Nigeria’s army said it’s prepared to help the authorities maintain law and order, amid ongoing protests against police brutality that have left at least 10 people dead.
According to reports appearing on several broadcast platforms this morning, “The Nigerian Army is ready to fully support the civil authority in whatever capacity to maintain law and order and deal with any situation decisively,” This came from the army’s spokesman Colonel Sagir Musa.
The emailed statement warned that “all subversive elements and trouble makers must desist from such acts as it remains highly committed to defend the country and her democracy at all cost.”
The statement signals a potential escalation in the standoff between protesters and the government of Africa’s biggest oil-producing nation. While most previous protests in Nigeria have been quashed by the security forces, this time round the government has prohibited the use of force against marchers, ordered the release of all arrested participants and disbanded the controversialcontroversial Special Anti-Robbery Squad.
The government’s approach so far may have been prompted by the scale of the demonstrations — the largest in a decade — and widespread defiance against measures instituted to try and quell them.
However the threat of military involvement could prove counterproductive as this is the very kind of high-handed response the protesters are highlighting.
Nigerian soldiers are widely known for the harassment and terrorism of civilians, many of whom have been victims of extra judicial beatings and other corporal punishments over matters such as a senior army officer being cut off in traffic or a man caught up in a love triangle involving a soldier.
One must wonder just what kind of action the army will consider “decisive” enough.
Will this action involve the use of firearms, tear gas, and army tanks?
Is the world about to see another Tiananmen Square massacre repeated in Nigeria?
In 1989, hundreds of peaceful Chinese student protesters were killed after the army was called in to quell the protests.
The protests erupted on Oct. 5 after a video purportedly showing the killing of a civilian by the anti-robbery squad was shared on social media. Demonstrations have taken place in the capital, Abuja, the commercial hub of Lagos and the oil hub of Port Harcourt, among other cities.
The hashtag #EndSARS has trended on social media, with Twitter Inc. Chief Executive Officer Jack Dorsey highlighting the protests in a tweet on Wednesday.
Buhari rejects army’s request
Meanwhile President Buhari has rejected Army Chief Buratai’s request to deploy soldiers for the #EndSARS protests.
The Nigerian leader has been weighing multiple solutions as citizens press on with their demands.
President Muhammadu reportedly expressed reluctance on the account that such approach could backfire.
Mr. Buhari said heavily armed soldiers with a directive to open fire should be the last resort — if at all they’ll be considered — because of the spontaneous and elaborate nature of the ongoing pushback against decades police brutality, according to a presidency and two military sources briefed on the matter Wednesday night.
Our sources said Mr. Buratai and some of his generals are increasingly furious that #EndSARS protesters have refused to stand down.
He sought the president’s permission to deploy soldiers to disperse protesters and take over demonstration grounds in Lagos and Abuja, a senior administration official told the Gazette shortly after 11:00 p.m.
The official said Mr. Buhari fear that the protests could grow bigger if any attempt is made to use soldiers to violently suppress it.
“The president is wary of escalating the situation,” our source said. “He does not want this to backfire because there are many locations that protests are holding across the country.”
Chief of staff Ibrahim Gambari was amongst those who advised the president against troops deployment.
On Sunday, police chief Mohammed Adamu announced immediate abolition of the special anti-robbery squad, a police detective unit whose decades of corruption and ruthlessness sparked the world-famous hashtag.
He also announced a new unit Special Weapons And Tactical Squad (SWAT) that would replace the defunct brutal SARSQUAD.
But the protesters have declined to end the campaign until at least five fundamental issues that border on citizens’ rights and restitution to thousands of SARS victims.
Top government and security appointees of the president are allegedly seething and “now itching” to do something immediately.
Their desperation followed several advises that they have given the president over the past week; including some which rule out any form of law enforcement intervention.
A military source said the president and his key insiders are reluctant to take a straight position because they are still learning to understand the main actors of the protests.
“The president may still be asking for time to better understand the protesters first,” a military brass-hat told the Gazette. “But the president recognises that these categories of protesters are not the same as members of the Shiite sect.”