Any follower of western Nigeria’s political history would have known that Governor Seyi Makinde took a risk regarding his handling of the End SARS protests. For starters, he is the only south-west governor from the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP). If things had gone south, the Federal Government would have used him as an example of what happens when chaos descends on a region and a state of emergency is declared. The situation could have quickly degenerated to become as was before the 1966 coup and counter coup, the days of the “wild wild west” and “Operation Wetie”. Interestingly, the anarchy at that time was a result of the people revolting against a political system which they felt was imposed upon them.
This time it was different. And for this, Oyo Affairs believes that the actions of Governor Seyi Makinde which has so far led to the aversion of a socio-political crisis in Oyo State deserves to be mentioned and applauded.
When the End SARS protests began in Oyo State, the governor was out of the state on official PDP assignment for the Ondo State elections. However, he quickly took to social media to calm the people down. He reassured the protesters that they were within their rights to speak up against injustice and police brutality. It is worthy of note that Governor Makinde never at any time called for an end to the protests, unlike other governors both in his party and the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). Instead, the moment he returned to Ibadan, he held a meeting with the heads of security in his state. At that meeting, it was agreed that the police would take a back seat since their presence in the streets was aggravating the protesters. Operation Burst, which is a joint military task force, was deployed to take the lead in securing protest grounds and maintaining law and order in the state.
This action, when situated around events that occurred within the first few days of the protests including the killing of Jimoh Isiaq and two others consequent to the shooting at the Soun of Ogbomosho’s palace, served to calm frayed nerves. Also, his visit to the Soun’s palace followed by an appeal to the aggrieved protesters at Ogbomoso in person was a balm to the wounded. Governor Seyi Makinde also visited the families of the deceased where he promised to take on whatever expenditure the family needed help with due to the loss of their breadwinners. Back at the secretariat, he also met with the protesters in Ibadan and assured them he was on their side.
The turbulence of the next few days as protests were hijacked by thugs, hoodlums and others who decided to use chaos as a ladder, and which saw various state governors declaring curfews for fear of escalation of the crises was a real test of leadership. It would appear that things did get worse in some states which declared a state of emergency, but in Oyo State, the story was different.
Governor Seyi Makinde had, instead of declaring a curfew, done a state-wide broadcast in which he differentiated between peaceful protesters and anarchists. He therefore called on the citizens to make use of the emergency contact number, 615, to report incidences of violence. Not only that, the government pre-empted hot spots and deployed security operatives to these areas.
Additionally, Governor Makinde was physically in the streets, at hot spots, calming everyone. When the two police officers were lynched in Ibadan and their station torched, he was there physically to de-escalate matters. The fact that the people who voted him, saw him in their midst, talking and appealing for calm must have been soothing.
The End SARS protesters called off the protests themselves to allow the government to take care of persons who were giving their agitations a bad name. Whether they will be returning to the streets or will change tactics like their counterparts across other states in Nigeria, remains to be seen. Notably, Governor Makinde has demonstrated his support for their actions and has promised to continue to provide security for them should they wish to continue the protests.
However, His Excellency’s handling of matters arising from the End SARS protests have not all been stellar. There is the issue of N100 million pledged to the Soun of Ogbomoso for palace renovations and replacement of destroyed properties including about 10 cars. Although we cannot say categorically that this was extravagant spending as we are not privy to the costing of the damage done, it is the general argument that this was just too much. With facts emerging that N100 million was a pledge and N10milion has been given, we hope that the Oyo State Government in its usual characteristic, will take an inventory of the expenditure at the palace and give the people an accounts report when due.
We must at this time also mention two other factors that influenced actions during the protests. One of which is Governor Makinde’s opening a portal for reporting past and present cases of police brutality and injustice which would precede the setting up of a Judicial Panel of Enquiry. While other states set up their panels before cases are reported, the Oyo State Government are going about things the other way round. When you think about it, it seems more sensible to know what types of cases will be handled before deciding on who should constitute the panel. The Oyo State Government has also set aside an initial N500 million Compensation Fund to encourage more people to come forward with their complaints.
Secondly, even without the youths being able to properly articulate their requests, Governor Makinde set up a N500 million MSME fund for young persons with brilliant entrepreneurial ideas, and he has requested that the End SARS protesters nominate representatives that will be part of the committee overseeing the disbursement. He has also directed that 5,000 youths be employed into the various state agencies in the coming months.
Oyo Affairs hopes that this awakening of the youths all over Nigeria will have a domino effect of making them more interested in the political system and how it is managed. Never again should we have the situation in 1964 when the then premier aspirant, Ladoke Akintola and his deputy aspirant Remi Fani Kayode reportedly said, “Bi e dibo fun wa, bi e dibo fun wa, ati wole.”
Elections should be a reflection of the will of the people. So far, Governor Makinde has shown what is possible when the people make the right electoral choices. His style of leadership, as compared to what is happening elsewhere in Nigeria, is a testament to the fact that electoral choices have consequences. Yes, Governor Seyi Makinde took a calculated risk in his handling of the End SARS protests and subsequent events. So far, the gamble has paid off. We wait to see how the next steps will play out.