condolences once again to the families of those who couldn’t wait for the ultimate victory.
• Dr Ibietan wrote in from Abuja