By Guardian Editorial Board
The Federal Government should indeed be worried by the growing loss of public confidence in its sincerity to address genuine demands of the EndSARS protests. Though the government at federal and state levels has set up judicial panels of inquiry to deliver justice, peace and reconciliation, activities of overzealous institutions like the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) are abusing instruments of the state to victimise victims. The self-contradictions and sheer hypocrisy in government’s disposition to the matter as a whole are exercises in dishonesty and bad faith, which are antithetical to the noble cause of a better society that youths are seeking. The CBN especially should be called to order, to stick to its statutory duty to the economy and eschew meddlesomeness in extra-judicial affairs.
Following the EndSARS protests and the misfortunate of its hijack by political thugs and hoodlums, President Muhammadu Buhari addressed the nation saying Nigerian youths had spoken and he had heard them loud and clear. He pledged to address the five EndSARS demands bothering on justice and accountability to bring closure to agitations. By extension, 26 states including Adamawa, Anambra, Bauchi, Bayelsa, Delta, Edo, Ekiti, Gombe, Kastina, Kogi, Lagos, Ogun and Osun, have inaugurated Judicial Panels of Inquiry with startling revelations of police brutality already coming to the fore. These are commendable on the road to having a just society.
But curiously, agencies of the state have begun to act on the contrary to deliberately discredit the peaceful protests, rubbish the grounds for panels of inquiry and scuttle reconciliation of public confidence in the state and security forces. Unfortunately, it began with the Inspector General of Police (IGP), who by act of commission or omission, incited armed police officers to defend themselves against the Nigerian public! Contrary to the constitutional provision for civil protests in a democracy, the police hierarchy has unilaterally proscribed all forms of protests. In a separate development, the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, and his Interior counterpart, Rauf Aregbesola, have begun a subtle campaign to gag freedom of speech by invoking the controversial Anti-Social Media Bill under the pretence of regulating fake news. As if that was not enough, the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) without establishing any threat to national security ceased the travel passports of some protesters and infringed on their rights of free movement. NIS later apologised after it has embarrassed the Federal Government as presiding over a Gestapo State.
Most worrisome in all of these is the new-found roles now adopted by the CBN in freezing accounts of young peaceful protesters. The apex bank, strangely, had approached the court to get an ex parte order to investigate accounts of some of the protesters, to find if there are misdemeanours in their transactions. And in an abuse of the granted order, the CBN literally went gung-ho at young Nigerians, freezing accounts and disconnecting them economically even before any investigation or illegalities of transactions were established. To be clear, the state reserves the right to flag and prosecute financial impropriety and abuses. But the provisions of the law primarily mandated the CBN to ensure monetary and price stability. The Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) that is domiciled in CBN is responsible for the receipt of disclosures from reporting organisations, the analysis of these disclosures and the production of intelligence for dissemination to competent authorities, which is the police. The CBN, acting on mere suspicion, without investigation or recourse to the police is freezing accounts. According to the letter and spirit of the law, the CBN has erred and shown to be biased against Nigerian public.
It is disheartening that the CBN that has more responsibility to the Nigerian public has failed to demonstrate similar zeal at stampeding sponsorship of terrorism. While the CBN haplessly hunts average Nigerians, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) government is convicting some Nigerians for funding Boko Haram militia right within the jurisdiction of the CBN. Reports have it that between 2015 and 2016, the convicts were allegedly involved in cash transfers totalling $782,000 to Boko Haram. Most of the transactions into accounts domiciled in Nigeria were facilitated by two undercover Boko Haram agents based in Nigeria. Why is CBN exercising double standard? Which is most injurious to our corporate existence between youths seeking better governance on one hand, Boko Haram insurgency and public officials looting our commonwealth dry on the other hand? Where lies the interest of the Federal Government, the CBN and its lawyers that approached the court on mere suspicion? Where is the place for patriotism to our national cause? It amounts to sabotage and criminal conspiracy to work against the greatest good of the greatest number of Nigerians!
Certainly, there are more hands of Esau and overzealous public officials at play in a selfish bid to impress their principals just to be seen as good allies. But in this sticky #EndSARS matter, they are causing the Federal Government more harm in the court of public opinion. The public could see the government as more interested in arm-twisting, suppressing agitations and enslaving the youths than addressing injustice and socio-economic problems that warrant protests. But what is wrong is wrong. This is sheer hypocrisy nurtured by dishonesty and that should be condemned by all well-meaning Nigerians.
More important, the FG is already setting a dangerous precedent that will foreclose the basis for peaceful negotiations with the government in the future. It is well known that the government’s credibility rating has always been dwindling. With the EndSARS aftermath, it has just tumbled. Already, representatives of the youth in the Lagos Panel of Inquiry have recused themselves in protest against government’s insincerity. Notable Nigerians of opinions are also condemning the government’s ingenious reactions at seeking scapegoats for EndSARS fallout. However, it is not in the interest of a prosperous Nigeria to keep eroding public confidence in the ruling class. Government cannot be saying something, doing otherwise and expecting Nigerians to believe them. The Federal Government should get its acts together, operate as a coordinated entity and not as a house divided against itself. As this newspaper warned recently, should another protest occur, the public officeholders and the elite alike will not be twice as lucky and only the government should be blamed.
It is incumbent on members of the National Assembly to speak up against governments’ insincerity on this matter, to prevent a complete loss of interest in the panels of Inquiries – our last hope of reconciliation and closure on this matter. It is not a time to mouth the problem or make sound bites on imminent collateral damage. Members of the National Assembly may feel undisturbed by Police, NIS and CBN’s highhandedness of Nigerians today; the dangerous precedent will come to hunt them in future, if they are not condemned immediately.