President Muhammadu Buhari on Thursday bowed to public pressure to address the nation on the prevailing violence across the country flowing from the street protests against police abuse of human rights.
He however, surprisingly kept mum on the shooting of protesters by soldiers at the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos on Tuesday night by soldiers drafted to disperse #EndSARS protesters camped there.
The shootings which have attracted national and international condemnations, reportedly led to several deaths while many are recuperating from gunshot wounds at different hospitals.
Sidestepping the incident, Buhari instead warned the protesters and other Nigerians not to engage in the same excesses that warranted the agitation against the disbanded police unit, Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
Buhari said his prompt response to the initial demands of the protesters for the proscription of SARS seemed to have been taken for granted and viewed as weakness on his part.
According to the President: “I must warn those who have hijacked and misdirected the initial, genuine and well – intended protest of some of our youths in parts of the country, against the excesses of some members of the now disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
“On Monday 12th October, I acknowledged the genuine concerns and agitations of members of the public regarding the excessive use of force by some members of SARS.
“The choice to demonstrate peacefully is a fundamental right of citizens as enshrined in Section 40 of our Constitution and other enactments; but this right to protest also imposes on the demonstrators the responsibility to respect the rights of other citizens, and the necessity to operate within the law.
“As a democratic government, we listened to, and carefully evaluated the five-point demands of the protesters. And, having accepted them, we immediately scrapped SARS, and put measures in place to address the other demands of our youth.
“On approving the termination of SARS, I already made it clear that it was in line with our commitment to the implementation of extensive Police reforms.
“Sadly, the promptness with which we have acted seemed to have been misconstrued as a sign of weakness and twisted by some for their selfish unpatriotic interests.”
He lamented the loss of lives of policemen, the sacking of palace of Oba of Lagos and some prisons by thugs, sexual violence and vandalization of public and private property across the country.
He also reeled out the police reforms and other poverty alleviation programmes of his administration and asked the aggrieved agitators to bear these in mind and take advantage of such where needed.
Buhari further asked them to cease the protests and explore the option of dialogue.
He added: “In the circumstances, I would like to appeal to protesters to note and take advantage of the various well-thought-out initiatives of this administration designed to make their lives better and more meaningful, and resist the temptation of being used by some subversive elements to cause chaos with the aim of truncating our nascent democracy.
“For you to do otherwise will amount to undermining national security and the law and order situation. Under no circumstances will this be tolerated.
“I therefore call on our youths to discontinue the street protests and constructively engage government in finding solutions. Your voice has been heard loud and clear and we are responding.
“And I call on all Nigerians to go about their normal businesses, and enjoin security agencies to protect lives and properties of all law abiding citizens without doing harm to those they are meant to protect. Let me pay tribute to officers of the Nigeria Police Force who have tragically lost their lives in the line of duty.
“I would like to thank those state Governors, traditional and religious leaders who have appealed for calm and restraint. I also thank youth leaders who have restrained their followers from taking the law into their hands.
“This government respects and will continue to respect all the democratic rights and civil liberties of the people, but it will not allow anybody or groups to disrupt the peace of our nation.”