For the past two weeks, thousands of Nigerian youths have been on the streets demanding an end to police brutality, disbandment of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigerian police and comprehensive police reforms.
The protests have paralysed activities and disrupted traffic on major roads in many cities. In places where vehicular movements are not disrupted, residents battle with gridlock, especially in Lagos, Nigeria’s economic capital, and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, Nigeria’s seat of power.
Nigerians had long launched a campaign online with the #EndSARS hashtag. The campaign trended across the world two weeks ago after celebrities volunteered to lead the protests against harassment and incessant killing of citizens by SARS.
The latest outcry was ignited by the shooting of a youth in Delta State by police officers. The police later reacted, saying the victim did not die, and that the protesters also killed a police officer.
As a result of the incident, social and political activists alongside celebrities called out President Muhammadu Buhari and demanded the scrapping of SARS.
For the first week, the hashtag #EndSARS garnered the highest tweet across the world. Many Nigerians in diaspora also joined the protest, calling for an end to police brutality and total overhaul of the security outfit.
To douse the tension, the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, announced the ban of the anti-robbery squad from operating on the roads.
Citizens were not pacified by the announcement, citing instances when such directives have been given in the last four years.
While some of the demonstrators were dispersed with teargas by the police, a protester identified as Jimoh Isiaka, was shot in Ogbomoso, Oyo State. He later died. So far, over 12 persons have been reported killed amidst the protests.
The protesters also demanded that President Buhari should give an executive order on the menace.
Govt actions, inaction
After unending agitations on social media and on the street, Mr Buhari in a tweet later said he had directed the police chief, Mr Adamu, to “conclusively address the concerns of Nigerians” about police brutality.
“The IG already has my firm instructions to conclusively address the concerns of Nigerians regarding these excesses, and ensure erring personnel are brought to justice. I appeal for patience and calm, even as Nigerians freely exercise their right to peacefully make their views known”, the president wrote on October 10.
The police later disbanded the SARS and announced the launch of a Special Weapon and Tactics Team (SWAT) to replace it. But that was immediately rejected by Nigerians despite assurance that members of the disbanded SARS would take medical and psychological examination before being considered for the new initiative.
During all of these processes, the protests became more tensed despite an appeal by the vice president, Yemi Osinbajo, that protesters give the government some time to implement their demands.
The leadership of the National Assembly alongside some business moguls have also pleaded with the protesters to consider the economy. But the youth have insisted that their demands are yet to be met.
Some of the other demands are prosecution of killer cops, the release of all protesters in detention and an overhaul of the police.
Despite the death of over 12 protesters, the demonstrators have remain undeterred with introduction of new hashtags such as #EndPoliceBrutality, #NassSalaryCut, #EndSWAT, #EndBadGovernanceInNigeriaNow and many more.
‘Why we are still on the streets’
While the #EndSARS protest has no leadership structure, PREMIUM TIMES identified some key players in various cities who explained their refusal to leave the streets.
Many of the protest leaders in various interviews decried lack of physical action by the government to end police brutality. The protesters also expressed their displeasure over the failure of Mr Buhari to publicly address the citizens in a nationwide broadcast.
Speaking on a Channels Television programme, “Hard Copy”, on Saturday, Aisha Yesufu, the co-convener of #BringBackOurGirls campaign, said many Nigerian youth were still being killed by the police during protest. She also attributed the unending protest to a distrust of the government.
“Police brutality has not ended. Protesters are still being killed. The police have a culture of unending brutality. This is not the first time they will be disbanded,” she said. “The protest is a result of distrust. No police officer has been arrested or brought out for Justice. Where is the sincerity of processes?
“Governor Sanwo-olu visited the president to explain the plight of Nigerians to him but he laughed it off. It shows the unseriousness of the president. Protesters are still being attacked under the supervision of police. I was attacked by a soldier. Those calling for zoom meetings should rather speak with the president.
“Young people want to live and it is important for everyone to speak. The demands are not being met. The culture of brutality has not stopped and the youth are saying they don’t want to be sold out anymore.”
Speaking in the same vein, one of the leading agitators of the protest in Osun State, Dunsi Olowolafe, said their demands are beyond stopping police brutality.
“If memory serves me right, this is not the first time the federal government has claimed to disband SARS. If the youth have refused to leave the streets despite the disbandment of SARS, I think their action is justified because it appears that the government’s directives no longer have effect on the officers, as we have record of several cases of shooting at peaceful protesters while protesting against police brutality.
“This goes a long way to show that the cries so far might have fallen on deaf ears, and there might be a reason to cry harder. Taking it further, it is obvious our agitations are even broader than an end to police brutality. The refusal of the youth to leave the street might not be totally disconnected from the call for better governance”.
In Kwara State, Olayiwola Ajede, a protester, told PREMIUM TIMES that the protesters remain on the streets because “they now understand that power belongs to them.
“We can’t stop police brutality and not talk about extortion. So if you disband SARS, what happens to other sectors of police? There’s need for an upgrade of police welfare and that’s part of our major reasons for still being on the streets. To take the youth out of the streets, the killer officers identified by Nigerians should be arrested and prosecuted. Harassment must be seen to have stopped and not by words of mouth.
“We have a president who is convenient not addressing us in a national TV, he must do this. We don’t want a president that laugh when informed about how SARS are killing youth,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Minister of Defence, Bashir Magashi, has warned youth against breaching national security.
The Nigerian Army also warned that it would punish “subversive elements” and “trouble makers”. It later announced a “cyberwarfare” operation, an announcement that generated furore on social media.
PREMIUM TIMES in an earlier analysis explained why the deployment of troops may escalate the #EndSARS protests.
Concessions granted by govt
Presidential Panel on Police Reforms has met and the following were announced:
1 The Inspector-General of Police directed state commands to halt the use of force against protesters. He also ordered:
2 Unconditional release of arrested protesters.
3 Open communication and outreach to citizens to establish trust and confidence and a roadmap for the implementation of the White Paper of the Presidential Panel on the Reform of the SARS.
4 Setting up of an Independent Investigation Panel to look into the violations of human rights by the defunct SARS and other segments of the Nigerian Police at different states.
5 Call for memoranda from members of the public whose rights have been violated by the defunct SARS and other segments of the Police will be released by the panel.
6 Psychological evaluation, training and retraining of disbanded SARS officials prior to re-deployment.
Other concessions announced by the government include:
No SARS member will be allowed to be part of the new SWAT.
State governments to set up independent judicial panels of enquiry on police brutality. Many states such as Lagos, Kaduna, Enugu and Ekiti have since set up the panel.
What protesters still want
1 A nationwide broadcast by President Muhammadu Buhari addressing the demands of the protesters.
2 The government should increase the salaries of police officers and adequately compensate officers for protecting the lives and property of the citizens.
3 Arrest and prosecution of hoodlums attacking the protesters.
4. Reduction of National Assembly members’ salary.
5. Removal of IGP.
6. End to bad governance in Nigeria.