One of great aphorisms handed down through time says that, we do not beat a child and still prevent him/her from crying at the same time. From this principle, freezing the accounts of arrowheads of the peaceful #EndSARS protest remains a distasteful menu served on our impoverished table of governance.
As much as some of our proverbs have become outdated, no thanks to Baba Suwe and his clownish dismissal of most of them, I always find them handy whenever I am drawn against the wall. This is more so when situations defy answers. “Oro pesi je,” is how the Yoruba describe the situation. I found myself in the same situation when I read that the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) had purportedly obtained a court order to freeze the accounts of some of the main actors of the recently acclaimed peaceful protest known as #EndSARS. While the semblance of a court order gave it more decency than the ‘moribund’ military Decree 4 of yore, the speedy execution of the judicial proclamation drew a parallel between the two. Are we back to tyranny in the democratic garb?
It is an open secret that most CBN chieftains are currency round-trippers. However, no one has ever thought of freezing their accounts or investigating them. Let us even assume that the allegations that they are the owners of most of the Bureau de Change (BDC) that benefit immensely from the CBN are just mere claims; yet, I am not aware that they have ever been investigated in this regard.
No decision is taken without undergoing some form of discussions, agreement, and execution at the very minimum. How then was this particular decision to freeze accounts taken? Who initiated it, how was it debated, and how did they reach an agreement before executing the nationally embarrassing ‘coup’ against innocent youths? What was the legal advice given by the lawyers before an application was made about this to the Court? Was any of the defendants served any notice, or does obtaining such an order not require any prior notification? Is the Court still the last hope of the common man in our legal and judicial system?
Back to the object of this commentary.
One of great aphorisms handed down through time says that, we do not beat a child and still prevent him/her from crying at the same time. From this principle, freezing the accounts of arrowheads of the peaceful #EndSARS protest remains a distasteful menu served on our impoverished table of governance. People only keep quiet at the dining table when they are served a delicious and appealing meal. Hungry people sitting at a virtually empty dining table cannot and must not be prevented from speaking. If such people are not allowed to speak, it will be assumed that they are also eating. On this table called the Nigerian economy, a lot of the people are staring at empty plates, and they should therefore be allowed to speak.
#EndSars should be rightly seen as a symbol of protest against systemic injustice in our country… could it be the frustration of not having it easy to know who to bribe among the protesters that made government decide to chose some vocal ones among them as sacrificial lambs for punishment?
While it may be true that no government can satisfy everyone’s needs, no matter how benevolent it is, there is an explanation for this in the simplest of economic jargons: Human wants are insatiable. We understand that perfectly well. However, where a vast majority of the people are hardly sure where their next meal will come from, only a tyrannical government will flex its muscles against citizens for voicing their displeasure over having empty stomachs amid plenty. The underlying factors of hunger and the lack of opportunities in the land provides a general context for the recent protests that took on the generic #EndSars slogan.
#EndSars should be rightly seen as a symbol of protest against systemic injustice in our country. Why do government officials hide under ‘purported’ laws to continually oppress the people? Was this reason they were putting pressure on the protesters to come up with a list of their leaders? One had initially thought it was in order to accelerate the normal execution of a divide-and-rule strategy through the ‘generous’ offer of inducement and/or the strong arm application of blackmail. Or could it be the frustration of not having it easy to know who to bribe among the protesters that made government decide to chose some vocal ones among them as sacrificial lambs for punishment? Is it because they are young, have no political clout and dared to embarrass the powers-that-be that made them become chosen to be starved of their funds? Was the CBN aware of the level of accountability that these young folk had achieved, before sand was put inside their garri by the now unforgettable Lekki ‘Massacre’?
If these youths were considered wrong in their protest, why did the government then pretend to be addressing their concerns?
As people of good conscience, we should not close our eyes to this flagrant display of naked power by the CBN. In typical Nigerian attitude, could this be another order from above? With what has happened, is it not clearer now that our government prefers to punish the innocents, while graciously courting known criminals and people of shady character?
That not done, I watched in utter disbelief how a restaurant in Abuja was sealed, again by Court order, while the workers and patrons were inside. Are our government officials aliens or people bereft of common sense? How do you seal a place without allowing the people to vacate the premises? So, persons who had gone there on a lunch break suddenly become prisoners? What then is the value of citizenship? Were the owner(s) of the business warned, only for them not to heed the warning? Should the sealing of the premises be the first line of action from the regulators? It was equally stated that the team leader of the executors had demanded a bribe of N250,000 to forestall the closure.
I sincerely hope that people of good conscience, including legal minds, and other people who may still be able to prick the conscience of the powerful and the mighty in our land, will intervene to get the accounts of these already beaten to ‘stupor’ youths – who should not be silenced until they are properly catered to – unfrozen.
The youths of the country are in experiencing angst due to the lack of opportunity, which has become exclusive to powerful people. They have no access to good schools, health care, or good roads (even as government charges a fee for the roadworthiness certificate for vehicles plying roads that are not worthy of the vehicles). Those in institutions of learning have been at home for so long due to the incessant strikes of academic workers. Overall, the government is beating the youths silly and asking them why they should cry.
How difficult is it for the government to realise that people are very hungry and naturally are also angry as a consequence of this? Nevertheless, these young people conducted their protests with decorum and civility. What is then the basis for freezing their accounts? If you do not want a child to cry, then do not beat the child. You cannot slap someone and forbid the person from crying. It is just unacceptable.
I sincerely hope that people of good conscience, including legal minds, and other people who may still be able to prick the conscience of the powerful and the mighty in our land, will intervene to get the accounts of these already beaten to ‘stupor’ youths – who should not be silenced until they are properly catered to – unfrozen. And, hopefully with the same speed that the initial action took.
Oluwadele Bolutife, a chartered accountant and a public policy and administration scholar, writes from Canada. He can be reached through: firstname.lastname@example.org