By Adeola Soetan
Having professionally and successfully managed Yoruba nation rallies in three towns to its credit, one expected Ogun State Police Command to be wiser with the agitators’ rally in Abeokuta but they disappointed with their parade ground mentality by their illegal conduct of arresting peaceful protesters.
Coincidentally, by the time the bad news of the arrest filtered in, I was watching the video of a peaceful but agitational massive rally in India that was well guarded by the Indian police. Then, I started asking myself, “Are Nigerian leaders and ‘their police’ normal at all?” Why this sterility in thought and stagnation in style? The civilised world is moving forward in advancing civil rights and freedoms but here we are stranded with rogue political leaders who are bent in moving the nation backward.
My mind flashed back to 1978 ‘Ali Must Go’ protest rally in the same Abeokuta city, when I first joined public protest as a student of Rev. Kuti Memorial Grammar School aka “Ile iwe Iya Fela” (Fela’s mother’s school), with students from my school and other schools.
I remembered that our senior students advised us to use kerosene soaked handkerchief to clean our eyes in case police fired tear gas at us. “Tear gas?” I didn’t really understand what it meant and I didn’t understand how the military government of Obasanjo at federal, or Seidu Balogun in the state, would allow such inhuman act of police brutality. But I was naive and wrong, as we trooped out from classes in Isabo moving to Sapon, the centre of commercial and protest activities, with large crowd of students from other schools like Agunbiade High School, Ansar ud deen, Lisabi, and Abeokuta Grams.
Our only ‘weapon’ was our chorus, “Ali Must Go”, and our determination not to allow government prevent us from going to university with its planned increase in tuition. We could see the correlation between our future and the protest, so the peaceful protest was massive in Sapon, with parents and artisans we met on the road praying for us and the success of the struggle.
All of a sudden, the whole Sapon area was engulfed with thick smoke of tear gas as riot police vehicles tore through the crowd blaring war-like siren. A peaceful protest became pandemonium, as Fela sang in his popular album titled, ‘Sorrow Tears and Blood’: “everybody dey run scatter scatter, I no wan die, I no wan quench, papa dey for house, mama dey for house..”
Shop owners were closing shops, car and taxi owners abandoned their vehicles as crazy policemen were firing tear gas while others were making arrest.
The whole place became a war zone, then protesters and symparisers started throwing stones and any available “available”. A peaceful protest became violence courtesy of brutal policemen in a similar way the hitherto massive and peaceful #ENDSARS protest became violent when politicians and government sponsored thugs conveyed in SUV and government buses attacked protesters in Abuja, Lagos and other places.
I didn’t really know how I escaped arrest and how I got back to the hostel in the evening but I could recollect that I entered one house in Imo area where a kind mother and her beautiful girl, who is also a student, gave me kerosene soaked handkerchief to clean my face as they had done before, and gave me a white ‘Agbada’ to disguise when going back to the hostel because the police officers were still arresting students and other protesters. I waited there till evening before I took a lower risk to return to school.
In the hostel, we were counting our losses and gains with excitement. None of us was arrested but all of us were brutalized with tear gas and some had bruises. We hated police from that day and, of course, Gen. Obasanjo and his draconian military regime became more unpopular in Abeokuta.
Forty-three years after, the State and its brutal police seem not to have changed with time despite global improvement in observation of rights of peaceful protesters to protest for what they want including the Right to self-determination or exit from a relationship if some people, ethnic groups think it is not working.
To think that the Police Force of 1978, 1988, 1989, 1990, and 1993 is the same police of 2021 that is still combat-ready against protesters, shows that we may have civil rule but we are yet to have democracy. Let’s see how police will react if the planned hike in petrol price is effected by this crazy, deceptive, sadistic Buhari-regime and people decide to protest against it. Aluta Continua, Victoria Acerta.
Soetan writes from Lagos