BusinessDay

The Nigerian state only listens to the language of violence!

As expected, the Nigerian government, on Saturday, February 13, employed brutality to thwart peaceful protest at the Lekki toll gate against the decision of the Lagos state government. Cleverly masqueraded as decision of the judicial panel investigating the Lekki massacre, to handover the toll gate back to the Lekki Concession Company (owned by the Lagos state government) for resumption of tolling with no sign or hope of justice for the many who were killed on October 20, 2020.

The moment the protesters signified their intention to resume protest, many efforts were made to dissuade them, including the ethnicization of the protests and various threats to the protesters. Apparently, when that failed, the Lagos state police command mobilised thousands of heavily armed policemen to a so-called ‘show of force’ at the tollgate, leaving many to wonder why criminals, kidnappers and arsonists have been having a field day in Lagos if the command had such a large number of men and firepower.

Still undeterred, the protesters turned up on Saturday and were met with brutal force. The government was apparently determined to suppress their legitimate expression of dissent and demand for justice. Many were severely beaten and brutalised and dozens were even arrested. One wonders the commitment of the Lagos state government to investigating police brutality when it is still sanctioning the brutalisation and arrest of peaceful protesters.

The unspoken message to all peaceful protesters and agitators is simple: the Nigerian state only understands the language of violence

But beyond the government suppression of legitimate dissent and peaceful protest, the message it keeps passing is that it only understands and listens to just one language – violence. Since its inception, the Nigerian state has always made it known it will not tolerate peaceful protests or dissent from anyone or group. From Ken Saro Wiwa and his Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP), the Shiite sect – the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), the disparate pro-Biafran groups peacefully demanding self-determination, to the various civil society groups and individuals protesting for good governance, release of the abducted Chibok girls and an end to police brutality, the pattern has been the same: the state will ruthlessly crush every form of peaceful protest or dissent.

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The Niger Delta youth were the first to understand how the Nigerian state thinks and operates. Tired of being maimed and killed for demanding their rights, youth groups used the instrumentality of violence to successfully threaten the economic survival of the Nigerian state and subsequently negotiated an amnesty programme, in 2009 worth billions of dollars and set the precedence for violent confrontation as the only viable means for resolving disputes with the Nigerian state.

The Boko Haram insurgency virtually followed this template. The Nigerian state responded to the group’s growing influence the only way it knew; through violence. Yusuf, the founder, and many of the sect’s members were brutally and extra-judicially executed. Those who survived the crackdown took refuge in the forest and had no option than to take up arms against the state. So lethal and successful had the group become that the Nigerian state, on several occasions, has offered them amnesty and continues to dangle the amnesty option before them just to get them to agree to come to the negotiation table. The rehabilitation and release of repentant militants, the proposed bill to set up a commission just to take care of ex-Boko Haram members are signs the Nigerian state has almost run out of options in fighting the group militarily and is desperate for some respite.

Shouldn’t these cases have led to a rethink on how the state handles peaceful and non-violent agitations? You can’t bet on the Nigerian state to learn any useful lesson.

How did the state respond to the October protests against police brutality? It simply ordered soldiers to go massacre peaceful protesters at the Lekki toll gate. So, it was a foregone conclusion how they would respond to the February 13 protest. The unspoken message to all peaceful protesters and agitators is simple: the Nigerian state only understands the language of violence; and the only chance of being taken seriously is by engaging in armed and violent confrontation with the state. Just last week the state demonstrated this by sending emissaries to discuss peace terms with the ruthless bandits who have been terrorising the north-western states of Zamfara, Kebbi, Katsina, Sokoto, Kaduna and Niger states for more than five years now and whose activities have led to the death of thousands and the displacement of millions of people in those states. Like the Niger Delta militants and Boko Haram fighters, the bandits have understood the modus operandi of the Nigerian state and know that the only way they stand a chance of being listened to is by taking up arms.

You don’t have to be a prophet to predict what will happen in the country in the near future. But how do our leaders care! They have control of the security forces and how will Nigerians know they are in charge if they don’t unleash those forces?

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