Like volcano waiting to erupt for years, the recent youth show protests explode across the country over the human rights abuses by a now-banned department in the police named Special Anti-Robbery Squad popularly known as SARS.
The protest, last week, started from the southern part of the country, gaining traction as it spread to the nation’s seat of power and further up North.
Sections of Nigeria have been witnessing the angst of the youths over the brutality, harassment, extortion, deprivation, denial and maltreatment by SARS.
Even though the protests have been largely peaceful in the various towns and cities, there have been reports of death, while claims of hired thugs attacking the protesting youths abound.
However, the protest draws its strength from years of distrust for political leadership which was reignited with the handling of SARS’ excesses. In recent past, SARS has been barred several times, but each time the dreaded police unit has continued to operate, unleashing harm especially on young people.
This is more so that for years, Civil Right groups have condemned the modus operadi of some police officers, accusing them of heavy-handed methods including beatings and extortion.
But the #ENDSARS protests flared
up a week ago after a video, showing officers from the SARS unit allegedly rough-handling an unarmed man in the oil-rich Delta State circulated on social media. Before then, a video of some alleged officers shooting some young men had also trended.
These incidents, among other reported cases of SARS brutality, reinvigorated the end SARS campaign. The EndSars hashtag was used to share stories of alleged abuses, including torture methods, which included hanging, mock execution and sexual violence.
Nigerians in the diaspora added their voices, while celebrities led protesters in various states across the country. On the global stage, a number of celebrities like Kanye West, Drake, Piers Morgan, John Boyega and a host of others also backed the #EndSARS campaign.
As the movement gathered momentum, the protesters harmonized their demands into a five-point demand which was issued to the federal government.
The issues include the release of all persons arrested and justice for victims of police brutality, an independent body to oversee the investigation and prosecution of all reports of police misconduct and a psychological evaluation of all disbanded SARS officers before their redeployment.
They also demanded an increase in the salary of police officers and general improvement in their welfare package to enhance the discharge of their duties.
Mindful of how popular the agitation had become the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, swung into action by banning SARS. He thereafter announced the emergence of a new team called Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) which is apparently named after the United States special police unit.
Before then, President Buhari disclosed that he had met with the IGP over the continued extrajudicial activities of the notorious police unit Special Anti-Robbery Squad.
“I met again with the IGP tonight. Our determination to reform the police should never be in doubt,” Buhari tweeted.
“I am being briefed regularly on the reform efforts ongoing to end police brutality and unethical conduct, and ensure that the Police are fully accountable to the people,” he added.
The banning of SARS and emergence of a new unit didn’t assuage the protesters who questioned the sincerity of the move which some, including some governors, described as a hurriedly- made decision.
While the agitation raged, the political leadership in the country, especially at the level of the governors, were also meeting. The evolving scenario had become somewhat precarious as theprotesters refused to back down.
After a National Economic Council meeting chaired by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, ministers and governors were directed to interface with protesters in their states.
Among the decision taken at the meeting is that; state governors and FCT minister will interface with protesters in their states; each state to establish a Special Security and Human Rights Committee that will be cleared by the governor.
Governors are to supervise the newly formed Police Tactical Unit. Ensure the formation and other security agencies protect the human rights of citizens.
They are also expected to set up a panel that will constitute i. Retired High Court Judge (Chairperson) ii. Two (2) representatives of Civil Society Groups. iii. One retired Police Officer. iv. One youth representative. v. One Representative of State Attorney-General’s office. vi. One representative from the National Human Rights Commission.
They are expected to receive and investigate complaints of Police Brutality or related extrajudicial killings. Evaluate evidence and draw conclusions on the validity of complaints.
Recommend compensation and other remedial measures within six months.
But, in spite of the meeting, discordant tunes had emerged among governors over the ban of SARS.
In its reaction to the protests, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Governors’ Forum had earlier asked President Buhari and the National Assembly to repeal Section 4(1) of the Nigeria Police Trust Fund (Establishment) Act, 2019 which purportedly authorises the deduction of 0.5% of the total revenue accruing to the Federation Account for the benefit of the Nigeria Police Trust Fund.
The said deduction, according to the governors, is patently unconstitutional. The call was contained in a communique issued at the end of a zoom meeting of the PDP Governors’ and signed by their chairman and Governor of Sokoto State, Hon Aminu Waziri Tambuwal.
During the zoom meeting, in which Governors Tambuwal, Okezie Ikpeazu Abia State), Udom Emmanue (Akwa Ibom State), Senator Bala Muhammad (Bauchi State); Douye Diri (Bayelsa State); Ifeanyi Okowa (Delta State); Dave Umahi (Ebonyi State); Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi (Enugu State); Nyesom Wike (Rivers State); Oluseyi Abiodun Makinde (Oyo State) and Bello Muhammad Matawalle (Zamfara State) participated, the Forum further observed the discrepancies in S.12(2) and S.12(4) of the Act on the appropriate authority with responsibility to deploy Police Commissioners to the respective States.
But there was more.
Besides the hazy division among the ranks of the governors over the scrapping of SARS, the governors also appear not to be totally receptive of SWAT. In the southern states where the protests are more prevalent, most of the governors in the region have since aligned with the demands of the protesters for SARS to be banned.
According to some analysts, this scenario might not be far from the argument that there are few cases of SARS brutality in the northern region, even though others argue that the current spate of insecurity in the north cannot be underestimated in any way.
However, after their meeting, the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF), asked IGP Adamu to disband the newly created SWAT which the police had announced in place of SARS.
The governors stated this at the end of their 19th teleconference meeting headed by the NGF chairman, Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State.
Fayemi, in a communiqué he signed, endorsed the ongoing reform plans, describing the SWAT concept as “ill-timed.” The NGF urged IGP Adamu to immediately convene a meeting of all stakeholders to create a format of engagement with all state officials to address the concerns raised by protesting Nigerians.
The communique came after the disbandment of SARS by the IGP and the mixed reaction that followed it.
What’s more, River State governor, Nyesom Wike, at different fora, accused the federal government of trivialising the demands made by #ENDSARS protesters saying state governments have no control over the police.
Wike who stated in a statement during the weekend while asking the federal government to seek other ways to address youth-led nationwide protests argued that state governors cannot take charge of tactical commands when they don’t have the power to discipline anyone who errs.
Meanwhile, the northern governors have opposed the position of their southern counterparts, Governors in the North, saying the disbandment of SARS is not the best option for all. The northern governors instead called for robust police reforms.
They argued that the SARS unit, under the auspices of the Nigeria Police, had been doing a good job in the fight against insecurity in the region.
Chairman of the Northern Governors Forum and Plateau State Governor, Simon Lalong, spoke in Abuja while fielding questions from State House correspondents after he met with President Muhammadu Buhari, had argued that though the
President had already approved the scrapping of SARS, the northern states did not believe the squad should be disbanded because of its shortcomings.
The governor said what was needed was the reformation of the unit to enable it to carry out its functions optimally. He, however, conceded that there were divisions in the country regarding the continued existence of the unit.
“We had a meeting yesterday (Wednesday), the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF). When we see issues like this, most of the complaints vary from one state to the other. In one aspect, some people said they don’t want SARS, some said they want SARS but a reformed SARS. They want a reformed SARS because as far as they are concerned, some of these SARS operatives help them in addressing insecurity“, Lalong had said while addressing questions in his message to protesters.
He continued, “If there are bad ones under, holistically, bring them together and reform them. Then, you work for them. So, our opinion and conclusion at that stage were that let us not just say that we are throwing away the baby with bathwater. If there are good ones, you don’t chase them away.
“So, as SARS is banned, we are now looking forward to an opinion because most of the states in the north said no. They want SARS because SARS helps them. Borno said without SARS, he would not have been surviving today. Niger also wants SARS.
“So, if you are addressing this issue of SARS, you need to know what is wrong in some places. Is it the process of recruitment? Is it the character of the people”,he asked?
As the need for a clear direction on the matter becomes expedient, the protesters have continued to protest.
“The summary of all these sad
narratives is that the political leaderships seem to have lost the trust of the people,” said Efe T. William, a public affairs analysts.
He added, “hunger and poverty has a vice grip upon the land, so venting anger and frustration should be expected on the streets of Nigeria.
“There is a whirlwind of political contradictions that are now defining how Nigerians weigh their support.
“While the criminal activities of the amorphous police unit are more lethal in Southern Nigeria, their Northern compatriots hardly feel the stings from their fangs”, said Mr. William, who added that the seeming divided opinions of state governors “is borne out of selfish political protection.”
William said, “governors in the north fear that their people will rise up against them, using the subterfuge of the #EndSARS.
“We can not continue to pretend that the lame and disgusting security votes, to which governors “run their selfish financial shows” has been a terrible conduit for corruption. So, deductions for PTF was to help support policing in the exclusive list, the governors’ demands won’t add a nickel to the already parlous state of the police.
“After the emergency NEC meeting chaired by the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, part of the resolutions is that federal government should end deductions for the police trust fund, but has it ever been the problem”, he asked?
On his part, APC chieftain and member of the party’s 2019 Presidential Campaign Council, Elton Onwu, averred that the reasons for the divided opinions by state governors draw from their peculiar security challenge and sociocultural differences, hence the seeming discordant tunes over the matter.
“I really don’t think there are divergent political reasons regarding the assessment of the effectiveness of the operational codes of now-disbanded SARS or FSARS between Governors of Northern and Southern States of Nigeria. Rather, I will want to classify their views based on how the unit (SARS) has operated in these areas factoring their peculiar security and sociocultural differences”, he said.
Onwu added, “Because of the prevalence of banditry and other high impact activities of Boko Haram terrorists and associated clashes in the North, the units of all security agencies operating here are more on their toes fighting to keep the people secured against these security threats and of course will need the utmost cooperation of the locals there to achieve the goals of their operation.”
He noted that “SARS is in the mix of the Security architecture and has given a good account of themselves in securing the people who mostly are also battling with economic challenges and struggling to remain afloat”.
He continued: “Now, come back to Southern Nigeria.
You do not have the kind of adverse high impact security challenges like obtains in the North, so you have more of social vices, kidnapping for money, criminal activities to make quick money etc, as major socio-economic/ security challenges. On the issue of the government implementing its promises to the protesters, he said though the trust has been lost due to past experiences, there are indications that this government is willing to bring them to the table but the protesters must give the government the chance to prove it to them.
“Yes Federal Government has made overtures to the protesting youths, but it’s yet to be seen how it resonates with the protesters because of trust deficits as a result of previous promises which were not followed through.
“I think they should allow the federal government time to fix the Police as the vice president is leading the committee with the 36 state governors in coming up with measures to properly reposition the Police with funding, equipment and better welfare packages for a better harmonious relationship with the citizens,” he appealed.