President Muhammadu Buhari on Friday met with former Nigerian leaders on the #EndSARS protest and the happenings in the country resulting from the demonstrations.
Former presidents and heads of state who attended the virtual meeting from their various homes were General Yakubu Gowon (rtd), Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, General Ibrahim Babangida (rtd), Chief Ernest Shonekan, General Abulsalami Abubakar (rtd), and Dr Goodluck Jonathan.
The President began by acknowledging the genuine and well-intended #EndSARS protest of youths in parts of the country against the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
He, however, said it was unfortunate that the demonstration was hijacked and misdirected, stressing that the Federal Government would not fold its arms and allow miscreants and criminals to continue to perpetrate acts of hooliganism.
President Buhari also recounted the concessions made by his administration on the demands of the youths condemning the excesses of members of the SARS.
He recalled that the protesters had demanded that the squad be disbanded, and further articulated the additional demands.
These, according to the President, included the immediate release of all arrested protesters, and justice for deceased victims of police brutality, and appropriate compensation for their families.
Others were setting up an independent body to oversee the investigation and prosecution of all reports of police misconduct within 10 days, psychological evaluation and re-training of all disbanded SARS officers before they can be redeployed, as well as an increase in police salary.
”We accepted all the demands and proceeded immediately to scrap SARS and started the process of addressing the other demands.
”Unfortunately, the protesters refused to call off the protest and engage the government to address their grievances,” President Buhari was quoted as saying in a statement by his media adviser, Femi Adesina.
He was concerned that as a result of the violence that ensued, many lives were lost, and a number of public and private properties completely destroyed or vandalised.
But the President reiterated his pledge to the nation in his Thursday broadcast, saying, “We will continue to improve good governance through our democratic process, including through sustained engagement.
“We shall also continue to ensure that liberty and freedom, as well as the fundamental rights of all citizens are protected. Here, I want to also reaffirm our commitment to preserving the unity of this country.”
President Buhari thanked the former presidents and heads of state for attending the meeting and their invaluable comments, observations and advice.
“Nigerians expect nothing less from responsible statesmen,” he told the meeting.
According to Adesina, each of the former leaders commended President Buhari for steps taken so far to restore calm and order to the country.
“Peaceful demonstration is part of democratic practice; the demands of the genuine protesters were accepted, and you are working on implementation. We commend you,” former President Obasanjo was quoted to have said.
On the way forward, the former leaders were unanimous in their view that generation of employment and growing the economy, including through direct foreign investments were critical to checking youth restiveness.
They also condoled with the bereaved families of civilians and security operatives who lost their lives to the violence.
The former leaders stressed the importance of respecting the fundamental rights of citizens, including for peaceful protest as enshrined in the Constitution.
They condemned the divisive and inciting pronouncements of separatists and were of the opinion that such acts should be stopped.
The former leaders also commended the actions taken by state governors to address the demands of #EndSARS protesters and their efforts to check the excesses of those who perpetrated violent acts and conduct.
They, therefore, called on youths to pursue peaceful means in seeking redress through engagement with the government, as well as encouraged further conversation with the youths and other stakeholders in the country.