Apart from the seven-point demands of the EndSARS protesters, there is no denying the fact that they are also protesting against skewed regional preferences of the federal government, youth unemployment, debasement of the youth and shutting out of the youth from government among others. A surge of diplomacy is urgently needed to stop the current siege and restore peace in the country
By Anayo Ezugwu
IT all started as a social media protest on Saturday, October 3, when a video of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS, brutalizing a young man in front of Wetland Hotel, Ughelli, Delta State went viral. The trending video caused a public outcry on social media, especially on Twitter, with the #EndSARS trending. By Friday, October 9, the #EndSARS racked up 2.4 million tweets and was the number one Twitter trending topic in several countries.
The trending video prompted many Nigerians to share videos and pictures of SARS and police brutality, harassment, illegal arrest and extortion in the country. Following the outcry and anger, on Thursday, October 8, the social media protest moved to the streets and the protesters were led predominantly by young Nigerians in different cities alongside many activists and celebrities. The protesters are calling for wider reforms in the police and advocating for better policing.
The protesters are also demanding for the immediate release of all persons arrested during the protests as well as justice and compensation for all the victims of police brutality in Nigeria. They are also demanding that an independent body be set up within 10 days to investigate and prosecute all reports of police misconduct and psychological evaluation and retraining of SARS operatives before they are deployed to any other police unit, while also asking for adequate remuneration for the police.
Though Mohammed Adamu, Inspector-General of Police, had announced the scrapping of SARS and the setting up of another unit to be known as the Special Weapons and Tactics Team, SWAT, the protests are still spreading like wildfire across the country. With the way and manner, the protests are going, Nigeria might witness a nationwide short down by next week.
As of Friday, October 16, many banks, companies, and individual businesses in many parts of Lagos are shorting down as the protesters mobilise for more supporters. For instance, the protesters have maintained the tempo at Alausa, the Lagos State seat of power, despite being attacked by hoodlums on Thursday, October 15.
The protest coordinators have made arrangements for food and water. They also have medical personnel on standby, ambulances and mobile toilets for convenience have also been provided. The situation is the same at the Lekki tollgate.
This is not the first time Nigerians are protesting against police brutality and extrajudicial killings. Realnews recalls that in December 2017, after a video circulated of SARS officers fleeing the scene after killing a man, Nigerians took to the social media to share their stories of abusive encounters with the police. Back then the federal government promised all manner of reforms and investigations. But nothing happened.
In 2016, the World Internal Security and Police Index rated Nigeria’s police forces as the worst in the world. According to recent polls, Nigerians have placed the majority of the blame on the police and the government for the numerous cases of human rights violations. For the last 25 years, the government’s response to calls for reform has been a running joke on the continent. Instead of providing better training and disciplining units for officers guilty of abuses, successive governments have instead responded by setting up of committees and panels.
In 2006, the Danmadami police reform committee was set up by former President Olusegun Obasanjo. And in 2008, late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua’s Presidential Committee on the Reform of the Nigeria Police was set up to investigate the implementation of the previous recommendations. In 2012, after reports that Boko Haram had infiltrated the police force, President Goodluck Jonathan fired the inspector general of police. He then proceeded to set up yet another committee to reorganize the police force.
However, the Amnesty International in its 2016 report indicted SARS for human rights abuse, cruelty, degrading treatment of Nigerians in their custody, and widespread torture. According to the report, victims held in SARS custody have been subjected to “mock execution, beating, punching and kicking, burning with cigarettes, waterboarding, near-asphyxiation with plastic bags, forcing detainees to assume stressful bodily positions and sexual violence.” Arrests and cases were rarely investigated.
Despite the fact that Nigeria criminalised torture in 2017, no SARS officer has been convicted. And Amnesty International documented 82 cases of torture and extrajudicial executions by SARS between January 2017 and May 2018.
As the protest rages, some youths under the auspices of Human Right Network, are protesting in support of SWAT in some parts of northern Nigeria. The group led by Musbahu Basirka, said the disbandment of the SARS was not in the interest of all Nigerians, especially the indigenes of Jigawa State facing farmers, herders’ crisis, and kidnapping. He said that the SARS was at the forefront in securing the lives and properties in the state. “Jigawa retained its position as (the) most peaceful state in Nigeria, following the role played by the disbanded SARS operatives and other security outfits in promoting peaceful coexistence,” he said.
In addition to the anti-SARS protests, the Coalition of Northern Groups, CNG, has commenced a wave of marches in the 19 northern states to protest rising insecurity in the region. The non-stop protests, according to the group, are aimed at drawing the attention of President Muhammadu Buhari and the governors of the 19 northern states to the plight of the region. CNG said the ineptitude and the apparent failure of elected and appointed leaders from the north to either protect the lives and property of northerners or address the myriad of distresses the region faced had pushed them to the wall.
Abdul-Azeez Suleiman, spokesman of the group, said while the elected and appointed leaders of southern Nigeria were quick to identify with their people at the time of need, their counterparts from the north, including Buhari; Senate President, Ahmed Lawan; senators, House of Representatives members, governors, state legislators and other government appointees abandoned the people in northern communities exposed to crime, insecurity, and other violent crimes without any form of protection.
He vowed that the ‘#EndInsecurityNow protest’ will continue until their demands are met. He said the coalition had followed developments around the bold and necessary steps taken by Nigerian citizens in some parts of the country, including some northern states to call attention to the deteriorating national security and other pressing concerns around the dwindling economy, prohibitive commodity prices, rising inflation amidst mounting poverty and prolonged stay at home by university students.
As the federal government works to meet the demands of the protesters, the National Economic Council, NEC, has asked governors to supervise the newly formed police tactical units and other security agencies in their states. The NEC presided over by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, also directed the immediate establishment of the state-based Judicial Panels of Inquiry across the country to receive and investigate complaints of police brutality or related extrajudicial killings.
The NEC said that such panels would ensure the delivery of justice for all victims of the dissolved SARS and other police units. The council resolved that governors and the FCT Minister should take charge of interface and contact with the protesters in their respective domains.
“The Judicial Panels, which would be set up in all the states, will include representatives of youths, students, civil society organisations, and will be chaired by a respected retired State High Court Judge. “The council also directed that state governors should immediately establish a State-based Special Security and Human Rights Committee to be chaired by the Governors in their States, to supervise the newly-formed police tactical units and all other security agencies located in the State.
“The idea of the Special Security and Human Rights Committee in all States of the Federation and the FCT is to ensure that police formation and other security agencies in the state consistently protect the human rights of citizens. Members of the Special Committee will also include representatives of youths and civil society. The head of police tactical units in each of the states will also be a member of the committee,” the council said.
As the protests against police brutality and insecurity continue to spread across the country, the authorities should ensure that the protests do not degenerate into a bigger security crisis.
– Oct. 16 2020 @ 17:45 GMT |