Barely 24 hours after he presided over the National Security Council at the Presidential Villa, Abuja and later addressed the nation, President Muhammadu Buhari on Friday at a meeting with Nigeria’s former presidents and heads of state reiterated that the well organised and peaceful protest by Nigerian youths under the label of #EndSARS though well-intended, was hijacked and misdirected.
At the meeting which was virtual, President Buhari explained to former leaders that his government will not fold its arms while miscreants and criminals perpetrate hooliganism.
Present at the meeting were all living past leaders, including Gen. Yakubu Gowon, President Olusegun Obasanjo, Gen. Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, Chief Ernest Shonekan, Gen. Abulsalami Abubakar, and former President Goodluck Jonathan.
According to presidential spokesman, Femi Adesina, the President recounted the initial concessions made by his administration on the demands of youths protesting against the excesses of some members of the Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS), a tactical unit of the Nigeria Police that was recently disbanded by the government.
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 and psychological evaluation and re-training of all disbanded SARS officers before they can be re-deployed; and increase in Police salary.”
“We accepted all the demands and proceeded immediately to scrap SARS and started the process of addressing the other demands,” Buhari said.
“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.”
President Buhari expressed concern that in the mayhem that ensued, many lives have been lost, a number of public and private properties completely destroyed or vandalised.
Reiterating his pledge to Nigerians from the nationwide broadcast Thursday, the President reaffirmed he 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,” he told the former leaders.
The President thanked the former Heads of State for attending the meeting and 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 applauded the presidential broadcast of Thursday 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,” former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, said.
The former heads of state were unanimous in their view that generation of employment and growing the economy including through direct foreign investments were critical to checking youth restiveness.
Expressing their condolences to the bereaved families of civilians, policemen and soldiers killed as a result of the violent protest, the former leaders reaffirmed the commitment to respect the fundamental rights of citizens, including for peaceful protest as enshrined in the Constitution.
They unanimously condemned and called for an end to the use of divisive and inciting pronouncements by separatists, Femi Adesina stated.
By Tobiloba Kolawole