#EndSARS by Dike Chukwumerije
The poet and spoken word practitioner, Dike Chukwumerije, weighs in on the ongoing #EndSARS protests in Nigeria, celebrates the bravery of the youth and urges citizens to embrace the bigger picture.
I have enjoyed the energy in the streets. Seeing those routinely thought weak – the young, the female – demonstrate strength. Watching Aisha Yesufu, by one exquisitely taken photograph, turn from woman to icon. You know? Icons are important, for long after the persons from whom they sprouted is gone, they remain, inspiring others to walk the path. And what is this path? To understand that the Government is not the Nation. And a generation steadfast in its commitment to the latter, not the former, will lay that missing foundation. All these things I have deeply enjoyed. But the initial focus – ENDSARS – had limited appeal for me. Not because I do not have my own run-ins. But because I have also stood on Falomo Bridge, looking into their Barracks. And I understand that people who are made to live like dogs cannot act like eagles.
So, I am happy to see the focus of protest shift a little more upstream. Because if it is not SARS it will be MOPOL, if it is not MOPOL it will be SWAT. For the problem is not the unit, or the branch, or the trunk. The problem is the roots. And what are the roots? That the people you are asking to reform the Police are the same people who dig boreholes, but leave public water schemes dilapidated; who donate exercise books but leave public schools without roofs or qualified teachers; who will give you money to take your mother to India for hip replacement but leave hospitals without drugs or motivated doctors. These are people who build roads that do not survive the rainy seasons, whose solution to pot holes is bigger jeeps with reinforced suspensions. You see?
Last month – before the first of these protests broke – the government passed a Police Reform Act that, if presented to a room of activists, would draw a grudging applause. It is the first comprehensive overhaul of the Police since its inception, with provisions more far reaching than anything the #ENDSARS movement is asking. I tell you, if the making of statements, the writing of laws, the issuing of proclamations was enough, we may all go home now. But it never is. For no matter how tightly written a legislation, how deftly drawn a policy, it cannot eliminate the need for discretion on the part of its implementer. You see? This is why it will always matter in whose hands the yam and the knife are found.
No doubt, your problem is not the Police. Your problem is the Politician who desires to maintain operational control over the Police, who uses the Force as an opportunity to provide jobs for the people at home, who diverts the funds that should go to rank-and-file into the war chest for the next elections. This is your problem. But when your problem writes you a reference letter for a job, you will use this act of kindness to justify his continuing under-achievement in Office. You will confuse philanthropy with governance, and charity with capacity. You will prioritize the politics of putting a person from your tribe or religion in government over the struggle to ensure government holds power in trust for all people, regardless of tribe and religion. Tell me, then, in whose hands will Reform be safe?
That is why I urge you to look even further upstream to the very source of political power in a Democracy. For you are the victim, and the perpetrator, of this present darkness if, every 4 years, you elect people regardless of their track record in public health, education, infrastructure, housing, economic management, or security. In fact, when they come campaigning, you do not ask. And the ones that, nevertheless, try to show you how, you mock as being too ‘intellectual’ to lead you. Or, perhaps, you are one of the silent majority who have left it to the minority group of ‘practicing politicians’ to elect the person the IG reports to?
I tell you, here, unlike in America, it is not a question of a Police with internal culture different from the mainstream political culture. Here, if you want to end Police Brutality, you must start voting. Here, if you want to end Police Brutality, you must stop voting for ethnicity and religion. Here, if you want to end Police Brutality, you must take a conscious stand – every day, but particularly on Election Day – for merit, track record, and competence in public office. Like this, we may take the tactical victory of a promise of reform, but not lose sight of the strategic goal of Better Governance. This one you cannot tele-guide from the streets. One by one, if you truly want this Freedom, you will have to go to the polls and choose people – from Councillor to President – who will stay on their feet until you are properly seated. This is the way forward.