Nigerian journalist Chude Jideonwo gives an eye-witness account of the violence unleashed against people protesting police brutality and says this will cost the government dearly.
As I write this, on the evening of Tuesday 20 October, the Nigerian government has just sent soldiers into the streets to kill its own citizens for the crime of peacefully protesting for 13 days in their own country, for their own country. Live videos show citizens bloodied and wailing on the streets of Lagos, and there are credible reports that at least seven are dead.
These are completely unarmed citizens. I have seen dead bodies, and victims with bullets in their bodies. Neither they nor other protesters have any weapons, they were not violent, they just want a better country.
People who understand the workings of the Nigerian government and the heavy handed, reactionary way it responds to civil unrest anywhere in the country, even under a democracy, have warned that the government would do just this. Citizens knew this, anticipated this and prepared for this, but to see a democratically elected government turn on its own citizens is still the most terrible thing.
Brutal response to protests
What is more shocking is that President Muhammadu Buhari was elected into office on a groundswell of citizen anger against his predecessor, including massive protests in the streets, public revolt and an upswell of activism. Angry at the last government, I voted for this president. I campaigned vigorously for this president. Today I am ashamed of that vote.
In response to protests calling for an end to police brutality and violence, the president of my country has responded with brutality and violence. The government has resorted to shooting directly at protesters, in addition to the tens of people it has killed over the past 13 days of the protest.
With the eyes of the world and the continent trained on the country, still the government openly shows its disregard for human life and for its own people. The Nigerian government is killing its own people.
There is despair across the country at this moment. The same despair I felt only a few days ago as I sat with the father and mother of Isiaka Jimoh who was the first known death from this protest. The 20-year-old was gunned down by the police for being at the scene of the protests in Ogbomoso, Oyo State. And two weeks after, the despair remains – enlarged, deepened, strengthened.
Government turning against its people
This is history repeating itself, even if on a larger, more urgent scale.
In 2012, Nigerians also came out in their thousands to protest against a fuel price hike – peacefully for days in citizen action labelled #OccupyNigeria. After pleas and requests and reactionary half-measures were rejected by the public, the government did what it knew how to do best, it rolled out tanks suddenly into the protest grounds and used force to end it.
For the then President, Goodluck Jonathan, who until then was seen as peaceful, open and listening, that moment marked the point where citizens began to turn against him. There is nothing worse than a government and a leader that turns against its own people.
Three years later, that government was gone – the first time in Nigeria’s history that the president of a ruling party lost a presidential election.
Holding on to hope
It is cold comfort as we count the numbers of the dead, in a country that has killed too many already. But in order not to give in to the despair, I am holding on to any hope that I can.
No matter how many of us they try to kill, we will be back on the streets again – we will never give up, we will never stop, of that I am sure. We will keep speaking out, in this moment, and outside this moment.
But more than that, we will not forget this moment. We will not forgive this president. Like others before him, both he and those who are part of this decision, will suffer the consequences of turning against their own people.
Jideonwo is host of the TV and radio network #WithChude
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Following the special focus on African Lives Matter in our August/September issue, New African magazine continues to report on the mistreatment of citizens by authorities in African countries and to campaign against the gross injustices being done to Black people not only across the world but also in their home continent. To follow our reports visit the African Lives Matter page.