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Media And #EndSARS Saga

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For about two weeks, last month, thousands of young people across Nigeria and abroad took to the streets to call for the dissolution of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), an infamous police unit accused of extortion, extrajudicial killings, rape and torture.
This was the first time Nigerians had made such a demand. It was, however, by far, the first time their calls garnered such widespread support and international media coverage, thanks largely to the prominent role of social media in spreading the word.
The peaceful protests against police brutality began on October 8th after a video showing a suspected SARS operative killing a man, was widely shared online. The EndSARS hash tag swiftly started trending, boosted in part by Nigerian celebrities and high-profile personalities with large followings. As the hashtag also spread beyond the country’s borders, a number of Nigerian Twitter users announced they would help cover the phone bills of others. So they could afford to keep tweeting and maintain momentum.
Encouraged by the first protest held in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital, Uloma Nwoke and her friends decided to also organize one in the Lekki area of the City. They shared a flyer detailing the time and location of the protest on various social media. By October 10, they were surprised to see that nearly 1,000 persons had descended on the site. “A lot of celebrities and influential people showed up”, Nwoke said.
Meanwhile, thousands of kilometers away, Omolare Oriye, a human rights lawyer, was organizing a protest via WhatsApp in South Africa’s capital, Pretoria. A video of Nigerian Police officers manhandling demonstrators circulating on Twitter, prompted her to act.
“I contacted the Nigerian Students Association in Pretoria who put me in touch with Nigerian students”, said 32-year old Oriye. “We met at the (Nigerian) embassy in mid-October, the protest movement got an extra push from Twitter’s CEO, Jack Dorsey, who used the EndSARS hashtag as he posted a donation link associated with the feminist coalition, one of the most prominent groups supporting protesters on the ground while the amplification of the protest by celebrities and social media influencers bridged the information gap left by local news outlets, protesters resisted attempts by government officials to single out influential personalities as spokespeople via invitations to join newly instituted panels on Police reforms. Having witnessed other movements fizzle out following closed-door meetings and government representatives, many activists cautioned against such appointments. Nwoke, 25, described the tendency of celebrities to monopolise the microphone at protest venues, depriving those most affected by SARS the opportunity to share their experiences.
“It was one of the biggest challenges for me, of celebrity worship and narcissism. “Most of them just want to always be in front. We had to start profiling (speakers)”. It’s a sentiment also shared by Oriye. Celebrities are great for amplification, but they are not movement leaders, arguing that many are ill-informed and had, in the past, diverted attention away from knowledgeable activists. Apart from raising awareness about police brutality and coordinating protests on the ground, various EndSARS organizers used social media to connect with volunteers, accept donations from different parts of the world and publish accounts of disbursed funds through frequent updates.
Information about emergency helplines and ways to circumvent a potential Internet shutdown also spread freely and widely. Essentially, observers say, social media democratized the EndSARS movement, allowing users with varying numbers of followers to pitch, improve or reject ideas, solicit donations or start food banks to feed protesters.
This entire movement was born, bred and salvaged online communications lead for not-too-young Nigerians into public office. There was a constant reminder that there was no leader (which) strengthen people’s voices and close any avenue for compromise.
On the news front, web-based publications, largely geared towards millennials, kept the protest in the fore alongside witnesses armed with smartphones, as most traditional media outlets ostensibly wary of running foul of the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation’s directive to be cautious with user generated content and to not embarrass the government, kept off.
It hurt me personally that people were dropping dead on the street and news channels were talking about some irrelevant subjects, as the peaceful protest grew in size after. Entering their second week, hoodlums in Lagos and the capital, Abuja also vandalized public buildings, burned private businesses and stormed prison facilities to help inmates escape, prompting state governors to impose curfews to curb the escalating unrest.
President Muhammadu Buhari in a belated nationwide broadcast said, 51 civilians were killed and 31 injured since demonstrations began, blaming the violence on hooliganism. He added that 11 police men and seven soldiers had been killed by rioters.
Buhari’s statement came two days after Amnesty International put the death toll at 56, with about 38 killed on October 20, the same day security forces opened fire on unarmed demonstrators in Lekki, in an attack that was livestreamed on instagram by a witness and caused widespread outrage. Amnesty said it’s on the ground investigation by Amnesty. International media confirmed that the army and police killed at least 12 peaceful protesters in Lekki and Alausa, another area of Lagos where EndSARS protesters were being held. The army has denied involvement of their men in the shooting.
The Nigerian press refused to cover the issue initially, so it forced us to rely on social media to record information to preserve the truth and possible evidence, some Nigerians remain unconvinced by the video evidence, in a now-deleted tweet, an actress with more than one million followers seemingly cast doubt on the Lekki shooting, requesting the bereaved to speak out. Others, however, are urging those with proof to store it in the cloud, away from potential government interference.
In conclusion, I think 2023 will be interesting for the future of the country because there is rage. But there is also the realization that if we come together and plan towards something, we can achieve it.
Achugo wrote from Eastern Polytechnic, Port Harcourt.

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Opinion

Our Bullion Van Democracy

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The process of decline and degeneration of human societies usually follow certain patterns, one of which is the hysteria and clamour of the masses who are often myopic. Mass hysteria usually comes about through working up sentiments and passions of the “madding crowd” by some interest groups. Mischief mongers know this psychology of mass hysteria and then use it as a means of causing social derailment. This pattern of social mischief is not new but an ancient one, ranging from the clamour for “crucify Him”, to a Nazi war cry: “Fuhrer, command, we will follow you”. Hysteria bears little or no conviction!
The doctrine of social and cultural dynamics, propounded by Professor Sorokin, states that the rise and fall of nations and power structures follow some definite patterns. One of Sorokin’s theories is that getting to the top of might and power is easier than sustaining the status and position; rather, hubris is an indicator that a sad decline would follow. Hubris is not just great and unreasonable pride, but it takes various clever guises, including clownish humility or obsessive paranoia. The pressure of positions of power usually bring about some strange mental aberrations.
Power is not usually an individual affair, even in a monarchy. In the modern times, getting to power demands the utilisation of mass hysteria as well as the building up of a power structure, via the aid of a cabal or influence peddlers. What political parties do in a democracy is usually the building up of some power structure and buying the support or loyalty of the masses, even if it is fake and hypocritical.
In a polity devoid of strong ideologies, exploitation of mass hysteria is usually the strategy which serves as gateway to power. One of the ready strategies used to create a crowd ready for exploitation is a political economy which institutionalises mass hunger, want and social deprivations. Thus “stomach infrastructure” has come to be a common political slogan in the service of political power game. Thanks to “money bags and godfathers”, the politics of stomach infrastructure has come to be a common practice in Nigeria.
Former Deputy National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Bode George, was recently quoted as congratulating the people of Edo State for rejecting what he called bullion van democracy. The Tide newspaper of Monday, September 21, 2020, captioned that news as “Obaseki’s Victory: Edo People Rejected Bullion Van Democracy- Bode George”. Obviously, the idea of bullion van has to do with delivery of large sums of money, but in relation to democracy, it is not delivery to or from banks, but to influence elections. According to Chief George, Edo people were “bold and brave” enough to reject “bullion van democracy and outside interlopers”. Bullion van democracy is an exclusive cult of money-bags.
By “outside interlopers” Chief George meant “undemocratic forces” whose dark schemes and intrigues pervert democracy via the use of “bullion van” strategy. Such outside interlopers or undemocratic forces succeed in their schemes through the use of the malleable crowd as well as other agencies via the use of the “good soldier” that money is. Bullion van is synonymous with money while interlopers may include powerful godfathers.
Sorokin’s theories of social and cultural dynamics included the fact that money, apart from being a good soldier, is also a lubricant which makes the decline of a society possible. Money as a lubricant usually facilitates corrupt practices and consequently the fall and decay of kingdoms and power structures. Therefore, bullion van democracy is an idiom in Nigeria’s political economy, the same way “stomach infrastructure” points towards the use of hunger and poverty as means of making the hungry masses politically malleable.
Maslow’s theory of the hierarchy of human needs recognizes the prepotency of lower or basic needs which are usually of greater concern to the masses. There is no way that a poor and hungry man would show great concern on abstract ideals of democracy when a bullion van democracy addresses his stomach infrastructural need. So, power-hustlers and wheeler-dealers in god-father politics are expert psychologists in dealing with the poor and hungry masses. Coupled with the level of illiteracy and ignorance in Nigeria, it is doubtful if the masses can hold strong personal convictions and commitments on ideologies of democracy.
Higher needs having to do with self actualisation and nobler strivings and values, often come after basic needs of survival in a hostile world have been satisfied. Higher demands of an ideal life which democracy seeks to facilitate, are not the prepotent needs or concerns of the poor masses. This is where the doctrines of stomach infrastructure and bullion van democracy come in, which provide ample strategies for the patrons of politics of gangsterism -a do-or-die activity of money bags.
Bullion van democracy is the politics of the stomach, whose patrons are power merchants and whose foot soldiers are the hungry masses. Politics of the stomach represents politics of anti-democratic forces whose concern is crude power, fired by greed, avarice and material goals. Its strategy is the use of money to buy the crowd, via the use of gangsters. It is obvious that in an environment where a larger majority of the population are poor and ignorant, the use of gangsters and money can subvert the ideals and choices of a minority class of articulate citizens.
Masters of this strategy of using force, money and cunning to grab political power in a democracy are the anti-democratic forces who are usually powerful and rich persons. They include godfathers or sponsors of political aspirants, influence peddlers who also constitute a cabal or faceless powers behind the official power holders, and men of brute force who can be hired to carry out gangsterist operations. There are usually mercenaries in every society and in every sphere of human activities who can carry out dirty and dangerous jobs for a fee, without any obtrusion of the conscience.
Bullion van democracy as an idiom goes further to serve as an indictment on the political class and power merchants. One of the antics of politicians is to point fingers at the malfeasance of their rivals even when they engage in worse practices. Even though “Bullion van democracy” was coined with reference to the last Edo State election, it is obvious that the practice had been there long before now.
Dr. Amirize is a retired lecturer from the Rivers State University, Port Harcourt.

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Opinion

The Forest Reserves Quagmire

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It is always worrisome when you hear or see leaders, people being looked up to by other citizens, speak or behave in ways capable of raising unnecessary tension in the country. It is worse when such speech or action suggests that the leadership of the country, state or local government aligns with a particular section, tribe or religion.
A typical example is the reaction of the Presidency to the recent order by the Governor of Ondo State, Rotimi Akeredolu, to herdsmen to vacate forest reserves in the state within seven days. In a statement, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, faulted the governor’s directive, claiming he unilaterally sent the herders packing without consulting widely.
In his words: “Governor Rotimi Akeredolu, a seasoned lawyer, Senior Advocate of Nigeria and indeed, a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has fought crime in his state with passion and commitment, greater sensitivity and compassion for the four years he has run its affairs and, in our view, will be the least expected to unilaterally oust thousands of herders who have lived all their lives in the state on account of the infiltration of the forests by criminals.”
Fortunately, Gov Akeredolu’s order is in the public domain and having gone through it severally, it was impossible to see where all herders in the state were asked to leave. Rather what he said was:  ”All Forest Reserves in the State are to be vacated by herdsmen within the next 7 days with effect from today, Monday 18th January, 2021; Night-grazing is banned with immediate effect because most farm destruction takes place at night; Movement of cattle within cities and highways is prohibited; Under-aged grazing of cattle is outlawed.
The governor also made provision for those who wish to carry on with their cattle-rearing business to register with appropriate authorities in the state.
One may want to get clarifications from Mr. Garba how the well-thought-out steps aimed to rid the forest reserves of criminal elements translates to ejection of herders from the state. As he rightly insinuated, it is the constitutional right of every Nigerian to reside in any part of the country that he deems fit. But he fails to tell us the portion of the constitution that allows our forest reverse to be converted to uncontrolled cattle grazing areas or criminals’ den.
The last time I checked, forest reserve still remains “a protected area of forest of importance to wildlife, flora, fauna or features of geological or other special interest, which is reserved and managed for conservation and to provide special opportunities for study or research.” Forests and forests reserves are very important to human existence explaining why the United Nations mandated that 25% of the surface area of every country should be conserved under permanent forest cover as the minimum ecological requirement for the socio-economic survival of the country.
Incidentally, many forest reserves in the country have become hideouts for all criminal elements – kidnappers, highway armed robbers, thieves and others. Some of them have also been converted to camping sites by insurgents. We have heard many kidnap victims narrating how they were kept in some forests before the ransom for their release were paid. Many farmers in our rural communities can no longer go to their farms for fear of being robbed, maimed, killed or the women being raped by both national and foreign criminals occupying our forests.
So, if Akeredolu, as the chief security officer of Ondo State, says he has detailed and documented security reports which trace kidnapping and other criminal activities to some bad elements masquerading as herdsmen and has decided that for security reasons all herdsmen should vacate the forest reserves what then is the big deal? Shouldn’t he rather be applauded for taking such a bold step at saving the lives of his people and protecting the forest reserves?
It’s a pity if I am sounding like the mouthpiece of the governor, but I just appreciate the measures he has taken and wish other Nigerians, particularly members of Northern Elders Forum (NEF) that have described the directives as an undoing for the Fulani herders, should see the governor’s action as what it truly is and stop whipping up tribal sentiments that will do us no good.
If only Akeredolu will be able to follow through with his directives; if only other governors across the country will be bold enough to take similar actions for the safety of the people they govern and for the protection of our forest reserves. If only the authorities both at federal and state levels can consider the following suggestions by Suleiman Iguda Ladan of the Department of Basic and Applied Sciences, Hassan Usman Katsina Polytechnic, Katsina State on how to preserve, protect and rid the forests of criminals:
• Security forces should launch an attack on all the forest/forest reserves to ensure that the insurgents, armed robbers, thieves, unknown gunmen and any other criminals are dislodged and their makeshift camps destroyed. • The forests should be adequately protected through effective legislations, fencing and use of trained and adequately equipped forest guards.   • Afforestation programmes should be carried out in the areas that surround the forests and forest reserves. • State governments should provide regular maintenance of the forest reserves, check encroachment and bush burning. • Adequate funds should be allocated to the forestry department of various ministries of agriculture to perform their duties effectively and ensure that criminals and insurgents do not  take over the forests and forest reserves. • Local communities around forests and forest reserves should be actively involved in the efforts towards reforestation and conservation efforts. • Periodic air surveillance should be carried out to detect encroachers as well as other criminal activities in the forests.
It is important that herders, be they Fulani, Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa, should realize that cattle-rearing is a big business, invest in it and run it as is done in other climes by investing in ranching so as to minimize farmers/herders clash and other problems associated with the primitive way of rearing cattle in Nigeria.

 

By: Calista Ezeaku

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Opinion

FG, ASUU Have Done Well

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It was cheering news last December, when the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) suspended the strike it embarked upon for over 8 months.
Their grievances ranging from Federal Government’s non-implementation of 2009 agreement which bothers on issues of earned allowances, payment system and revitalisation of the universities.
At the end of the day, no victor, no vanquished. Both ASUU and FG shifted grounds and came to an agreement which led to the call off of the strike that almost took one academic session.
Although the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to the number of months University teachers and students spent at home.
Late last year, the Federal Government had announced the closure of all schools on the 18th of December 2020 and that schools’ resumption at every level should be on the 18th of January, 2021. Some states who were proactive had already resumed earlier than that date. While other states, including their universities have reopened, a lot more after deliberations with their university Senate have decided to resume  later this month and early February.
While ASUU and their universities authorities were taking their time to review their academic calendars, last week, issue  of how to cope with COVID-19 pandemic while at work came up by ASUU.
Yes every normal person will think of that especially with the crowd in our universities. A situation where you have a lecture hall of about 200 to 300 students.
This should not be another subject to be discussed that will make teachers and students to go home again. COVID-19 was there while ASUU and FG were deliberating on the issues of 2009 agreement. Issue of how to cope with the disease should have come up and be trashed while others were being handled.
While ASUU was on strike, private universities had academic activities going on, although some of them have been operating online. Those who had physical lecture have been coping like the universities that never joined the industrial action.
Even public primary and secondary schools in Rivers State here, had been running staggered programmes since resumption. While some and their teachers come in the morning session, others engage in afternoon session according to government’s directive.
If pupils at Kindergarten, secondary classes and their teachers could cope with all the measures put in place, university teachers and their undergraduates can equally cope.
Every university has a Health Bay, the staff and relevant faculties and departments on campus should set up those required equipment and materials beginning from the university gates.  Use of face masks made compulsory and ensure that every building -classrooms, hostels, cafeteria, banks, name them, have their own equipment where members of the university community can wash hands regularly.
In fact, we are looking upto our universities in search of prevention and cure for this deadly disease. Departments like bio/chem, medical laboratory science, college of medicine and the likes  can produce hand sanitizers which can be distributed to the university community for use. At least, let’s practise non-pharmaceutical measures before relevant authorities come up with the vaccines.
Universities where we have Home Economics Departments should get fabrics, construct and sew various shapes of face masks and should be sold at lower rates to generate funds in campus.
Members of ASUU can also provide for their members because many labour unions provided for their members.
Some of the tertiary institutions that never joined the ASUU strike were able to cope with the COVID-19 protocols.
Sometime in August last year, Basic 9 and Senior Secondary School (SSS3) students and their tutors were allowed to sit for their BECE and SSCE  complying with the protocols.
In September and October last year, primary and secondary schools nationwide reopened and completed 3rd term of 2019/2020 academic session, started and concluded 1st term of 2020/2021 academic year observing all COVID-19 protocols.
Universities should ensure that all necessary COVID-19 protocols and orders are strictly adhered to.  Adequate precautions should be maintained so that the lives of the students and lecturers will be saved.
Since there were already strategies and protocols as well as orders in place in primary and secondary schools since last year when ASUU was on strike, let ASUU and their universities resume and all those protocols and orders be observed with utmost strictness.
Staggered resumption can also be practised in the universities as is practised in the primary and secondary schools.
A lot of time has been spent on argument of 2009 agreement while private universities have been running their academic calendars without stress.
It is so worisome to note that 2019/2020 academic session has suffered setback, 2020/2021 admission is still being withheld. What is the hope of Nigerian public universities? Will these incessant strike actions help our undergraduates?
It is more than 10 years now this issue of 2009 agreement between FG and ASUU began. Almost every year, it comes up as if it has never been tackled before. It is high time the two parties had concluded because it is not helping our university system.
Every year, while their counterparts in private schools are moving on, undergraduates in public universities are sitting at home while parents have already paid school fees. The of-campus students who paid rent last year have lost that to their landlords. Most parents with the harsh economy cannot send their wards to private universities. Of course, it is the right of the children to acquire education.
It is also annoying that a budget made for a child for a course of study for four to five years will run for six or seven years while other children are waiting.
I call on ASUU to accept whatever the FG has offered so as to go back to work. It can also be reviewed from time to time if they are not satisfied. Rome, they say was not built in a day.
Apart from the fund ASUU is asking from the FG, universities can also make up from internally generated revenue, after all University education is not free. Money is raised from school fees annually so university authorities should ensure proper use so that some of the issues they are asking for can be settled.
While we commend FG for paying withheld salaries of some of them, we equally urge the government to clear the backlog of those remaining so that ASUU can concentrate on academic matters.

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