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OPINION: EndSARS to EndSWAT, a historic protest risks losing meaning

The generation Y and Z on twitter finally showed it could do more than bark. It is deviating from the norm, going beyond bantering and joking about the ills of Nigeria and finally using the platform to serve as a catalyst for physical protests. More than anything else, I am finally happy and have some hope, that trending on Twitter will no longer end as what many have described as virtual noise.

One minute you are fuming with anger over revelations coming from a Twitter trend, the next minute, you’re giggling uncontrollably because as usual, members of your generation are hitting the ‘I cannot kill myself button’, by making memes and all manner of jokes from the situation. No matter the seriousness of an issue, there would always be a comical twist to it on social media, especially on twitter.

The memes about inhumanities and grave injustices committed by some personnel of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a notoriously rogue police unit that inspires fear whenever it is encountered, finally transformed into action. As one typically stereotyped as being a troublemaker (whatever that means), my joy knew no bounds seeing hundreds of people across different locations to deliver one message; Enough is Enough. Spending seven hours in traffic to navigate from Onipanu through to Ikeja on Ikorodu road was worth it, at least as of Monday.

In an uncharacteristic twist to the unfolding drama, the authorities appeared to listen and announced pretty much their agreement to the protesters’ demands. Top on this list, SARS was ‘disbanded’, and the following was the promise of police reforms in hopes that the public can finally trust in those supposed to keep it safe.

If you ask me, I think the protesters, already hyped up and mentally ready for a protracted confrontation surprised even themselves by getting such a quick response from the government. They were taken aback and could hardly contain the situation. Why do I say this? The reactions to the announcement of SWAT as its replacement.

To some already upset protesters, this was SARS being repackaged in a new wrapper. And oh boy, the resulting memes did not fail to deliver the message; dissatisfaction expressed with humour.

I believe many of us watch American Films, especially those action movies with crimes and plenty of shooting. When the situation has gone beyond the batons and capacity of regular police officers, do you remember those guys that show up in extra gear as if they attached multiple shoulder pads on their vests? With night vision goggles at times and very assorted ‘machine guns’, well, not saying Nigerian SWAT would have all that but I’m sure we get the picture.

SWAT is a tactical unit that is tasked with responding to violent crimes; where armed robbery and kidnapping rightly fall. They have basically one job; drop in when the situation is hot, get it under control, apprehend hostiles, and disappear. Heck, they do not even have to conduct investigations and prosecutions as regular police officers continue with that role. They most certainly have no business conducting stop and search, much less mounting roadblocks.

In fact, the Nigeria Police Force has made clear through its twitter handle, that No Personnel of the defunct SARS will be selected to be part of the new Tactical Team.

Also, they are barred from patrols, roadblocks, stop and search, invading privacy by going through phones etc. Very important for me; Operatives of the new tactical team must be free of any pending disciplinary matter especially those touching on misuse of firearms and abuse of human rights, according to a statement by the police.

However, I suspect some of those leading the momentum on social media are callously leaving their followers hyped up so that their opportunity to ‘create activity’ does not dry up, at least not so fast.

Read more Lagos #ENDSARS protesters turn to booze, music to keep spirits high

Unless there is an unspoken request that there should be no police unit tasked with dealing with armed robbery, kidnapping, and other violent crimes. Or perhaps, the Police cannot be trusted to set up another unit that won’t abuse human rights, in which case, they should probably blurt out clearly; Scrap the Police Force! Yes, we do not trust the police, but reforms do not happen overnight.

Now that it has become #EndSWAT, I ask myself; are they out to express pent-up anger or for the thrill of banter. It is at this point important to avoid threading the thin line of infantile tantrums.

Nigerians are angry, and rightly so, but it should not cloud our reasoning. This protest cannot and should not become convoluted to address everything wrong with Nigeria both real and imagined. There is a time, place, and certainly opportunities for everything.

Ti a ba n sukun, o ye ki a ma riran, a Yoruba saying that translates into; even when we are crying, it should not obstruct us from seeing.

There is a risk if not properly handled, this could degenerate into a tantrum scenario, whereas a child requests for something, he/she is given, only to fling it away and continue crying. It will be a matter of time before sympathisers; including its mother/father is fed up.

I hear there is a protest version for mothers tomorrow, and if it were still #EndSARS, I would gladly compel my brothers to join me in accompanying our mother to the nearest protest venue. But as it is now, I need to be sure online savagery and banter have not been brought to the streets, whereas logical reasoning and solution-seeking is what is required. Negotiations also require this anyway, and protests are a form of negotiation.

Some think I have a dislike for the police and their co-travelers, and the little I have published on them (whenever I can) as a journalist probably say that much. This little sermon is hoping some common sense is allowed to prevail. #DropsMic

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