- Do we know more about who the protesters were?
What do we need to know and why is this knowledge important? Does it change anything? It is like asking do I know who founded the Central Bank. The important thing is the message not the messenger for now.
- Why did the demonstrations focus on the issue of SARS?
They did because that was the trigger for that moment. It is in the same way that the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand sparked off events that led to the first world war. SARS simply offered and outlet for a dam of frustration that had been welling up.
- Despite official acknowledgement, disbandment of SARS and acceptance of the 5 main demands of the #ENDSARS Protest, why did the protests continue?
The protests continued because they were an outlet. There is no way that SARS alone would have solved the problem and this is why, upon greater reflection, one would have thought that had the protests served as a means of Nigerians now waking up and adopting protest as a tool for negotiation further down the line, we would have accomplished a lot. In that case, what these protests would have been would be to provide a basic, first level step towards accountability and holding government responsible to the yearnings of Nigerians.
- The riots and food revolt that followed the aftermath of the protests have been ascribed to “disgruntled” #EndSARS protesters. Do you agree with this assertion?
Ours is a disgruntled nation and it is hard to know who is not disgruntled over the state of the nation. Yes, bad things happened and it is tragic, but at the same time, we were living under a cloud of terribly disgruntled citizens. Labelling does not remove the stigma and the sad state our nation has been thrown into now.
- How would you rate the government response to the protests and the aftermath of the protests? What recommendations do you have for the Nigerian government?
It is doubtful that this government wants anything other than the sound of its own voice and the hypocrites it has surrounded itself with. The government has set itself against the people and so you can see from its response. How could the government say that citizens are free to protest and then turn around to surreptitiously sponsor its own thugs to disrupt the protests or release its instruments of terror against citizens? Clearly, this is no sign of a government committed to these freedoms. My only advise is that if the government chooses to listen only to its hypocritical horde, it will pay the price because its troubles and rupture might come from within.
- Do you think the State Panels of Enquiry set up to look into the cases of SARS brutality, are empowered to dispense justice to aggrieved victims and relatives of SARS brutality?
I do not know what you would describe as justice and who defines it. If peoples’ accounts have been frozen and people are already illegally detained and so on, it is hard to know what would constitute Justice. May be we should not be ahead of ourselves. My experience with Oputa panel leads me to be wary of infusing too much legalism in issues of justice by the creation of trial structures with lawyers and judges. Often, the cards are stacked against the victim as the perpetrator decides whom to appoint and so on.
And what will follow? This massive mobilization, can it translate into a more permanent and organized movement? Do you think this is a possibility?
Ours is a very fractured society with limited attention span. Civil society in Nigeria has become seriously distracted by other pursuit and it lacks focus, a sense of sacrifice and dedication. What I see now is a new culture of incorporation by people who call themselves civil society activists. Of course, there are serious people but I worry that the waters have been fouled by the quest for money, power, politics, religious and ethnic quarrels. Politics has poisoned the entire environment and it is hard to find an organisation that is sufficiently focused to planning strategic re-positioning of non-state actors.
About Most Rev. Dr. Matthew Hassan Kukah
Matthew Hassan Kukah is the current Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sokoto in Northwestern Nigeria. He was once the Secretary General of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria and Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Kaduna.
Kukah has served in numerous official activities, for example, the Human Rights Violation Investigation Commission, the Electoral Reform Committee and the National Political Reform Conference. He likewise served on a Committee set up by the Northern Governors to analyze the emergency of Boko Haram. He is Chairman of the Interreligious Dialog Committees for both the Bishops’ Conferences of Nigeria and West Africa and is a Member of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialog, Vatican City.