INTERVIEW:How Oyo Managed EndSARS Protest Without Applying Force, Imposing Curfew- Makinde
The first major flash point in the #ENDSARS protest in Oyo was Ogbomoso, where Isiaka Jimoh and two others were said to have lost their lives. The palace of the Soun of Ogbomosoland was also targeted by angry youths. That set the stage for other crises. How did you manage through all that?
I had to make a statewide broadcast on Monday, October 19, 2020, to appeal for calm and lay out our position on the protests. I supported the protests and we made it clear that I was for peaceful protest. On Tuesday, I visited the palace of the Soun of Ogbomosoland, Oba Oladunni Oyewumi Ajagungbade III, and I did not expect the level of destruction we witnessed there. I accept the fact that peaceful protest is legitimate, and it is guaranteed under our constitution; but the type of destruction at the palace should not have happened at all. This is because the state government is not in control of SARS. Even though they will say the governor is the Chief Security Officer for the state, I always say it that we are not in control of the Commissioner of Police as governors. As a governor, I am not in control of who they will post here as commissioner. We just work with whoever we meet along the way. We made commitments to support the renovation of the palace and the repairs or replacement of the vehicles that were damaged – some of the vehicles are beyond repairs.
I also visited the families of the deceased and told them that there is no amount of money we can give that can pacify the irreplaceable loss of their children. But I assured them that the government will assist. We put up a team to meet with the families and explore ways of assistance on a sustainable basis beyond cash provision. When I returned from Ogbomoso later that evening, I addressed the protesters who had massed at the secretariat here in Ibadan. Do you know that earlier, someone had suggested that we use force, but I said we could not use force, because I went to these youths when I was looking for votes. And I must say this, the approach we employed, which dwells more on reasonable engagement rather than the use of force, has paid off greatly. This dovetails into our decision not to impose a curfew, because we came to the informed conclusion that imposing a curfew at a period that tensions were high would only result into one thing, rebellion and to check a rebellion, you may want to exert pressure or force, which in the end will lead to whatever you wanted to avoid by imposing the curfew in the first place. Instead of imposing a curfew, we closed the schools within Ibadan, the state capital – that was penultimate Wednesday – and I made it clear that the closure of the schools would be reviewed on Friday, October 23, 2020. We did. And our pupils and students resumed last Monday.
So, rather than use force, I reminded the protesters that they organised themselves and voted for me. And it was time for me to listen to them and ensure that whatever it is that they wanted done by our government, we would find a means to do it and we have stayed on that course.
There was a problem at Iwo Road penultimate Thursday. We learnt that some policemen lost their lives in the mayhem and the youths were hell-bent on torching police stations especially the Testing ground…?
(Cuts in) That was unfortunate, very unfortunate; but we thank God that quick intervention prevented further loss of lives that day. I had a serious exchange with the Commissioner of Police. This is also true for the police hierarchy. They were losing men and police stations and they needed to act. But I said we have to act with caution. It was difficult to understand what I was trying to say in the heat of things, but they understood in the end and we agreed and proceeded with caution. That is why the situation did not really go beyond what we saw. We deployed men of the ‘Operation Burst’ (a state-backed security outfit comprising soldiers, men of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, NSCDC, and the Nigeria Police) as a result of the new dimension the #EndSARS protest was taking, because we discovered that hoodlums had started taking advantage of the protests to harass citizens, perpetrate uncivil acts and disturb residents from carrying out their legitimate businesses. The outfit was also charged to take the responsibility of protecting peaceful protesters, while the police were told to step back from protest venues. When we heard that there were disturbances around Idi-Ape/Iwo Road axis, I had to go there myself.
How did it go when you went to talk to the restive youths?
When we got there, I saw the youths and I first called for calm because the scene was very riotous; I then asked them some questions. First, I asked if they were the ones that installed this government? I asked if they were assured that this government would always do what is right for them? I told them that since they installed this government, I wanted to assure them that we would do what is necessary for them. I told them that I wanted them to trust me, because whatever affects the eyes equally affects the nose. In other words, whatever affects them also affects me. So, I urged them to be peaceful, because I didn’t want it to escalate beyond that point. I admonished them not to destroy anybody’s property. We needed to engage them at that point and we did, because as I said to the youths, my life is not worth more than any of theirs. I didn’t want anybody’s life to be wasted. I also asked my people to collect the list of those who were affected; those whose houses were burnt, those whose property were destroyed, including those whose cars were set ablaze and we promised to attend to their issues. Let me tell you, the truth of the matter as I know it, is that the needs of our people are such that we need to sincerely and honestly engage them. Let them know that we feel their pain and we, too, must attend to those needs. I want to reassure the good people of Oyo State that all criminal elements that took part in the destruction of property will be dealt with. I can give you that assurance because killing, arson, destruction of means of livelihood are not part of us. They are not the things that we stand for as a people. Our state is a state of Omoluabi.
But a lot of people were of the view that you should have imposed a curfew like your colleague governors in other Southwest states. Does your refusal to toe that line have anything to do with the fact that you are the only PDP governor?
The issue of curfew is a delicate thing and something similar happened during the very dark days of COVID-19. It’s a catch 22 scenario. At a wedding penultimate Saturday, I told the gathering that the rest of the country is acknowledging the fact that normalcy has returned to Oyo State without locking anywhere down. And I used the opportunity to thank everyone in the state for their cooperation, particularly our youths. They protested and communicated the grievances they had. Because of the love our people have for us, during this same #ENDSARS crisis, we were on the road inspecting projects because we were able to let our people know that we needed to think of solutions and not creating more problems or being destructive. Now, during COVID-19, most states were on lockdown, but we didn’t fully lock our state down. We imposed a curfew, first from 7:00p.m to 5:00a.m. Later we relaxed it to 8:00p.m to 5:00a.m and later from 10:00p.m to 4:00a.m, that was because of our farmers who needed to go out early to their farms, especially in the rural areas. I’m sure you all saw what happened to the states where total lockdown was imposed – the misery, the attendant discomfort of not being able to make a living for some time; and it was worse for petty traders and artisans who form the bulk of the population. We looked at the situation and decided that since this was a government of the people for the people and by the people, and since these same people voted for us massively, we needed to create a balance between public health and economic health of our people, through a creative and sustainable process that would cause minimal crisis and disruption to their lives. Those who imposed curfew meant well, but look at how it turned out. Yes, God has been good to us and we thank Him for His grace.
Talking about COVID-19 and the looting of palliatives…
(Cuts in) In Oyo State, our COVID-19 Task Force is made up of seasoned scientists, medical practitioners, administrators and persons of tested intellect. If you noticed, most of the decisions we took as a Task Force appeared strange to many but, after a while, those decisions became the national benchmark as they were adopted in some other quarters. Our decisions were based on sound data, science and logic. It was based on these same parameters that the state has been able to achieve a mileage in terms of distribution of palliatives. We have already distributed four rounds of palliatives to our people. The first phase was for the poorest of the poor among us. In the second phase, we took care of the farmers. In the third phase, we took care of civil servants and political office holders, who, of course, have a lot of dependents. In the fourth phase, I believe we took care of the vulnerable within our environment. We run a transparent government. And if you have followed the steps of the state’s Task Force, you would notice that all donations in cash and kind have been published on the state government website. The website is updated from time to time, so whatever anyone has given Oyo State since COVID-19 started is captured and published. Anyone can access the website and confirm. So, I don’t think anyone can accuse us of hoarding palliatives. The issue is that we are waiting for the rice promised by the CACOVID. It has not got here, but we have now decided to go ahead with the fifth phase of palliatives distribution, which will also go to the poorest of the poor. We will be proceeding with the fifth phase distribution of palliatives by the end of this week having completed the verification of the individuals who are qualified for them – again that relates to data. Unfortunately, someone who got a contract to supply palliatives on behalf of CACOVID, lost millions to hoodlums who looted his warehouse in Ibadan. Again, anyone who is conversant with the developments will recall that state government palliatives were 25/30kg packages and they didn’t contain rice. What we did was to meet directly with the farmers/sellers of the items that we packaged for our palliatives within the location of distribution and buy from them. What that did for the state was that the funds circulated within the state and among the people – to add to their prosperity while simultaneously boosting the economy of the state.
Some people are of the view that quick fixes may not solve the issues thrown up by the #ENDSARS protests. What steps are you exploring with a view to demonstrating to the people that you mean well?
We have set up an initial N500 million Compensation Fund for victims of police brutality and injustice. So, I encourage everyone who has suffered any form of injustice in the past or as a result of the #EndSARS protests, to please take advantage of the platforms we have provided to log their cases. We have an email service and a direct reporting portal on the Oyo State Government website. Residents of the state can report cases of police violations via the email address, or through the link on the Oyo State website, where they can fill out a form. It is domiciled in my office to demonstrate my determination to address the menace of police brutality, rights abuse and extortion. As at Tuesday, 46 persons had reported infractions and rights abuses. Secondly, in line with the national directive that every state should set up a Judicial Panel of Enquiry, the panel will be inaugurated his week to investigate cases of injustice and I have assured that representatives of the youths and artisans will serve on the panel. We know that the protests have been as a result of simmering anger among the youths. We are aware of the economic situation, especially the reduced income of many due to the COVID-19 pandemic and also the general unemployment situation in the country. Let me reassure that we will continue to prioritise actions that will positively impact the youths. We have also taken the following immediate actions to address some of the issues raised by the youths during the protest: I have directed that a N500 million MSME fund be set up. This fund will be disbursed to youths who have bright entrepreneurial ideas that will provide further employment and improve the economic landscape in Oyo State. That is not all. I have directed the employment of 5,000 young persons across all government agencies over the next few months. We have been talking to Oyo State Road Maintenance Agency, OYSROMA, before now. We have been talking about Amotekun and the recruitments of health workers and teaching and non-teaching staff which had been slowed down by COVID-19 will be completed shortly. When completed, close to 12,000 youths will be taken off the streets. We have to, immediately, wrap some of those recruitments up and put these people off the streets. The criteria for employment and the dates for assessment for the 5,000 jobs will be announced by the government. We have also decided that starting from 2021, there will be provisions made for the Direct Labour Agency in the budget. This will ensure more employment opportunities for residents who have requisite skills when projects are awarded.