Still on the #ENDSARS protests…



Sanwo-Olu with protesters

 It has been a few weeks of widespread streets protests in our country – Nigeria – and there are, indeed, good reasons to stage the protests. For two weeks, Nigerian youth mounted what can be termed as spirited protests, tagged #ENDSARS, against the activities of the now-disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).The protests started on October 3, 2020, were precisely initiated from social media as #EndSARS. The social media protests began after a video of a young man manhandled by SARS operatives at Ughelli, Delta state, went viral.From social media, the protests spread to the streets and engulfed most parts of the country. Major roads in major cities in Lagos and Abuja and many other states were blocked as hundreds of thousands of youth poured into the streets with placards, paralysing business and social activities in those places.

Activists, celebrities, Nigerian youth, home and abroad, were all involved in the protests to demand an end to SARS and police brutality.Interestingly, such protests would, in the past, be dismissed as illegal with the protesters labelled criminals but, in truth, these protesters are well educated and mostly hard-working young people who mostly fend for themselves, without support from the state.Of course, the widespread protests are symbolic mainly for the fact that they remain a bold sign that the country’s massive young population is finding its voice and demanding reforms in Nigeria, a country which, until recently, has been characterised by poor governance since its independence 60 years ago.Notably, despite making President Muhammadu Buhari disband the SARS, the youth are not satisfied and, now, they want the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) to undergo reformation and indicted SARS personnel face justice.Beyond that, there is also the fact that the wave of protests currently rocking many cities has no doubt provided an excellent platform to the country’s young population, who are deeply dissatisfied with the level of corruption in the country and how they are governed.Police officers in Nigeria, generally, have a reputation for corruption, brutality and little regard for human rights, but people have strong feelings against SARS, which has developed a notoriety for unduly profiling young people.A report written in June by Amnesty International said it documented at least 82 cases of torture, ill-treatment and extra-judicial execution by SARS between January 2017 and May 2020.“The Nigerian authorities have failed to prosecute a single officer, despite anti-torture legislation passed in 2017 and evidence that its members continue to use torture and other ill-treatment to execute, punish and extract information from suspects,” the report said.The government, of course, has since intervened in the matter with the Presidential Panel on Police Reforms approving the implementation of the five-point demand of the #EndSARS protesters.

Also, a stakeholders’ meeting was convened and discussed the need to restore public confidence and trust in the police.The meeting, organised by the Office of the Inspector-General of Police and National Human Rights Commission, was a multi-stakeholders’ forum attended by leaders and representatives of civil society organisations in Nigeria, activists from the entertainment industry and the #ENDSARS movement and development partners.The Ministry of Police Affairs and Police Service Commission were also present at the meeting that affirmed that the five-point demand of the protesters and the #ENDSARS movement are genuine concerns and will be addressed by the government.

A communiqué issued at the end of the meeting reaffirmed the constitutional rights of Nigerians to peaceful assembly and protest, the sanctity of life of every Nigerian and the role of the police in protecting rights of people.Thankfully, the communiqué, signed by the Inspector-General of Police and Executive Secretary of the National Human Rights Commission, Tony Ojukwu, says the dissolution of SARS presents an opportunity to reposition the police and make it a modern, responsive and citizens-centred law enforcement organisation.Indeed, the need to reform the Nigeria Police Force cannot wait any longer when the endemic features of wanton brutality, corruption and sloth in the police have been elevated to an unimaginable level, and the police force personnel are generally criticised.Indeed, the issue of police reform, once a cause espoused exclusively by people from outside the law enforcement agency, has become an internal goal, actively sought and implemented by especially the Buhari-led administration.Despite these widely acknowledged advances, however, the police continue to project as bad an image today as they have in the past. In fact, the voices of criticism seem to have increased. The traditional critics have been joined now by youth and some highly placed people.Specific segments of the Nigerian society, notably the business entities, students and young people, who have only recently acquired a voice in public debate, are generally hostile toward the police.At the same time, news about rising rates of criminal activities such as kidnapping, banditry, killings and rape contributes to the feeling that the police are not adequately prepared to face the tasks that confront them and provide security for lives and property of Nigerians.

As a result, the police problems have moved into the forefront of public attention, creating conditions in which highly consequential and long-range decisions are apt to be made by the present administration, and quickly too.The police should ideally be responsible for maintaining law and order in a democratic country and show respect for human rights. The police should track down offenders, something they hardly do in Nigeria and place them in the hands of the judiciary authorities.Of course, in whatever reform that will be carried out, the police must be seen to be fighting organised crime such as banditry and kidnapping, especially in the North.The police must be seen to be proactively working in partnership with communities to prevent local problems. This approach forms an integral part in recognition of security as a public or common good to be co-produced by all concerned and which guarantees the rights and freedoms of all citizens.The actual measurement of the contribution of the police to good governance is their ability to establish and maintain good relations with citizens while exercising their mandate.The reformation of the police, the adoption of approaches directed towards partnership and problem resolution, and the training offered to police officers on respectful and effective modes of operation which respect human rights are all elements in favour of positive interactions between the police and the public.To this end, the government should, in the course of reforming the police, establish some mechanisms to facilitate mediation between the police and citizens with a view to ensuring effective and speedy handling of minor complaints where dialogue between the citizen and police officers would provide an opportunity for apologies and explanations. Hopefully, this alternative mode of resolving disputes will lead to a reduction in the cost of the overall complaint process, which can be high in today’s context of greater recourse to litigation.

In the end, what matters is security for all, and that can only be achieved if the police and civil society come together to work for the benefit of Nigeria and its citizens.The unity of the police and civilians is essential because, without the participation of all in the matter of security, there is bound to be a widespread negative perception of the police as a brute, corrupt and partial force that enjoys operating without transparency.

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