Defeating Mr. Macaroni: Face of a Failed Nation
By: Deji Yesufu
When it was announced that the Lekki Toll Gate will resume activities on the 13th of February, 2020, there were two forces that came face to face at daring each other about it. Young people, many of them members of the botched EndSARS movement, swore that it would not happen and that even if it did happen, it will occur over their dead bodies. One could understand these young people’s plight. Events of October 20, 2020 are still fresh in our memories and a panel of enquiry is still in Lagos investigating what happened on that ill-fated night. The last thing, one would reason, is for government to be thinking of opening up business on the same grounds where tens of youths were allegedly mowed down by Nigerian security forces. The second group that reacted to the announcement was, as expected, the Nigerian Police. The Police said that it was their duty to keep law and order, and that there could not be a repeat of the mayhem that occurred in the aftermath of the killings at the Toll Gate. The stage was set for a duel: the young people said they will protest the opening of the Toll Gate; the Nigerian Police said they dare not.
Even by the eve of the day of the protest the Lekki Toll Gate, situated in the southern parts of Nigeria’s commercial nerve center, Lagos State, was already brimming with armed policemen. The internet was flooded with men in uniform parading the whole place. The pictures were intimidating and it was clear that anyone who ventured to that area for any protest will be toast. Yet forty brave youths, boys and girls, defied the police and went out and protested the opening of the Toll Gate that day. We get a picture of what happened that morning from Debo Adebayo, popularly known as Mr. Macaroni.
After his release from police detention, Mr. Adebayo said that up till the eve of the protest no one was sure whether it was going to hold. Family members, as they tend to do, had called him and informed him to stay at home and not go anywhere. In spite of all this, Macaroni took his life in his hands and headed to the Toll Gate to protest its opening. On his way there, he was informed that the police were already arresting protesters that had arrived. This was the time to turn around and go home, but he explained that the purpose of the protest was not to evade arrest but to simply make the point that a few people opposed the opening of the Toll Gate. The moment he arrived the place, he and the forty others were arrested and crammed into a waiting police truck. The comical part of the whole event was that the police needed to push the truck to kick-start it. Macaroni said that he and others, including a few ladies, were thoroughly beaten by the police. They were stripped and crammed together in the vehicle. They were threatened. They were told that if all these had happened in the morning hours, all forty of them would have been killed and nothing will happen.
Those of us who could not make it to the Toll Gate followed happenings on social media. The internet was flooded with pictures and videos of young people, who were protesting peacefully, being crammed in a vehicle – without any effort at social distancing – and being bundled away to detention. The saddest part of it all was the video that emerged of Mr. Macaroni and others packed together, stripped, sweating profusely, as a police officer, who was filming the whole thing, was making jest of them. At that point you could see that the boys had been defeated; they were scared out of their wits. They had lost their bravado and now they were at the mercies of trigger happy policemen who could take their life and nothing will happen. The country will experience outrage for a few days and everything will be back to normal in less than a month. The same Macaroni, who had been speaking with pomp earlier and had been describing his arrest on his social media feed, was now thoroughly cowered. He could barely look into the camera. Debo Adebayo, Mr. Macaroni, whose comic skits on social media will break the strongest willed into hearty fits of laughter, was a shadow of himself. Mr. Macaroni had been defeated.
The truth of this saga is that the defeat of Mr. Macaroni, and the cowering of the 39 others, is only a reflection of a failed Nigerian state. What is very clear to even a mere observer of events in this country is that Nigerian policy makers and law enforcements do not know anything about how a modern and workable society operates. We still believe that the best way to curtail dissent in the society is by the use of brute force. How is it that the police could not see that by providing protective cover to the protesters that day at the Lekki Toll Gate, they would have succeeded in giving the world a picture of a government that is able to handle dissent in society? Now the police has to grapple with investigating and explaining away the reason why a few rag-tag elements within the police behaved unprofessionally in the handling of the protesters. The more professional thing to have done was to allow the protest, while ensuring that it did not go out of hand.
One challenge with governance in this country is that our leaders are mainly reactive and hardly proactive. We have very few people in position of authority in this country that are thinking and this remain the bane of our society and the reason the country is tottering towards a failed state almost every day. The Nigeria police cannot be using force to quell protest in the 21 century in the same manner they did in the colonial days – law enforcement should have progressed past this stage by now. This is the age of ideas: this is the time to put the best minds in government and in law enforcements. Unfortunately we continue to write essays like this because we continue to repeat the same mistakes.
I was glad that by the close of Saturday all the protesters had been released. One report has it that they were charged to court and bailed with a sum of N100,000 each. I do not know who paid the four million naira that the bail money amounted to. I do not even know when peaceful protest became a crime in this country. If protest was a crime, Muhammadu Buhari, our president, would not have had the liberty to protest the Goodluck Jonathan government when he did so with members of his political party. When young people cannot have their say through peaceful protest in a country that they ought to lay claim to as theirs, are we surprised that many of them flee the shores of this nation looking for a better life elsewhere?
Mr. Macaroni is 28 years old. Through a dint of hard work he has made his name in the comedy arena of Nigeria’s entertainment industry. Young people like him are not asking for too much. They are simply saying that our government should be a thinking one. A thinking government will not rush to open business concerns on the floor of which tens of young people were murdered a few months ago. Debo Adebayo and other young people are saying that when our leader do not act proactively, they leave the country in auto-pilot and open the ship of state to the dire possibility of a crash, a collapse or a failed situation.