ON Monday, November 2, 2020, leaders from the 19 states of the defunct Northern Region met at the Sir Kashim Ibrahim House, Kaduna, and offered their response to the recent #EndSARS protest and subsequent breakdown of law and order. The group made up of prominent political leaders, top Federal Government office-holders, governors, traditional rulers and religious leaders, reviewed the historic event and opined that some groups had exploited it to advance their separatist agenda and plot against the Muhammadu Buhari government through the “uncontrolled social media”. Their 20-point communique reiterated their age-old stand that Nigeria is “indivisible” and called for outright censorship of the social media. They also condemned attacks on persons and destruction of property while declaring their “maximum” support for the president’s effort to tackle youth unemployment, banditry and terrorism. It is very important to hear the collective voice of such a major section of the country over a protest that started with a demand to end the notorious Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad, F-SARS and burgeoned into a clamour for change in a system that has only produced mass poverty, endemic corruption, inept governance, mutual hatred and killed the aspirations of the Nigerian youth. It will be equally useful to hear the views of the other half of Nigeria – the South and Middle Belt Leaders’ Forum, SMBLF, to gauge the national outlook.
We see the views of the Northern leaders as a defiant response of the ruling establishment with a ring of scaremongering. The allegation of attempts to oust the Buhari government can only be plausible if facts are adduced to support it. Perhaps because the protest was contained in the North through the swift action of political leaders, traditional and religious leaders there is a temptation to downplay the scope, significance and impetus of the youth uprising. We should not be deluded by the tepid reaction of the Northern youth because the issues complained of by the protesters are worse in the North. Unless appropriate actions are taken on a national scale, the next youth unrest could spiral out of control, and even the North could be the worse for it. Beyond President Buhari’s tactical N75bn package for the youth, we must firmly address the strategic matter of our poverty-incubating governance architecture. Without it we may lose our “indivisible” country to forces beyond our control. The #EndSARS protest was pro-Nigeria and conducted in the best patriotic model. Government was the first to introduce hoodlums and violence into it before looters took over. This newspaper will not join in demonising the #EndSARS protest. Also, we advise the Federal Government to shun the calls to “censor” the social media. We believe that the Cybercrime Act of 2015 has adequately provided for civilised management of internet resources in a democratic society. We stand by it.