Wednesday, 2 December 2020

“Nigerian Army Should Be Commended for Managing EndSARS Protests Professionally” …Olufemi Aduwo

By Daniel Daniel 

Comrade Olufemi Aduwo
Comrade Olufemi is the permanent representative of the Centre for Convention on Democratic Integrity Inc (CCDI) to the United Nations. He doubles as president of Rights Monitoring Group (RMG). In this interview with the Editor, FOLORUNSHO HAMSAT, Aduwo speaks on the last EndSARS protests across the nation, the army engagement, the government responsibility, among other germane issues.


 We learnt that you were at the venue of EndSARS protest in Lekki, Lagos, would you like to share what you witnessed that day?

I visited Alausa, lkeja where the protesters gathered on the 11th of October, 2020 and went there consecutively for three days and each day,  l would be there for six or eight hours. For certain reasons, l started visiting Lekki Toll Gate from the 15th of October till the 20th of October, 2020. I saw when the soldiers came to the toll gate and l also witnessed when the policemen came after the soldiers had left. 
After my first visit to Lekki Toll Gate,l saw the momentum gathered and l knew the protest would end in crisis between the security agencies and the unarmed youth. On the 17th of October, l sent message to Chief Ayo Adebanjo the Afenifere leader through a top member of the group. l wanted the respected elder along with Pastor Adeboye, Pastor Adeyemi,Admiral Ndubusi Kanu and other respected elders to liaise with the protesters and also with federal government, since government have agreed to look into issues the youth raised. Also,l sent the same message to His Royal Majesty the Ooni of Ife and former President Obasanjo. A day after, Obasanjo visited Ooni of lfe at his palace and after they met, Ooni announced he would intervene.

 Ideally, federal government could have reached out to some respected elders before the Lekki Toll Gate episode. Participatory democracy allows protest as long as it is within the boundaries of the law. Unfortunately, it is very rare for protests to go on for days without being hijacked by hoodlums or criminal minded persons.

 The protesters said that they had no leaders…

(cuts in)… l strongly believe the government could have made the move to talk to the protesters. The truth is, they had identifiable leaders during the protest but they were being smart about it, perhaps, to confuse the government and to avoid their leaders from being bought over. These youths were listening to words of some elders in the society while the protests lasted.If they didn’t have leaders, who were those providing them money, food and other essentials at the protest venues? Mind you it was not the Buhari national address that stopped the protests; in fact, Mr. President said they have right to protest. Somebody somewhere called off the protests. Government should have met with these elders and encourage them to intervene. Already, it was obvious after thugs attacked the protesters in Benin, Edo State, Abuja and Lagos that the protests were going to turn violent. I participated in the protest against the annulment of 1993 

presidential election; it was hijacked with violence and stealing of property. It was the same during the ‘Black Lives Matter’ protest in America. A hungry man is an angry man and an angry man sometimes is a mad man. When a barely literate person joins a protest, his perception is different from that of a graduate who needs a white collar job. Does it mean the security intelligence community underrated the protesters that they could not envisage the outcome before such magnitude destructions happened in many parts of the country?
 At what point did you leave the protest venue?

I was at the Lekki Toll Gate till 11pm along with three other members of my organisation. When the military arrived, l saw four vechicles; they stopped at a distance and the soldiers came down and walked toward where the protesters gathered. ln the 80s, l was a defence correspondent with a foreign news agency. My understanding of the military engagement in such protest control is that, any soldier deployed for such assignment would be given at least two magazines.A magazine contained between 15 and 30 bullets. It means the two magazines would have between 30 and 60 bullets. So, if a soldier points his AK-47 containing 30 or 60 bullets at a crowd of such magnitude at a close range, a single soldier would kill not less than 30 persons. Even the bullets will not only hit their targets, they will shred their bodies. This raises even more questions; did we witness soldiers firing to the sky at Lekki Toll Gate on the day of the incident? The answer is yes. Were people running to avoid being hit by bullets that day? The answer is yes. Is it possible for people to die during a stampede without being shot at? The answer is yes.

When the CNN came up with the ‘unconfirmed report’ that a specific number of people died at Lekki Toll Gate, I told the Amnesty International Secretary General, Mr.Kumi Naidoo on phone that such information could not be correct. I am a member of Amnesty lnternational, l don’t get involved with what the local chapter in Nigeria is doing. ln a nutshell, l didn’t witness any person directly shot at during the melee at Lekki Toll Gate.

Why do you think there has been controversy and passing of blames about the issue?

The controversy started with post information and communication management. It was already a crisis and it involved public relations, not media relations to pass the message across and heal the wound. It was wrong for the Army to have denied being at the toll gate, though they later agreed they were there. With due respects, I would lay the blame at the doorstep of Mr. Sanwo-Olu, the Lagos State governor The curfew was necessary but the timing of announcement was wrong. The announcement was made around 10am in the morning, when many have left their homes, to start at 4pm. Immediately l heard it was 4pm, l said it would fail, because of the transportation mess in the state. The shifting of the time from 4pm to 9pm would have been announced before 4pm and not at 5pm or 6pm as the governor said on a television programme where he was a guest two days after the incident. 

The management of the Lekki Toll Gate who turned off the lights is culpable. Who gave the order to switch off the lights and why were all the answers provided by the governor and the toll gate management far from the truth? Assuming the lights were on, we would have clearly known whether the soldiers actually did more than shooting to the sky. All kinds of weapons are useable during fighting. I know that it was not only DJ Switch that did the recording of the events that day and l know her submissions were not totally accurate or correct. Somebody said DJ Switch did the recordings from when the soldiers left Kofo Abayomi Street where the 81 division army office is located and another team of soldiers left Bonny Camp to Lekki. That can’t be the truth.

 The army has defended its position on Lekki shooting. How would you evaluate their testimony?

Let me make it clear; lam not a Buharist or a supporter of APC or card holder of PDP. Ln fact, in 2019, l wrote President Buhari and copied his late chief of staff, Abba Kyari and the NSA on why l would not support his government.  l don’t think Buhari is extremely a bad person, but many of those who are leaders in his party are criminals. I applaud the army on this EndSARS protest, the soldiers performance was professional and perfect. I was amazed when I saw on television the military men in Osun State and Lagos State pleading with the protesters and even exercising to pacify them in the streets. 

This was happening for the first time in Nigeria. The error was made by Lagos State governor, Sanwo-Olu because of the way he declared the curfew and also invited the army. Information when not properly and timely passed could cause serious damage as being witnessed. Regardless the alternative to the truth being spread, the army and police engagement were commendable.ln 2012,some elders in the country’s political class who were on a peaceful protest were violently interrupted by teargas-wielding security men.The demonstrators were led by Prof. Ben Nwabueze, including former Minister of Finance, Dr. Kalu Idika Kalu; Dr. Tunji Braithwaite; Chief Missioner of the AnsaruDeen Society of Nigeria, Alhaji Abdulrahman Ahmad, among others. They were protesting the increase in fuel price before they were violently dispersed by the police. l don’t think such prolong protests with wanton destruction of public property would be tolerated during President Obasanjo period. L am not saying people should not protest, but comparing with the past, the army did well.

Does the governor have power to call the army out?

Since 1999, many things have been going on and accepted as norms. For instance, nearly every state has a security outfit made up of regular police, navy, Air Force and army. In Lagos State, there is OP-MESA, it is a security outfit that comprises of police, soldiers and Air Force and is answerable to the governor in fighting crime in the state. It is an aberration to involve military in normal police duties. Why can’t we strengthen the police structure for effective performance of their duties? The army said that the governor invited them. I believe them. Neither President nor chief of army staff would deploy military to any state without the knowledge of the state governor. During the 1993 presidential election annulment 
protest, the then chief of army staff, General Bamayi,  met with the civilian governor of Lagos State then, Chief Otedola and asked for his permission to allow army to enter the streets and quench the protests, regardless that the army was ruling at federal level. Already, the Nigerian army is overstretched and it’s not the best for the overall interests of the national security. Soldiers were trained to fight war. But we are inviting them for civil engagement, what has happened to the police.

 What is your suggestion on the blockade of certain protest leaders bank accounts by the Central Bank 

I have met the CBN Governor severally at the World Bank and lMF Board of Governors meetings in Washington DC and l do exchange messages with him. On monetary issue, I would plead with him to be as neutral as possible in this matter. Whether there is a law backing the action or not, I would advise that those accounts are unfrozen, unless the government has more classified information about the account holders. If it was the DSS that asked the accounts to be blocked, they have their own shortcomings too. The DSS is about intelligence. They should have known about the protest long before it happened and when it started, they should have seen where it might lead to.

 Do you see the possibility of a similar protest in the future?

Yes of course, unless we are not practicing democracy anymore. Regardless the threat from government against future occurrence, it would still happen. It is not only the police brutality the protesters were after, corruption and bad governance were among the issues raised. For example, governments should not wait for people to protest to know that the wages and conditions of service of police and military must be improved

Some Nigerians have been calling for the sack of service chiefs for alleged incompetence. But you are saying the army has performed well. How do you justify that?

I don’t care whether the chief of army staff is kept in office for 10 years, what Nigerians want is performance. But we should not forget that fighting terrorism is totally different from fighting conventional war.In a conventional war, there are rules of engagement.For example,soldiers would not kill journalists,Red Cross or United Nations personnel or unarmed civilians,unlike the murderous action of killing farmers by terrorists. Mexico has been fighting terror war for more than 50 years, the United States is yet to defeat Taliban over the years regardless the current peace agreement President Trump entered into with Taliban, which may not have any meaningful impact at the long run. 

Let government change the service chiefs monthly, that still would not translate into defeat of Boko Haram. The military needs capacity enhancement and modern equipment.With viable intelligence community activation, definitely things would change for good. l got to know when l went to Dafur, Sudan as a member of United Nations fact-finding mission in 2017, that in military, strategies are bottom build-up arrangement. l don’t think the current service chiefs would take any decision arbitrarily in regard of the execution of war against terrorism. I am not saying the current service chiefs are the best in military, but calling for their removal seems to have political undertones.

 How do you think the impasse could have been resolved before it escalated?
The federal government and the appropriate ministries concerned should have done what l said earlier by reaching out to credible leaders before the Lekki Toll Gate shooting saga. What should be done now are remedy applications within and outside the country. Any sanction against Nigeria now may have damaging impact because currently, the country is bleeding.

 The information minister said government may sanction CNN for misreporting the Lekki toll gate shooting. Do you support that?

Alhaji Lai Muhammed should know that no one fights the press and win. For misinformation, government has the right to send protest letter to CNN for apology and retraction, and since CNN has realized it made a mistake and has retracted the story, it should end the episode. That is the beauty of credible journalism. Also, government should know that the era of sanctioning radio and television for alleged misreporting or being critical of government, is gone. Mutual engagement is the rule.

 In spite of the calmness, the calls or restructuring or breakup are mounting. Do you think that is the solution to the country’s challenges?

l have written and spoken a lot about restructuring. To me, it means devolution of power to the federating States. It means genuine fiscal federalism in practice, something similar to what we had in 1960 and 1966 before the military truncated the process. l don’t think any reasonable person would oppose such plan. Regardless the challenges, l don’t think either that any responsible person would be clamouring for the country to break. We collectively spoilt the process and we should collectively rebuild it.Regardless how many years the northerners have been ruling; the north remains the most backward and place of abject poverty.The political leaders are selfish and lack the political will and trust to do what is right. The looters are everywhere across the country.

Would you like to speak on Asiwaju Tinubu’s rumoured presidential ambition and the APC alleged plan to return Goodluck Jonathan to power in 2023?
Goodluck Jonathan is a son of grace. Here was a man who never envisaged he could be a commissioner but he became deputy governor. He later became governor, vice president and then president. He was doing well at the beginning until he allowed the political hyenas misled him. The economy became so bad under him that if he had been reelected then, things could have been worse probably than it is now. The stealing was massive as it is now. When the masses demanded for change of leadership in 2015, it was normal. But unknown to the masses, politicians who were calling for change were the actual people they could have voted out. 

However, if Jonathan decides to join APC, he is entitled. After all there is no difference between APC and PDP. Bukola Saraki and Abubakar Atiku once abandoned him in PDP and joined APC to stop his second term. It is when they could not achieve their selfish agenda in APC that they returned to PDP. So, it is good if Jonathan too dumps them in PDP and joins APC, but l don’t believe it. l will advise him not to contest. He has secured good place for himself in the political history of Nigeria. Before the election that ousted him was concluded, he called Buhari to congratulate him. What the outgoing United States president, Trump finds difficult to do, he did it.

On Tinubu, everybody knows that he would like to contest for the office of President in 2023. But it does not need a star reader to know that the powers that be do not want him as president. The powers that be are not limited to the president, governors or lawmakers. The political influencers are not limited to those who occupy political offices, in fact, foreign influence too matter as well. Majority of them are not partisan politicians.
To start with, Tinubu already has problem in Southwest apart from that,will Alhaji Tinubu run with a Christian from the north, that would be difficult to sell.The country is more divided on religion line now than ever before.ln the past,religion was not an issue in political permutation.Jakande was a muslim and his deputy, Jafojo, was also a muslim.The religion issue came into the system during the IBB regime and it has continued.

Alhaji MKO Abiola, a muslim, could not take the former NLC president, Pascal Bafyau, a Christian from the north as his running mate in 1993 but went for Kingibe,a muslim.With the current situation in the country, neither muslim/muslim ticket nor christian/christian ticket will sell in 2023 or thereafter.l will advise Tinubu that he should  support Yemi Osinbajo or Kayode Fayemi. None of them have come out and declare, though.Tinubu should have seen the handwriting on the wall that the powers that be do not support him. If they field him, he will lose. Besides, it would be disastrous for Tinubu to be elected as President of Nigeria.
With all the revelations we are hearing about his companies and Lagos State resources, Bola Tinubu’s presidential ticket would not fly.

 What is your position on restructuring, in view of the recent security challenge in Ondo State?
The security challenge is across country. People are being kidnapped; a royal father was shot dead in the State weeks ago, even in the north Emirs have been killed in the past. It is becoming clear that no part of Nigeria is safe. Boko Haram in the north east, banditry in the north west and kidnapping and robbery in the entire southern part of the country. This only brings to the fore the call for community policing. There should be devolution of power. The north has nothing to lose in this arrangement. Power must come back to the states. It does not mean that the federal government has lost its powers. In a proper federation, every state is more or less a partner. Nine states are producing oil in Nigeria and 27 states and federal government are sharing every month and collecting bailout funds as when due, how is that fair? It will not work. The police are not well paid and we keep pretending. This is a country of more than 400 ethnic groups. The way God created Nigeria, it can never break. Restructuring is inevitable because Nigeria is not working as it was during the First Republic.

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