Nigeria, North, South, East and West has been besieged with public outrage over police brutality. There is anger in the land. #EndSARS protest is thickening every day. The massive youth population is fed up with years of police brutality. An increase in extrajudicial killings is a case in point. They say, they can’t take it anymore. Youths in their thousands stormed the streets of State Capitals daily holding placards with messages such as“Iphones, laptops, styled hair and living fresh isn’t a crime”, “ To be Young and Nigerian shouldn’t be a crime, #EndSARS”, with united calls against police brutality and killings which have plagued their respective communities over the years.
The youths have criticized government, saying that it is not doing enough to stop brutality perpetuated by its own police, particularly, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, (SARS) unit. Nigerians generally have blamed President Muhammad Buhari and the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu for what they call their nonchalant attitudes in checking the excesses of officers and men of the Nigeria Police. They believe that while the common man was suffering under the brutality of the Force, the President and the Police boss looked the other way.
They are of the standpoint that the latest ban of the SARS, by the Inspector General of Police, IGP, Mohammed Adamu is nothing but a hoax, as such pronouncement had been made severally without intendment. Those who fielded questions from The Catholic Herald Weekly believe that it is not enough to scrap the Anti-Robbery Squad, rather, a total overhauling of the system should be done to give it a human face.
They agreed that the conditions given by the #EndSARS protesters to sheath their swords which include but may not be limited to; immediate release of all arrested protesters; justice for all deceased victims of police brutality and appropriate compensations for their families; setting up an independent body to oversee the investigation and prosecution of all reported police misconducts within a period of 10 days; in-line with the new police act, carry out psychological evaluation and retraining of all disbanded SARS before they could be deployed.
This, they said should be verified by an independent body and that government should increase Police salary, they should be adequately compensated for protecting lives and property of the citizens, should be met. Going further, the protesters also said no to formation of SWAT by the Police. However, a lot of matured Nigerians who think proactively are saying that if Government fail to be correspondingly proactive, the Arab-Spring may be a child’s play compared to what the protests could lead to.
In agreement with the above demands, one of the respondents, the Catholic Archbishop of Lagos, Most Rev. Alfred Adewale Martins said, an urgent reform of the Police Force in Nigeria is one of the key ways of curbing alleged extra-judicial killings and abuse of power among some of the officers of the country’s major security organisation. The clergy, who expressed concern at the ongoing public outcry, urged the government to listen to the voices of the youths against the excesses of officers of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a detachment of the Police Force.
This is even in the light of the fact that strong arguments are coming from lawyers that reformation of the Force takes more shakes than what the public see. In a release signed by the Director of Social Communications, Rev. Fr. Anthony Godonu, Archbishop Martins urged the Federal Government to revamp the Police Force in the areas of recruitment, training, welfare, remuneration, and provision of incentives for the personnel across all levels of the Force, which will help check any excesses in the field of duty and ensure optimal performance across board.
Expressing displeasure at the unbridled acts of the SARS officials while carrying out their operations, the clergyman urged government to hold such officials accountable for their excesses and ensure transparent investigations and prosecution of any officer found guilty of abuse of power on helpless Nigerians. According to the Archbishop, the Federal Government must also take urgent steps to provide jobs for the country’s teeming unemployed youths, who are seemingly the main targets of the law enforcement officers. To him, creation and provision of decent jobs will have a corresponding positive effect to reduce crime rate and help eradicate the acts of kidnapping and ritual killings in the country.
He also condemned the actions of those unscrupulous elements within the Law Enforcement Agencies who engage in alleged despicable acts to drag the name of the entire institutions of security in the mud, and called for those found guilty of these dehumanising and unconstitutional acts to be punished to the full extent of the law, to serve as deterrent for others. The Archbishop expressed the firm belief that a reformed Police Force with better conditions of service, adequate funding, transparent recruitment procedures, improved welfare and remuneration, and strict enforcement of discipline among its ranks will bode well for a nation in need of better, quality security.
“I call on President Muhammadu Buhari to prevail on the Police Service Commission and the Inspector General of Police to commence a thorough and realistic review of the entire structure of the Police Force in order to put a stop to the rot that has been festering in the system over the years,”he added. Given the seeming focus on the growing youth population by the SARS officials, the Chief Shepherd of the faithful in the Lagos Archdiocese urged the government to engage the youths actively by creating job opportunities for them, and enjoined the National Orientation Agency (NOA) to embark on a nationwide campaign on reorientation of moral values and belief in reward for hard work among the populace.
While affirming the right of Nigerians to peacefully protest the excesses and the trending calls for an end to the brutality associated with officials of SARS and other law enforcement arms across the country, the Archbishop warned that failure of the leadership to take appropriate action this time, may further exacerbate the worsening state of insecurity across the country. On the promise by the IGP that there will be investigation to find the culprits and bring them to justice, Professor Chidi Odinkalu, former Boss and Human Right Activist noted that it is not a public relations issue.
“That’s the point, and it seems to me that what’s being done is to address it as a problem of public communication and public relations, but that’s not the point,” he said. According to him,”In 2008, MD Yusuf Presidential Commission on police reform said the Nigerian Police Force were all criminals and thugs. What was happening? They were allocating police hires to politicians. Politicians were in fact, bringing in their thugs who were actually criminals, and MD Yusuf said this has saddled the police force with an unsuitable and unsustainable personnel.
Now, those people who were recruited in that cycle are the people causing this mayhem. That is the problem. Orientation is done, training is not there, training facilities are not there. So, these people are doing whatever they can with their uniform, and putting people in peril. You can’t solve this one with public relations, I’m sorry; it’s such a nasty situation. “For me, there’s a tremendous credibility deficit. There’s a credibility and trust deficit that is huge. Let’s even assume that everything will be on course like he announced, the question is who will believe them? Now, why do I say this? Since the unit was instituted around 2000, every inspector General of Police, Tafa Balogun , Sunday Ehindero, right down to the current one has announced the disbandment of roadblock, right? It has never happened. Number two, even when every Inspector General of Police in the same system has announced the withdrawal of police processing unit from big men, it has never happened.
In the past four years, SARS has been disbanded three times; it has not happened. “So, don’t forget President Buhari did tell the former Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, to relocate to Benue State to address the problem of herdsmen, it didn’t happen. So, there is serious evidence of a lot of announcement affecting the police and security services and law enforcement which were just announcement that ended up on the pages of newspapers, and on television bulletins and didn’t go anywhere, and that’s the biggest issue here. “How do we know this will happen? Now, I tell you because again, this was announced by the Inspector General of Police and the Federal Government. When you look at the constitution of Nigeria, I believe section 216, it is said that the Chief of Security and Chief of Police, is the President. The President can give any instruction under the constitution.
“The President can give any instruction to the Inspector General of Police and he is obliged in the terms of the constitution to obey them. The question then is, why is it the Inspector General of Police announcing and not the President? That comes not just as a legal matter, but a political matter because this issue has certainly been seen to be merely that of the institution of the police. But it’s fundamental to the safety and security of Nigerians, and that is the basic constitutional role of the President to the Federal Government and the land.
So, the President is hiding, in my view, that’s the way I want to frame it. The President is in hiding, and he puts out the Inspector General of Police as a body shield, as a political shield. What then happens is that the President takes his time and all he does is sacrifice the Inspector General of Police; that is for what? I fear that this is necessary, but is it adequate or sufficient? I doubt it,”he said. Also, Femi Falana (SAN), a Human Rights Lawyer in his press statement noted that it was not the first time that the police had issued an order banning the squad. He stated that each time, the repressive operatives return to the streets to torment the people, the authority will bark and withdraw into their shell. The senior advocate noted that gross violations of human rights were linked to SARS and that a change of structure without fundamental change of the operatives would make the problems reoccur.
According to him, “the police high command has banned SARS several times. It has become a ritual. But SARS continues to operate under different names or structures. What we see is like removing sour wine and putting it in the same old, rusty bottles. Nothing remarkable has changed in the police structure that aids all forms of repression and extra-judicial killings. “Following a public outcry in 2018 against indiscriminate arrests and detention, extortion and extrajudicial killings as well as other horrendous human rights abuse perpetrated by SARS operatives, the federal government responded by setting up a presidential panel of inquiry to investigate all complaints of human rights abuse.
The outcome of such reports has never been made public. In situations when they were made public, they turned out as lame dogs.” Contributing, Yomi Kareem, Leader of the Alliance for Survival of COVID-19 and Beyond, (ASCAB) noted that many Nigerians submitted reports and memoranda and gave clear evidence of police abuse but regretted that the recommendations were yet to be implemented in 2020. The group said, some of the recommendations made include, the dismissal of 37 police officers from the force and the prosecution of 24 others, investigation of 22 officers involved in the violation of human rights of innocent citizens, payment of compensation of various sums in 45 complaints, tender of public apologies in five complaints and compliance with court orders in five matters.
According to him, other recommendations were the setting up of state and local government police and renaming of SARS to Anti-Robbery Section, ARS, which should operate under the intelligence unit of the police force. The group lamented that though the recommendations were accepted by President Muhammadu Buhari on June 3, 2019, nothing has been done since then. In the same way, Padre Mike Nsikak Umoh, the Director, Social Communications of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, stated that the #ENDSARS campaignby Nigerian youths for the disbanding of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) came as a result of the deep frustration and suffering youths and other citizens have experienced in the hands of the Nigeria Police Force.
According to him, stories abound attesting to the fact that officers and men recruited for the purpose of securing the lives and property of citizens have unfortunately turned around to be a menace to the very citizen they are paid to protect. “This, in some way, is a reflection of the poor value presently attached to the dignity of the human person in our country, including the value for life itself, by the majority of the political office holders and those officially in charge of the instruments of maintaining peace and order in our society. The Catholic Secretariat aligns with this agitation by Nigerian youths but more so as a pathway to bettering governance in general and engendering mutual respect for citizens’ rights and dignity.
“The servant-leadership model instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ should drive governance and challenge leaders to see themselves truly as public servants working for the common good and not public Lords to oppress the people or be served the common wealth. “The #EndSARS campaign must be a conscience searchlight for all security officers which must lead them individually and as a body to regret their acts of victimization and impunity and resolve to act with love and responsibility towards the evolution of a Nigerian society civilized by the love of God and neighbour.
The Catholic Secretariat aligns with this agitation by Nigerian youths but more so as a pathway to bettering governance in general and engendering mutual respect for citizens’ rights and dignity,”Umoh said. Adding his views to the ones already put earlier by notable Nigerians, the Director, Amnesty International Nigerian, Osai Ojigho said Nigeria authorities have failed to tackle the impunity enjoyed by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), whose brutality and corruption is becoming increasingly brazen, despite repeated pledges to reform the police squad and investigate violations committed by its officers. The Minister of Police Affairs was also said to have announced an investigation into infractions by the police unit.
“But this is yet another lame attempt to rein in this unit of the Nigerian police which is notorious for the widespread torture and other ill-treatment of Nigerians. We have seen from bitter experience that past investigations into violations were either never carried out or marred by irregularities. To date, the Nigerian authorities have yet to show a genuine commitment to ending the lawless activities of SARS. It will be recalled that in August 2018, the government set up a judicial commission of inquiry to investigate the activities of SARS and make recommendations for reform. However, the commission’s report was not made public almost two years after the panel submitted its findings to the government.
“The current collective outrage of Nigerians over atrocities by SARS provides another opportunity for the Nigerian authorities to end police brutality and all forms of human rights violations by the police. “Amnesty International is again calling on the Nigerian government to seize this moment to demonstrate the country’s commitment to human rights and fulfil its obligation of holding the police to account for all the impunity committed to the Nigeria masses. The government must empower oversight bodies, including the Police Service Commission, Committee Against Torture and the National Human Rights Commission to investigate and initiate prosecution of police officers, who are involved in the violation of human rights.
The authorities have an obligation to protect Nigerians and bring to justice those who violate their human rights. Unless the authorities follow through with their promises to reform SARS and end the frequent extortion and ill-treatment of Nigerians, their empty words will be just that,”he stated.