Buhari expressed concern that in the mayhem that ensued, many lives have been lost.
During a virtual meeting with former Heads of State, President Muhammadu Buhari said it is unfortunate that what was a genuine and well-intended protest by youths against the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and police brutality, was hijacked and misdirected.
Buhari also added that his government will not fold its arms and allow miscreants and criminals continue to perpetrate acts of hooliganism in the country.
At the meeting were all living past leaders, including: Gen. Yakubu Gowon, President Olusegun Obasanjo, Gen. Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, Chief Ernest Shonekan, Gen. Abulsalami Abubakar, and former President Goodluck Jonathan.
On October 20, 2020, soldiers shot into a crowd of #EndSARS protesters in the Lekki area of Lagos. The number of fatalities remain unclear. Many were left badly injured however.
Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu said the attack was orchestrated by “forces beyond his control.”
President Buhari refused to mention the incident during a nationwide broadcast on Thursday October, 22 and no one knows who gave the order, at the time of writing.
Concessions to protesters
Addressing the former leaders, the president recounted the initial concessions made by his administration on the demands of youths protesting against the excesses of some members of the now disbanded SARS.
He recalled that the youths had demanded that the squad be disbanded, and further articulated the additional demands, including:
”The immediate release of all arrested protesters.
”Justice for deceased victims of police brutality and appropriate compensation for their families.
”Setting up an independent body to oversee the investigation and prosecution of all reports of police misconduct within 10 days.
”Psychological evaluation and re-training of all disbanded SARS officers before they can be re-deployed; and increase in police salary.”
The president added that: ”We accepted all the demands and proceeded immediately to scrap SARS and started the process of addressing the other demands.
”Unfortunately, the protesters refused to call off the protest and engage the government to address their grievances. Instead, they became emboldened and gradually turned violent.”
Buhari expressed concern that in the mayhem that ensued, many lives have been lost, a number of public and and private property completely destroyed or vandalized.
Creating jobs for young people
Reiterating his pledge to Nigerians from the nationwide broadcast, the president said:
”We will continue to improve good governance through our democratic process including through sustained engagement.
”We shall also continue to ensure that liberty and freedom, as well as the fundamental rights of all citizens, are protected. Here, I want to also reaffirm our commitment to preserving the unity of this country.”
The president thanked the former Heads of State for attending the meeting.
He also appreciated their invaluable comments, observations and advice, adding that ”Nigerians expect nothing less from responsible statesmen.”
Each of the former leaders commended President Buhari for steps taken so far to restore calm and order to the country and also described the presidential broadcast as detailed and soothing to the country.
”I commend the speech of last night. The nation had been waiting. You made points that I believe need to be commended. Peaceful demonstration is part of democratic practice. The demands of the genuine protesters were accepted, and you are working on implementation. We commend you,” said Obasanjo.
The former heads of state were unanimous in their view that creating jobs and growing the economy; including through direct foreign investments, are critical to checking youth restiveness.
They also expressed their condolences to the bereaved families of civilians, policemen and soldiers killed as a result of the violent protests, and reaffirmed the commitment to respect the fundamental rights of citizens, including for peaceful protests as enshrined in the constitution.
The former Heads of State also condemned the divisive and inciting pronouncements of separatists, and were of the opinion that such acts should be stopped.
The former leaders commended the actions taken by governors to address the demands of the #EndSARS protesters and their efforts to check the excesses of those who perpetrated violent acts and conduct.
Finally, they called on youths to pursue peaceful means in seeking redress through engagement with government and encouraged further conversation with the youths and other stakeholders in the country.
Hoodlums who hijacked the protests at some point, would go on to burn public and private property in Lagos.
A host of shops and businesses were also looted; as anarchy engulfed Nigeria’s largest and economic capital of Lagos in the wake of the protests.