Disquiet in Buhari Regime as Protests Persist 

By Our Reporters

Monday, 19 October 2020

There is increasing disquiet in the administration of Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari as anti-police protests evolve into demands for better governance.

Protests, which erupted two weeks ago over police extrajudicial killings, have persisted even after the government quickly agreed to disband the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, notorious for preying on citizens. 

Information and Culture Lai Mohammed suggested on Saturday that the protests have been hijacked with the intent to subvert the government. 

“There is nowhere in the world where a government will fold its arms and allow the country to descend into anarchy,” Mohammed said on state-owned television, NTA.

“We are no longer dealing with EndSARS but a volatile situation that can lead to anarchy if the government does not take some very firm steps to protect the lives and livelihood of innocent Nigerians.”

The military last week made a thinly veiled threat that appeared aimed at the protesters, saying the armed forces were firmly behind the president and would defend him against “subversive elements.”

The army, subsequently, announced it will commense a nationwide military exercise, codenamed Operation Crocodile Smile, on October 20, to last until the end of the year. Many Nigerians have read the announcement as a ploy to deploy soldiers to quell the demonstrations.

While the Buhari government had in the past demonstrated intolerance toward protests and dissent, quickly dispatching law enforcement to contain them, it’s shown a reluctance to do the same with the youthful protesters, who have remained largely peaceful while effectively mobilizing all over the country. Dealing with protesters, who have no clear leadership to negotiate with, has also proved difficult. 

The demonstrations come on the heels of the economic devastation of the coronavirus pandemic, which took a heavy toll on Nigeria for its dependence on oil exports as demand collapsed.

Top political and security advisers of the government fear that the longer the protests stay, the more they will erode the legitimacy of the government, potentially to the point its continued stay in power may become questionable, according to sources.

Options that might be considered by the government include shutting off internet access, to deny the protesters the key tool of organization, though it may come with wider economic implications. The other approach, seen as more fitting for a former military strongman as Buhari, is to send the troops into the streets.