Dear Nigerians, it’s okay to lambast EndSARS protesters

Spoiler alert: nobody is obligated to march with you or conceal their reasons for refusing to do so.

Since protesters stormed the streets on October 3 to demand comprehensive police reform, Nigerians have been hailing the movement and urging the President Muhammadu Buhari administration to listen to the people.

There are 200 million of us and it’s safe to say that over 90 per cent of Nigerians stand against law enforcement’s vices. My social media timelines are filled with #EndSARS and the hashtag has refused to leave the trends table, a testament to widespread support for the justified war on police brutality and government failings. But another chunk of the 90 per cent also believes the protests is being mismanaged. While it is convenient to see this section of the country as an enemy of progress, we must not forget that no individual, group or movement is beyond criticism. And that is a cardinal point of democracy.

I hate to break it to you but you can’t lay claim to your right to criticise President Buhari while denying others their right to slate you. And, no, those who have chosen the government’s side in the public discourse on police reform are not the enemies of the people.

Look at Segun Awosanya for example. Sega (@segalink on Twitter) said he founded the EndSARS movement to advocate for police reform without embarking on confrontational protests. That’s his style. You neither have to agree with him nor mute your dissent to his viewpoint. We are in a free society and that means he has the same privileges.

I, for one, love the fact that the protests seem decentralised. Robert Greene, in his 48 Laws of Power lists the 48th Law as “assume formlessness”.

“By taking a shape,” Greene argues, “by having a visible plan, you open yourself to attack. Instead of taking a form for your enemy to grasp, keep yourself adaptable and on the move. Accept the fact that nothing is certain and no law is fixed. The best way to protect yourself is to be as fluid and formless as water; never bet on stability or lasting order. Everything changes.”

The Nigerian political elite is experienced at buying off any movement once a structure and leadership is attached to it. The current shapelessness of the protests is an anomaly the ruling class appears unable to keep up with. They want a form that can be infiltrated, compromised and neutralised but are having a hard time because Greene’s 48th Law is apparently in play.

Those who insist that it’s their way or no way are the real enemies of progress. Every idea must be vetted in the fiery furnace of rigorous debate.

— Rotimi Akinola

I love it. But that’s my opinion. There are millions of Nigerians who disagree with me. Sega is one of them. He thinks the demonstrations are the birth pangs of a foreign-funded insurrection against the Nigerian state. He believes mounting road blockades is inimical to the wellbeing of an economy we all are trying to revive from coronavirus lockdowns. I think Sega is an asshole. His tongue-in-cheek tweet directing those whose cars were burned by thugs in Abuja to go collect their compensation from Aisha Yesufu is disgustingly distasteful.

But I also know that Sega’s voice is as crucial to the ongoing debate as the voices of every demonstrator are. We are living in a world with a diversity of thought, ideology and approaches. Our critics aren’t our enemies. Those who insist that it’s their way or no way are the real enemies of progress. Sega himself tried to follow that line after realising the Feminist Coalition had “hijacked” his beloved hashtag. He was duly lampooned.

The coalition must be wary of falling into the same bottomless pit. Those who believe the EndSARS movement took a dangerous queer turn with the infusion of LGBTQ identity politics are not your enemies. Why are you adding gay rights to a mass movement in a highly-religious and hypocritical country where same-sex marriage is outlawed? How does that help your movement? Are you being bankrolled by foreign leftist globalists who are more interested in pushing homosexual rights than in ending police brutality in Nigeria?

All questions, no matter how stupid-sounding, are valid. Every idea must be refined in the fiery furnace of rigorous debate.

No, this is not me sitting on the fence. And I’m not saying this to make you feel good or avert backlash. For the avoidance of doubt, I support a leaderless EndSARS. But I also believe that society, like a computer’s hard drive, should be compartmentalised so that the virality of dangerous ideas, no matter how popular, can be counteracted with dissent.

I’m not saying the EndSARS protests are a bad idea. What I am saying is that the idea that everyone has to think and act the same way is nothing but populist totalitarianism — the kind that infected early humans at the Plain of Shinar and prompted God to divide their languages in order to force-install divergent viewpoints. The people were united. But it was in absurdity. With their voices now asunder, nothing could be done without vibrant debate and educated consensus.

We all will eventually realise that compromise is the currency of progress.

Rotimi Akinola

Rotimi is a multimedia journalist and editor of The Realm News.

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