HAVE THE POLICE LEARNT THEIR LESSONS?
THE NIGERIAN POLICE
On Thursday 8 October 2020, nationwide protests on #EndSARS started after weeks of outrage and anger with videos and pictures showing police brutality, harassment and extortion in Nigeria. The protests were led predominantly by young Nigerians in different cities alongside many activists and celebrities. Prior to this, there has be a general outcry against police brutality is several quarters in the past. In the year 2012, there was a similar protest held across Nigeria against the Special Anti-Rubbery Squad of the Nigeria Police. However, after the hue and cry and subsequent promise to reform the sector, the status quo remained; even deteriorating.
The Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) was a branch of the Nigeria Police Force under the State Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department (SCIID). Founded in late 1992, it was saddled with the responsibility of detaining, investigating, and prosecuting people involved in crimes like armed robbery, kidnapping, and other violent crimes. The squad was created as a masked police unit to perform undercover operations against violent crimes like armed robbery, kidnapping, car snatching, cattle rustling and the illegal bearing and use of firearms, among other vices.
However, SARS had been accused of several human rights violations, illegal “stop and searches”, illegal arrests and detentions, extrajudicial killings, sexual harassment of women and brutalising of young male Nigerians. Even the police hierarchy have at one point or another publicly denounced the high rate of injustice, criminality and killings associated with the notorious SARS division. It was as though the were licensed killers. Although there were still few diligent and hardworking policemen among them, these were too minimal and the infamous activities of the rest always beclouded the genuine efforts of the few.
The 2020 protest which started online, through popular social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook soon degenerated into a nationwide street protest with youths bearing placards on which were diverse inscriptions. The campaigners moved from the #EndSARS social media platforms to organised peaceful protest across various cities if Nigeria including, Lagos, Abuja, Kaduna, Owerri, Benin, among several others. Although the Nigeria Police through its spokesperson promptly addressed the youth, promising to disband it immediately, the promise was received with mixed feelings as the protest continued. Considering that such promises have been made in the past without being fulfilled, it is only expected that it cannot be taken seriously.
Meanwhile, the degenerative slope downwards continued as the protests hit many more cities across Nigeria. As expected, hoodlums hijacked the process, turning it into an avenue to unleash mayhem on the populace. Owing to this fact, public and private infrastructures were ransacked, looted and razed, scores were injured and lives were lost. Gun duels between these thugs and the security personnel were reported in several cases. The climax came with the Lekki Toll Gate Shootings of 20th October 2020. It was gathered that the Nigeria Army alongside several other sister-security agencies had opened fire at peaceful protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos State. The aftermath was what has been described as a bizarre massacre of innocent citizens.
On the international scene, Nigerians in diaspora organised demonstrations in Europe, America and even some other parts of Africa. These were mostly taken to the Nigeria high commissions and embassies in the countries.
Eventually, the subsequent banning of all forms of protest by the federal government and the presidential address to the nation on the 22nd of October 2020 coupled with the clampdown on the EndSARS organisers forced the youths into submission. President Muhammadu Buhari had called “on our youths to discontinue the street protests”, as well as “all Nigerians to go about their normal business”. The wave gradually died down as the sympathisers were chased into hiding.
Incidentally, the EndSARS protest of 2020 has changed the history of Nigeria in many ways. This is evident in the vandalisation of the home of a prominent traditional ruler(oba) of Lagos State. His stool was dragged around, his properties looted and some of the protesters even swam in his pool. Equally, the success of the protest in forcing concessions from the government – such as a promise to disband SARS, and wider police reform – has given Nigerian youths confidence and they believe that they can make a difference.
In response to the demands of the protests, the National Executive Council (NEC) of Nigeria directed all state governors to promptly establish a Judicial Panel of Inquiry (JPI) in their respective states. The Judicial Panel of Inquiry will be charged with the responsibility for investigating the alleged police brutality as well as make recommendations on possible sanctions. Also, the National Executive Council directed all state governors to immediately establish a victims fund to enable the payment of monetary compensation to deserving victims.
Undoubtedly, the majority of the state governors swung into action immediately and executed the directive; while a few others, who could not see the essence of such, blatantly disregarded it. Unfortunately, the panels of inquiry, in many states, were marred with lack of complaints or testimonies from the public.
It’s now well over four months since the incident of the EndSARS protest and Nigerians are yet to see any genuine police reform. Even some of their dirty and corrupt conducts, which were put to a halt during the protest are now resurfacing. Police intimidations, illegal arrests, exploitations and even extortion points which were canonised check points are all gradually creeping out. The overall view or opinion is that the Nigeria Police is yet to learn their lessons from the aftermath of the EndSARS protest.
All the same, whether the blame should go to the Nigeria government, the police hierarchy or the Nigeria populace at large, is up for debate. However, one fact is undeniably true, through this episode, Nigerian politics and general outlook has changed forever because the youths have realised how powerful they are and what they can achieve when they unite for a common goal. In the meantime, the youth may have been threatened into submission but they are neither asleep nor dead. Apparently, they are watching and only time can tell their next line of action.