The United Nations (UN) on Monday reiterated its support for the #EndSARS protesters’ agitations for social justice and good governance, describing the peaceful campaign, which later snowballed into violence when hoodlums hijacked it to loot and torch public and private assets, including police stations, as legitimate.
However, against the backdrop of the violent disruption of the #EndSARS peaceful protest, President Muhammadu Buhari told youths who championed the #EndSARS demonstration that it is in their interest to keep the peace.
Answering questions from State House reporters after leading a UN delegation to a meeting with Buhari, Deputy Secretary-General of the UN, Ms. Amina Mohammed, said such agitations must, however, be pursued peacefully.
Mohammed, Nigeria’s former Minister of Environment, added that both the UN Secretary-General, Mr. Antonio Gutteres, and the entire organisation were alarmed by the weight of the protests and consequent level of destruction.
She said the UN supported Nigerian government’s efforts to meet the demands of the youths, adding that the reform of the security sector, which spurred the unrest has become compelling.
Mohammed also said the global body launched what she described as UN Plus Offer yesterday to support Nigeria’s economic sustainability plan in the next two years.
She said: “We did raise, while we were with Mr. President, the issue around the recent challenges of #EndSARS protests that happened in the country.
“It was of course one that alarmed the secretary-general and we all, of course, support the country in trying to get back on track.
“Young people and their demands for social justice, governance are all legitimate ones and must be done peacefully. But we were all disturbed by the damage level, loss of lives and we continue to condole with those families who suffer those loses.
“Today was one in which we encourage efforts that are being made by the government to that process of engaging with the demands that have been made by the young people.
“It’s a start on that journey of reforms that are needed in the security sector but also root causes to the issues that are happening today, which is about investing in development.”
Mohammed said the UN looked forward to a continuing partnership with the government of Nigeria.
“We are happy today to launch the UN Plus Offer, which has to do again with supporting economic sustainability plan over the next two years so that we can respond a little bit better,” she said.
Mohammed also spoke on the Lekki shootings on October 20, saying the position of the UN remains as earlier expressed by Gutteres that everyone reserves the right to engage in peaceful protest.
According to her, the government has a social contract with the people and hence, the latter has the right to express themselves.
She, however, lamented the loss of lives during the protests, noting that the government needs to draw certain lessons from the episode in its effort to address the demands of the youth.
She canvassed the need to engage the youth and restore confidence in them, adding that issues generated by the protests must be addressed.
She said: “The UN stance is clear, like the UN secretary-general had said in his speech, we believe everyone has a right to demonstrate peacefully for those issues they want to raise with their government.
“There is a social contract in place between the government and the people and it is important to have that freedom of speech provided it is done peacefully.
“I think in the case where we heard that lives and property were lost, it was unfortunate and we believe that in addressing the demands that were made by young people, this is a lesson we can take into the future and how we engage in such issues.”
She said of the lot of protests around the world that have been exacerbated by COVID-19, the UN has not seen governments’ turn around in response as quickly as the Nigerian government did.
“So, the UN response to this is that we must make sure that what happened in this protests, we are able to address those issues, those gaps and begin the reform.”
Earlier, Buhari during the meeting with the UN delegation had told the protesting youths that it was in their interest to keep the peace.
He said his own generation “is on the last lap, we are exiting.”
A statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina quoted the president as saying: “Our own generation is on the last lap, we are exiting.
“It is in the interest of the youth to keep the peace. They want jobs, infrastructure, and development.”
He said he has sent a team by his Chief of Staff, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, to go round the country, talk to traditional rulers, who will then talk to the youth.
“The views of the youth have been heard,” he said.
Buhari was also quoted to have said that his administration inherited severe infrastructural deficits.
He said that was what his government was working hard to correct and was doing its best within the limits of the available resources.
“That (infrastructural deficit) is what we are fighting to correct. We can’t just sit, fold our hands, and do nothing. We are doing our best within the limits of resources,” he stated.
Buhari was also said to have rued the fact that COVID-19 has shrunk the global economy, noting that “this is something you can’t see, smell, or hear,” but which has wrought devastation on lives and livelihoods around the world.