Northern Governors: their kinsmen are being slaughtered daily by bandits and insurgents, their people are daily being kidnapped and impoverished by ransom, their women raped and their villages under siege. Their people live in fear and funerals. Yet, social media is their problem
The #EndSARS protest lately assumed yet another contentious twist that has triggered mixed and heated reactions. The Northern leaders’ latest assertion of the #EndSARS protest as a separatist agenda has raised dust that has brought an ethnic colouration to the protest. However, many of their political and socio-cultural counterparts in the South have continued to counter the alleged regime change plot. Their kinsmen in the region have not spared them either. The Northern leaders, who spoke on Monday from Sir Kashim Ibrahim House, Kaduna after a meeting of the Northern States Governors’ Forum (NSGF) with traditional leaders, some Federal Government appointees and leaders of the National Assembly vowed to stand up and defend the indivisibility, indissolubility and oneness of Nigeria and dismissed the protests as revolutionary, stressing that separatists hijacked the peaceful #EndSARS protest to further their secessionist agenda.
The meeting which was presided over by the NSGF Chairman and Plateau State Governor, Mr. Simon Lalong had in attendance the Secretary to the Federal Government, Boss Mustapha; the Chief of Staff to the President, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari; Senate President, Dr Ahmed Lawan; Ministers including Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed; Chairmen of the Northern States Traditional Council led by His Eminence, Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Saad Abubakar lll; and the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu; and other prominent Northern Leaders in Buhari’s government. Other attendees include Governors of Gombe, Inuwa Yahaya; Kaduna, Nasir El-Rufai; Kebbi, Abubakar Atiku Bagudu; Kwara, AbduRahman AbdulRasaq; Zamfara, Bello Matawalle; Niger, Sani Bello, as well as the Deputies of Kogi and Kano states who represented their principals. The Northern Leaders issued a 20-point Communique which rejected and condemned the subversive actions of the #EndSARS protests. “The meeting condemns the subversive actions of the #EndSARS protests.
The superlative agitations and other change-regime actions outside the ballot box soon took advantage of the peaceful protests to push for their separatist agenda. The meeting endorses the indivisibility, indissolubility and oneness of the nation. “The meeting took note of the devastating effect of the uncontrolled social media in spreading fake news. Therefore, call for major control mechanism and censorship of the social media practice in Nigeria. The Meeting raises attention on the need to keep strict watch on the Federal Capital Territory to guide against unwarranted and destructive protest to safeguard critical assets of the Nation.” Their divergent views over the #EndSARS protests that backed the Federal Government’s quest to censor the social media over what they described as “the devastating effect of the social media in spreading fake news,” has raised even more dust that may not settle soon
. Expectedly, the Northern leaders have come under heavy condemnation within their immediate region and other parts of the country. Ohanaeze Ndigbo, in a statement by its acting Secretary General and National Publicity Secretary, Prince Uche Achi-Okpaga took a swipe at the Northern leaders for discrediting the sincere essence of the #EndSAR protest with a separatist theory, stressing that all attempts to give the protest an ethnic colouration will fail completely. He affirmed the protesters had genuine intentions to bring to an end police brutality, extrajudicial killings and extortion. The Ohanaeze spokesman reiterated its group’s age long position on the restructuring of Nigeria. Noting that restructuring of the country has already begun, he likened the #EndSARS protest to an icing on the cake. “Just like the world went digital, those who remained analogous were swept off by the digital wave.
“Restructuring has begun in Nigeria already. The #EndSARS brouhaha is just the icing on the cake. Those who are now trying to give it ethnic and sentimental colourations will fail completely. “The wave of restructuring will be tempestuous and all who stand on its way will be consumed. We just cannot thrive on a structure that has continued to move backwards,” Achi-Okpaga stated. Reacting, the former Senator, representing Kaduna Senatorial District, Senator Shehu Sani accused the Northern leaders of misplaced priority. According to him, Northerners live in fear owing to banditry, but their Governors are more concerned with social media. He tweeted, “Northern Governors: their kinsmen are being slaughtered daily by bandits and insurgents, their people are daily being kidnapped and impoverished by ransom, their women raped and their villages under siege Their people live in fear and funerals. Yet, social media is their problem.
” The Middle Belt Forum criticized the Northern leaders’ stance stating that it’s an unpopular viewpoint. The National President of the Middle Belt Forum, Dr Bitrus Porgu, in an interview with Punch Newspaper on Monday noted that those who attended the meeting failed to acknowledge the need for a positive turnaround in the affairs of the country. According to him, this meeting indicated that the Northern Governors and traditional rulers have aligned themselves with the President and trail of the unhealthy developments in the country. Describing the position of the Northern leaders as selfish, the Middle Belt Forum charged them to have a rethink in their assessment of the Nigerian situation and push for restructuring of the country.
Porgu said, “As far as we are concerned, their (Northern governors) views are for them. They do not represent our views because they are selfish. Are they saying that the current situation in Nigeria where nothing is working should continue? We have always said that bad governance, nepotism and other divisive tendencies brought by this administration must not continue. Anyone who is saying a different thing is simply on his own.” In another vein, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) threatened to sue the Northern Governors Forum and National Assembly if the social media bill is passed. The civil rights advocacy group in a tweet stated that Nigerians have a right to freedom of expression online and they will not accept any “illegal attempts” to interfere with that right. SERAP tweeted: “We will sue the Northern Governors’ Forum and @nassNigeria if the social media bill is passed and signed by President Buhari.
Nigerians have a right to freedom of expression online. We won’t accept any illegal attempt to withhold that right #NoToSocialMediaBill. The Pan-Niger Delta Forum, took sides with its socio-cultural counterparts as its spokesman berated the Northern leadership. “The issues raised by the #EndSARS protesters are fundamental. In terms of police brutality, in terms of extortion and harassment of young people in the southern part of the country, and surprisingly and very, unfortunately, the northern region is saying that these activities of brutality and extortion and extrajudicial killings that were taking place in the southern part of the country were not so in the North. So that means we are not one country. “That what happens in one part of the country does not happen in another part of the country.
Why is it so? There are questions to be answered by the leadership of Nigeria, by the high command of the police and other security agencies. Why is there discrimination or disparity or imbalance as it were that while some persons are saying that experiences in some part of the country are not so in other parts of the country? “And a police unit that is being condemned in one part is being celebrated in another part. So, already there are divisions. There are inequalities. There are disparities and Nigeria cannot continue like that. Nobody will continue to say that Nigeria is indivisible in an unbalanced, in a skewed and lopsided structure. “What we are insisting on is that Nigeria has to be restructured. And the reality is that if this country is not restructured, the country will restructure itself.”
Afenifere shot back at the Northern leaders stressing that “The unity of Nigeria is negotiable and we must negotiate it to have a functioning country. If we continue this Arewa song, the country will collapse.” The National Publicity Secretary of Afenifere, Yinka Odumakin, stated further, “#EndSARS was a revolt and not for regime change. It is only those fixated only on their ruling of Nigeria at all costs without a thought for its health that would only be talking of a regime in the midst of all we are going through.” In his reaction, Raphael Adebayo, a member of the #EndSARS movement said, “This exposes their shallow understanding of the issues being canvassed by the #EndSARS. It also shows the quality of leaders we have in the country. “After weeks of protests during which scores of protesters were violently killed by paid thugs and security agents, the best certain group of leaders can come up with is to say it was targeted at regime-change.
Telling us that their only concern is about political spillover shows that they are not concerned about issues that #EndSARS protests are raising.” Adebayo who clarified that the #EndSARS protesters were only interested in reform of the Nigeria Police, further stated that regime change might happen if the government continued to turn a deaf ear to the demand of the people. “Because they have done so badly, so wickedly, they should be worried this would eventually get to them asking them to leave power. For now, the #EndSARS protest is not about regime change but if the government wants it so, then it should be prepared because if this legitimate demand for justice continues to be ignored, Nigeria will see change and there would be no way out for this regime that has declared itself anti-people,” Adebayo stated.
The spokesman for Southern Kaduna Peoples Union, Luka Binniyat, reiterated that the aim of the #EndSARS protest was for good governance and justice. Binniyat said it was the same mass protest over perceived incompetence of President Jonathan Goodluck that paved the way for Buhari. This is the second time within the incident of the #EndSARS protests that the Northern Governors’ Forum would be proclaiming a regional viewpoint with an evident ethnic colouration. Subsequent to the #EndSARS protests on banning of SARS and Government’s approval to scrap the Police Unit, Governors in the Northern States to the amazement of all suddenly rejected the disbandment of SARS insisting that the police Unit has been useful in fighting insecurity in their region.
Plateau State Governor, Simon Lalong, after a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja said though the government has approved the scrapping of the unit, the decision should be reconsidered. “Some people said they don’t want SARS, some said they want SARS but a reformed SARS…Let us not just say we are throwing away the baby with bath water. If there are good ones, you don’t chase them away,” Lalong stated. People were stunned because this is a region that has been battling with terrorism with no success. Their kinsman, Senator Shehu Sani, known for his outright outspokenness, threw a banter at them. The former senator berated their declaration of support for SARS. The government critic tweeted his reaction, “Dear Northern Governors, if SARS is working in the North, why has kidnappings and killings by bandits and terrorists continued unabated? Majority of Nigerians including Northerners concurred with Senator Sani. Since 2009, the Northern Nigerian has gradually slipped into a terrorist enclave where terror has become the regular signature of the country’s social memoirs.
On Thursday, June 18, 2020, worried by the worsening insecurity in their region, Governors of the 19 Northern states, under the auspices of the Northern States’ Governors’ Forum (NSGF), decided to explore local solutions, including hunters and vigilantes, to stem the tide. Rising from their virtual meeting on that Thursday night, the Governors resolved to set up a standing committee on security to foster a synergy between security agencies and local groups for the proper enforcement of appropriate measures to further enhance their operations and assist in putting an end to the activities of bandits, insurgents, kidnappers and other criminals. The meeting, which was presided over by NSGF Chairman, Plateau State Governor Simon Bako Lalong, also set up another committee on consultation with traditional, religious and community leaders, headed by Lalong, with a view to ensuring wider stakeholder involvement in tackling insecurity in the region.
The Governors said the engagement of local vigilantes, hunters and community watch groups in the security architecture would go a long way to “foster intelligence gathering, rapid response and sustained surveillance.” But today these same Northern Governors proclaim the effectiveness of SARS despite the obvious security inadequacies in the region that provoked the incorporation of hunters and vigilantes to regional security operations only four months ago. Nigerians on social media have been clamouring against the social media bill that will regulate the online space in the country should it become law. There are actually two bills out there agitating the minds of social media users in Nigeria at the moment. There is the ‘Hate Speech Bill’ and the ‘Social Media Bill’.
Both bills are not one and the same, even though they have been conflated in discourses on the internet. The hate speech bill, otherwise called the ‘Prohibition of Hate Speech Bill’ is being championed by Sen. Sabi Abdullahi (APC, Deputy Chief Whip), while the social media bill, otherwise called the ‘Internet Falsehood and Manipulation Bill’ is the brainchild of Sen. Mohammed Sani Musa. There are allegations that the bills have been plagiarized from similar pieces of legislation in Singapore and elsewhere. The social media bill passed second reading on the floor of the Senate on Wednesday, November 20, 2019; which means its well on its way to becoming law, seeing as it is only one more reading and assent by the executive, away. Nigeria is synonymous with deep divisions which cause major national issues to be vigorously debated along the lines of intricate ethnic, religious and regional divisions.
Barely a week to this development, Most. Rev. (Dr.) Ignatius Kaigama, Archbishop of the Metropolitan See of Abuja, in an interview with The Catholic Herald Weekly remarked, “Whether we are Christians or Muslims, from North or South, we are Nigerians. Unfortunately, we get blinded by these divisions. North, south, we can’t agree. Christian, Muslim, we can’t agree. Even when a very good cause like this begins, before you know it, we are torn apart by some differences. “You hear people say, ‘Oh, this is a Muslim agenda, this is a Christian agenda, this is Northern agenda, this is Southern agenda; we are nowhere. So, I hope for the first time, we should transcend all these narrow thinking and artificial divisions, and act as one people, one nation,” in reaction to various incidents bordering on insincere regional stances over national issues. As if he was in the know of what is up in the coming week, he counseled, “Whether you are a Muslim or Christian, Northern or Southern, we should see things from the right perspectives.
” He made this statement while he was applauding the #EndSARS protesters for uniting to drive a common agenda irrespective of the ethnic and religious differences. In his exact words, “The youths have indeed demonstrated that Nigerians can be one. So, I think it is a lesson for Nigeria that we can do a lot together. And if any group intends to use politics or ethnic sentiments to destabilize a good cause, we should know it. And I think our youths are sufficiently educated now to know when somebody is just a spoiler, and they should be aware, they should be alert.”