Thousands of Nigerians are in the ninth day of continued protests, they are demanding justice for victims of police assault and brutality, wrongful incarceration, and killing of peaceful protesters, with the Head of Amnesty International, Nigeria, Osai Ojigho saying the demonstrations should be a “wake-up call” for the government.
“It (protests) is really a culmination of years of people’s tolerance for the abuses and the fact that nobody has ever been brought to book. And that’s why the protests have continued. People want justice and they are asking the government, please, can you arrest these culprits and bring them to book because they are still roaming around and they don’t want them to escape a situation whereby they will just disappear within the force, and they are not able to hold them responsible for what they’ve done,” said Ojigho.
It however appears the Nigerian government has been listening to the pleas of the demonstrators. The National Executive Council (NEC) the body that advises the country’s President Muhammadu Buhari on Nigeria’s economic policy, has directed the 36 state governors and Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) to take charge of negotiations with the protesters in their respective states.
The council is chaired by the country’s Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo and has as members all the Governors of the thirty-six states of the federation and key members of the governing party’s Economic Management Team.
NEC’s directive also includes the governors establishing judicial panels in their respective states to investigate alleged police brutality, supervise the fresh tactical team being set up by the Inspector-General of Police, and raise a fund to compensate victims of cruelty by the defunct rogue squad, Special Anti-robbery Squad (SARS).
The council also directed that the state governors 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 states.
Laolu Akande, the spokesman of Vice-President in a statement said the judicial panels to be set up will include representatives of youths, students, civil society organisations and would be chaired by a respected retired State High Court Judge. According to Akande the panel’s assignment should be concluded within a maximum of six months unless it shows convincing reasons why the state governor should allow an extension.
The country’s 36 state governors are also making moves. They recently met with the Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Mohammed Adamu to consult widely before taking further decisions on the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) unit. The governors at the meeting with Adamu noted that even though the SWAT might be necessary and in good faith, the timing was inauspicious as the outfit may understandably be misinterpreted as a surreptitious move to dress FSARS in another garb.
A communique issued at the end of that meeting between the governors and the police chief and signed by the Chairman of the Nigeria Governors Forum and Governor of Ekiti State, Dr. Kayode Fayemi said: “The governors were unequivocal that all police officers who participated in the abuse or actions that might have led to injury or the death of innocent citizens must be fished out and brought to book while other Nigerians who have been adversely affected by police brutality or other actions that were injurious to them or their loved ones, should be compensated.”
These moves however brilliant may have so far not satisfied protesters who say they want to see an end to all police brutality, an end to corruption, extortion, respect for human rights and an end to extrajudicial killings. Their demands include the release of all arrested protesters, justice for victims of police brutality and compensation for the victims and their families, as well as prosecution of those suspected to be responsible.
Reports have it that the widespread demonstrations have at times turned violent with protesters attacked by armed thugs on the streets. The #EndSARS movement mainly filled with youthful demonstrators has grown and gained support from Nigeria’s politicians, the Black Lives Matter movement in the US and many other countries around the world.
The protests have rocked Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, affecting the largest city, Lagos, the capital, Abuja, and other cities including Port Harcourt, Benin, Calabar, Asaba, and Uyo. The demonstrations sparked after a video circulated online which showed a young man being beaten, apparently by police in the Special Anti-robbery Squad, or SARS, that is accused by human rights groups of widespread abuses.
“There’s a lot of linkages in terms of how it was a video also that triggered the protests in America. And it’s also a video that triggered the protests also in Nigeria,” said Osai Ojigho, head of Amnesty International Nigeria.
She noted that “social media and the fact that people can share information and connect and see what is happening all over the world has really shown that, look, we’re not the only one, that police brutality is a big issue and that it needs to be addressed.”
Prominent Nigerians and many public analysts have said the protests are a product of the years of police brutality inflicted not only by the SARS unit but by other parts of the police force.
A former governor of Cross-River state Donald Duke while speaking on ARISE NEWS attributed the protests across the country to the frustration of Nigerian youths that has been brewing for several years.
“What you are finding and what is being expressed now is frustration that’s been brewing for several years. These are young people who are articulate, who are organised and focused, who’ve come to believe that they’ve got to take their destinies into their hands and they believe the folks who are handling the affairs of the country are perhaps not handling the challenges they face,” the former governor said on ARISE NEWS.
He said, “SARS is simply emblematic of a larger problem, a problem whereby a nation is seen as rather rudderless, no one is in charge, where no one is held accountable.”
Some political analysts and observers however believe the #EndSARS protest is gradually transiting from dissatisfaction with one police unit into a collective opportunity to express suppressed frustrations with the country’s political system and glaring division between the political elite and the citizens.
These observers say, unlike other protests before it, the #EndSARS is not guided by labour unions’ demands or factional interests, and the question however being asked is if the protesters will respond positively to the several moves of a government that ‘has apparently woken up.’
By Abel Ejikeme