October 14, 2021
For Immediate Release
Remembering #EndSARS: Lingering Socio-political Unease Calls for Government-Citizen Reconciliation
“NPF’s excessive use of force has remained unchanged because many of the abuse cases have not been investigated. The inability of the state to investigate and hold perpetrators to account for their acts of terror on citizens have helped to build public distrust and resentment towards the men and women of the criminal justice institutions and state more generally.”
— Chris M A Kwaja, Ph.D
Policing, Police and the Feasibility of Their Reform in Nigeria
The call by Nigerian citizens at home and in the diaspora to end the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) was a legitimate demand. This demand was informed by the apparent silence of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) and the federal government in dealing authoritatively with the inhumane and brutal actions of operatives of the SARS unit towards Nigerians, particularly the youth.
EndSARS was and remains a call from Nigerians and well-meaning people globally who were tired of being abused and traumatized by the people empowered to protect them. It ignited an awakening in young Nigerians to their civic duty of demanding accountability from the government. The protest was a peaceful convergence of young Nigerians for two weeks across cities in the country until criminals took advantage of the national outcry and decided to rob, rape, attack people and police officers, and destroy property. This informed the immediate suspension of the protest by protesters who also became victims of these criminals. It is important that the efforts of patriotic Nigerian youths exercising their civic rights and duties in demanding an end to police brutality are not defined or undermined by activities of criminals. The right to peaceful assembly remains a fundamental human right and Nigerian youths still seek justice for lives lost, citizens maimed and properties destroyed.
The Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) was established in 1992 to fight crimes associated with robbery, car theft, kidnapping and firearms whilst keeping citizens and neighborhoods safe. It eventually became an integral part of the Force Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department (FCIID).
However, due to alleged (and confirmed) extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, extortion, torture, framing, blackmail, kidnapping, illegal organ trade, armed robbery, home invasions, rape of men and women, child arrests and other unprintable deeds, SARS came under heavy public scrutiny and was investigated several times in response to waves of public outcry.
All the reforms promised by the federal government in 2016, 2017 and 2018 failed to produce any meaningful outcome. Particularly in 2018, Acting President Yemi Osinbajo ordered a complete overhaul of the dreaded unit and the then Inspector General of Police (IGP) Ibrahim Kpotun promised the nation a new security unit under the name, Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (FSARS). It seemed like a glimpse of hope, however, nothing changed!
Consequently, 2019 saw a far more terrifying SARS, targeting young, innocent Nigerians without respite. The tech community was especially hit, when young men with laptops and dreadlocks became easy targets for SARS operatives. These young people were subjected to unjust profiling leading to arbitrary arrest, detention, extortion and in some cases death. This was done under the guise of fighting internet-fraud, which was clearly out of their scope of operations.
Last year’s #EndSARS protests were triggered by the alleged killing of a youth in Delta State; a gory incident that was caught on camera. The video which was circulated on social media platforms brought back the conversation on the brutality of SARS operatives with young people sharing their experiences on social media. The online protest swiftly turned into major protests across cities in Nigeria with Nigerians, particularly young people, consistently taking to the streets for a period of two weeks.
A week into the protest, on October 12, 2020, Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu disbanded the unit assuring the public of a new order in the federal security agency. They were renamed the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT), an already existing unit within the Police. Unfortunately, the renaming simply reinforced the perception that the government was only interested in cosmetic change, nothing structural.
One year after the start of a series of events that would significantly change police-citizen relationships in Nigeria, it is evident that #EndSARS became a platform for young people to express their frustration with a security architecture that had failed in its primary purpose—protecting the lives and property of Nigerian citizens. However, this socio-political outburst was not to negate the hard work of members of our security agencies – police and military officers – who are constantly on the frontlines, protecting citizens and the integrity of Nigeria’s borders.
Indeed, it was in recognition of this that one of the #5for5 demands focused specifically on erring police officers—calling for the instituting of an iIndependent body to oversee prosecution of officers and the immediate suspension of all officers indicted in previous panels while prosecution commences. They include officers such as Yusuf Kolo (Abuja) and CSP Sola Aremu (Oyo) among several others whose negligence or direct action led to the death of protesters and bystanders. Two of the 5 demands focused on the welfare of the police officers, financial and psychological: (1) regulations for the Police Act 2020 to implement improved welfare for police officers and (2) psychological evaluation of disbanded officers before redeployment and ongoing psychological evaluation of police officers.
However, when bad apples are not removed from a basket, they invariably spoil the whole basket. Citizens felt that the leadership of the Police Force and the various government bodies responsible for them: the Ministry of Police Affairs, National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission, Police Trust Fund and the Police Service Commission were not doing enough to discipline its erring officers and thus, show a zero tolerance for abuse and extra-judicial killings. This was also demonstrated during the protests as the morning SARS was disbanded, the police shot at and water bombed protesters in Abuja.
In the aftermath of the protests, the National Executive Council agreed that all state governments will set up Judicial Panels of Inquiry across the country to receive and investigate complaints of police brutality or related extrajudicial killings. Only 29 of the 36 states set up Panels. Of the 29 states: (1) Kogi was inaugurated but has not had any sittings; (2) 3 states have concluded sittings and submitted reports; (3) 18 states have completed sittings but did not submit their reports; (4) Lagos was extended until October 19th.
As different activities are being organised to mark one year since the protests, including the solemn commemoration of #LekkiKilling – October 20, Nigerians ask that the federal government take a step of reconciliation towards citizens:
First, by providing an update on what has been done to ensure victims get justice and due compensation.
Secondly, by providing an update on what the government has done over the past year to improve the welfare of police officers and ensure that our police force is equipped psychologically to enable civil interaction with citizens.
Thirdly, provide an update on how the government is equipping the Nigeria Police Force with the appropriate tools to carry out their delicate task of securing lives and property alongside a concrete plan for consequence management when such a need arises.
This anniversary is an opportunity, to foster dialogue on justice and peace, so we invite the state governments and the federal government to engage with citizens and protect them from violence in the fulfillment of their mandate as stated in the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (as amended) in Section 14 (2b) which states that the welfare and security of the citizens shall be the primary purpose of government.
The demand remains for a Nigeria that is equitable and just.
“The present generation has no other country except Nigeria. Let us salvage it together.”
(President, Federal Republic of Nigeria)
Executive Director, EiE Nigeria
Director, Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD)
Director of Programmes, Yiaga Africa
Country Director, Amnesty International
Executive Director, Partners West Africa- Nigeria
Team Lead, Gavel
Executive Director, The Interactive
Programs Manager, NULAI Nigeria
Enough is Enough Nigeria (www.eie.ng) is a network of individuals and organizations committed to instituting a culture of good governance and public accountability in Nigeria through active citizenship. EiE’s #RSVP – Register | Select | Vote | Protect is a key voter education campaign. EiE was an integral part of the #OccupyNigeria movement in 2012 and is very active in the #OpenNASS and #OfficeOftheCitizen campaigns.
The Centre for Democracy and Development (www.CDDWestAfrica.org) is an independent, not-for-profit, research training, advocacy and capacity building organisation. CDD was established to mobilise global opinion and resources for democratic development and provide an independent space to reflect critically on the challenges posed to the democratisation and development processes in West Africa. The goal is to serve as the ultimate catalyst in the transformation of the West African sub-continent into an integrated, economically vibrant and democratically governed community that assures holistic security to the population and is capable of permanent peaceful conflict management.
Yiaga Africa (www.yiaga.org) is a civic hub of changemakers committed to promoting democracy, human rights and civic participation through advocacy, movement building, research and capacity building. With a vision of a people-driven democratic and developed Africa, Yiaga Africa Yiaga Africa works to build democratic societies anchored on the principles of inclusion, justice, transparency and accountability.
Gavel (www.gavel.ng) accelerates the pace of justice delivery through access to justice, digital technology and citizens’ engagement.
Amnesty International Nigeria (www.amnesty.org.ng) is a human rights organization, part of a global movement of over ten million people. Amnesty International Nigeria campaigns for meaningful human rights change, enables effective human rights activism and works to persuade governments and other actors to uphold universal human rights standards. We mobilize the humanity in everyone and campaigns for change so we can all enjoy our human rights.
PWAN (www.partnersnigeria.org, firstname.lastname@example.org, +234 8091257245) The Rule of Law and Empowerment Initiative is also known as Partners West Africa Nigeria (PWAN)/ is a non-governmental organization dedicated to enhancing citizens’ participation and improving security governance in Nigeria and West Africa broadly, achieved through its Rule of Law and Citizens Security program areas. PWAN works to ensure inclusive and transparent governance as the underpinning of a democratic and prosperous society by facilitating important conversations for security sector stakeholders, strengthening the capacity of women to participate in democratic processes, ensuring credible elections through capacity building for state and non- state actors, and developing creative ways to prevent/counter violent extremism.
The Interactive Initiative for Social Impact (www.theinteractive.org) is a civic technology organization using interactive media and technological tools to influence practices and policies that empower vulnerable and underserved groups. The Interactive was established with the mission to stimulate practices and policies that empower vulnerable and underserved groups and give voice to their experiences through impact narratives, collective advocacy and civic technology.
Network of University Legal Aid Institutions (NULAI) Nigeria (www.nulai.org) is a non-governmental, non-profit and non-political organization committed to promoting clinical legal education, legal education reform, legal aid and access to justice with a mission to build a network of cohesive university-based law clinics providing pro-bono legal services to the indigent and underserved; while training a new generation of skilled law students committed to public service and justice.
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