Dear President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd), I will refrain from serving you a menu sprinkled with expletives for a variety of reasons. First, I was raised in the Yoruba culture and baptised in its sacred waters of “omoluabi.” Second, it is premature to single you as responsible for the socio-economic and political problems that have plagued the nation. Third, and perhaps the most important: I respect your office and your person, especially the fact that you are a military veteran. Finally, I had great expectations for your presidential aspirations — in 2015 — it always felt like I won a lottery whenever I evoked rational arguments to convince anyone to vote for you. I do not want to take the pedestrian route to the issue of police brutality, bad governance and the #EndSARS protests. I crave your indulgence, Your Excellency, English words and expressions can appear deservedly rude, sometimes. I will subsequently refer to you as “Mr President” for literary convenience.
Dear Mr President, permit me to invite you to a brief historical excursion. History is littered with examples of anti-government protests that share a semblance with the current situation in many parts of Nigeria. For instance, there was a “Flour War” – in 1775, triggered by the excessive price of bread in France before the French Revolution. The 2007 West Bengal food riots in West Bengal, India, was attributed to the shortage of food and prevalent corruption in the public system. How can we forget the armed rebellions that stretched across a large fraction of the Arab world in the early 2010s? In Tunisia, for instance, it was ignited as a response to unemployment, the draconian policies of oppressive regimes and the inhumane living conditions. From Tunisia, the protests trickled to five other countries: Egypt, Syria, Libya, Yemen, and Bahrain. The rulers became the casualty as they were either deposed (Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Muammar Gaddafi, Hosni Mubarak, and Ali Abdullah Saleh) or governed a nation battered and reconfigured by major uprisings, persistent political or religious violence. Recent examples manifest itself with the 2016 and 2017 riots over food shortages and economic collapse in Venezuela.
The Nigerian youths converged to air their legitimate grievances against police brutality, especially a notorious police unit. The Nigerian youths, unlike the politicians, have realised that the nation’s problems and solutions do not adorn ethnic or religious apparel. The outcome of this new-found romance and solidarity will be dramatic, although it promises to be a steep road to national self-discovery and reflection. Nonetheless, it is ill-advised to dismiss the protesters as mischievous youths or equate them to hoodlums in your attempt to constrict a legitimate protest. Nigerians are sore from wrestling with hunger, and the youth are disillusioned about the blurred future that seductively awaits them.
The #EndSARS protests are merely a vehicle to dispatch grievances: bad governance, staggering unemployment, a lack of infrastructure, frail education system, insecurity, and endemic corruption. Socio-economic issues are couched in the “#EndSARS” protests. The reaction of your government has been shocking, and the swift change from SARS to SWAT has been insensitive and painful to witness. When I thought it couldn’t get any worse, it appears the Nigerian government is lowering the bar with something almost beautiful in its absurdity as dispatching soldiers to halt protesters.
It is not only a dangerous twist to escalate the tension; it is a one-way street to anarchy and reflects the air of nonchalance and insensitive posture of your government. The hostile attitude of your government is reminiscent of the immoral methods, tyrannical and authoritarian template of radical governance advocated by Machiavelli in his 1513 book titled “The Prince.” Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli was an Italian Renaissance diplomat, philosopher, writer and political scientist —regarded as a “teacher of evil.” Mr President, let me acquaint you with the term “nobles”, conceived today as “power elites”, “oligarchy”, or what is widely known as “cabal” in Nigerian parlance. Machiavelli detects a perpetual conflict of interest between the nobles (power elites) and citizens, which is the case in Nigeria. Mr President, have you been listening to the whispers of sycophants?
Listen to that voice of reason and safeguard the interest of the citizens, please, Mr President. Perhaps, it’s time to make sweeping changes to your circle of advisers. Of course, do not expect the politicians who are the beneficiaries of a dysfunctional state to become the reformists. I will not attempt schooling you, Mr President, but you should be telling the Nigerian police to stop the brutality and extrajudicial killing of youths. The culprits of extrajudicial killings must face the consequences of their actions. In the end, everyone is subservient to the law! The Nigerian Police Force must understand that an iPhone is not a lethal weapon, fancy outfits, hairstyle and posh cars are not synonymous with fraudsters. Instead, it only mirrors the backwardness of the entire Police Force. Mr President, channel massive investments into digital infrastructure and training of personnel to help the police exercise its duties and increase its capacity to tackle cybercrime without recourse to violence. Mr President, instigate the voluntary return of stolen funds by politicians as a form of atonement and the spiralling cost of governance in the face of monumental debts. Mr President, you have to neutralise the allure of financial gratification that has contaminated political appointments, public office and the perimeter of political life.
On a cautionary note, the world is watching how you transact the lives of our youths and our great nation. Mr President, it could be a good time (or a wrong time) to be the president of Nigeria: your actions in the coming days will determine where the pendulum swings and the flow of current. Mr President, immortalise yourself as the architect of structural reforms and the father of a new Nigeria. Go on a pilgrimage into your conscience, virtue and morality should be enough to stop the bloodshed. The people are demanding good governance and saying it’s no longer a case of “business as usual” or “suffering and smiling!”
Mufutau is a PhD student at the University of Erfurt, Germany