As the nation continues to count its losses to the arson perpetrated by hoodlums at the wake of the protests against police brutality, President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday pleaded again for peace, assuring the victims of the violence that justice would be done.
A wave arson, looting and killings have convulsed many states of the federation since last week when hooligans seized the #EndSARS protests against police brutality to vandalise public and private assets.
The violence, which worsened after last Tuesday’s shooting of peaceful #EndSARS protesters at the Lekki Tollgate, Lagos, has spread to states in all the six geopolitical zones, with those in the South-west worst hit.
Buhari, briefing while briefing the Council of State, comprising his predecessors, had said last Friday that at least 69 people have been killed in the protests raging across the country.
He had given the breakdown of the death toll as 51 civilians, 11 police officers and seven soldiers.
With the breakdown of law and order occasioned by the violence, many states have imposed curfews to curtail looting and vandalism.
However, the president, in a statement yesterday by his media aide, Malam Shehu Garba, pleaded with Nigerians to maintain peace and brotherhood, saying the incidence of last week did not speak well of the country.
Explaining that he had avoided going into a debate about the Lekki Tollgate incident until all the facts are established, he assured Nigerians that the victims of the protests would get justice.
Buhari commended the decision of the Lagos State Ministry of Justice to prosecute 229 suspects arrested for allegedly using the protests to destroy and loot public and private property.
He condemned hate messages and eviction notices to ethnic and religious groups asking Nigerians to take pride in the fact that the country’s diverse people have been living with one another in harmony for ages.
He came down very hard on the attacks and the organised looting and plundering of public and private property in many states, saying they are inimical to public good.
The president, who described the actions as criminal, added that it could weaken and erode the confidence of the people and that of foreign businesses in investing in the economy.
He warned that his government will not fold its arms when an otherwise legitimate and peaceful protest is turning into a free-for-all vandalism and looting.
Buhari stated: “A government that has launched a massive crackdown on corruption, brought in strong laws for a decisive battle against corruption, pursues loot recovery at home and abroad, and taken strong decisions against those who thought they were above the law, will not fold its arms when an otherwise legitimate and peaceful protest is turning into free-for-all vandalism and looting.
“While the administration has, for its part, blocked so many means of looting public money in a war against corruption, it is the expectation that all civil authorities, community and religious leaders in the country must rise against the organised looting and plunder we are witnessing in parts of the country. Families must turn back children who bring home unaccounted goods, in the same way, wives must ask their husbands to return looted items brought home.”
He warned further that looting and vandalism will hurt trade and investment growth in the country, both large and small industries, as well as our hardworking people in the informal sectors of the economy.
The president added that the incidents did not reflect well on any society, as they were wrong and condemnable and should not be supported by reasonable members of society.
Buhari also expressed optimism that the judicial panel of inquiry would assist the nation to give justice to peaceful protesters who lost their lives, security men who were murdered and property owners whose assets were vandalised and looted.
The president stated that it is important that the police and other security agencies move in to restore calm and normalcy as quickly as possible.
Meanwhile, in furtherance of the presidential directive to ministers to go to their home states to calm frayed nerves, the Minister of Defence, Maj. Gen. Bashir Magashi (rtd) and his Agriculture and Rural Development counterpart, Mr. Muhammad Nanono, yesterday appealed to youths in Kano State to always embrace dialogue as a tool for negotiation with government in pressing home their demands, and to give peace a chance in all their undertakings.
A statement by the office of the Minister of Defence said the appeal was made by the ministers at an all-inclusive stakeholders peace meeting organised in Kano at the instance of the ministers aimed at complementing the efforts of the state government in achieving lasting peace in their domains as directed by the president.
The parley, which came a few days after Buhari’s nationwide broadcast, focused on the way forward to taking the youths off the streets for useful engagements in nation-building.
In a joint speech read by Magashi, the ministers advised the youths to explore the profitability of buying into the various government initiatives targeted at making them key drivers of the nation’s Micro Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME), while taking ownership of the N75 billion National Youth Investment Fund meant for their upliftment.
The statement, signed by the Special Assistant, Media, to the Minister of Defence, Mr. Mohammad Abdulkadir, said the Kano State Governor, Dr. Abdullahi Ganduje, represented by the Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Mr. Murtala Garu, thanked the president and the ministers for their commitment to promoting peace in Kano State.
He also admonished the youths to shun fake news capable of threatening national unity.