Nigeria paid a heavy price for the excesses of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigerian police last October when youth took the #EndSARS protests from social media to the streets across the country.
The protests were an explosion of pent up anger nationwide over unlawful arrests, torture, and extrajudicial killings by the police, especially the rogue unit.
The protests started peacefully but turned violent especially after a government clampdown. Dozens of people including peaceful protesters and police officers were killed while public and private facilities were attacked.
The highlight of the violence was recorded at the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos on October 20, 2020, when soldiers shot to disperse peaceful protesters who had gathered there for days.
Though the government eventually disbanded the SARS, the protests continued with the demonstrators widening their requests to a five-point demand, which included compensations for the families of those who died under police brutality; release of arrested protesters and an increase in the salaries and allowances of police officers.
They also demanded that an independent body be set up to investigate allegations of police misconduct and to prosecute those indicted, and psychological evaluation of officers of the disbanded SARS before they are redeployed into other units.
The government accepted the demands and took immediate steps to implement some of them, including naming a new unit, S.W.A.T, in place of SARS. Many states also constituted judicial panels inquiry into allegations of police abuses.
In this report, PREMIUM TIMES examines how far the government has gone in meeting the specific demands, five months after the protests.
1) Investigation of allegations of police misconduct and prosecution of the indicted
This was one of the main demands of the #ENDSARS protesters.
Acceding to the demand, many state governments set up judicial panels to hear complaints by members of the public in that respect.
The panels are chaired by retired high court judges and have members from civil society groups, the police, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and youth groups.
According to the CSO Police Reform Observatory survey coordinated by CLEEN Foundation and NOPRIN Foundation, the panels have received about 2,500 petitions in 30 states and the FCT where they were constituted.
Most of the petitioners allege human rights violations through extra-judicial killings, torture, extortion, harassment, sexual and gender-based violence, indiscriminate arrests, illegal detention, illegal arrests and abuse of power by the police and other security agencies.
But proceedings at the panels in many states have been delayed by lack of cooperation from the police and other security agencies, the observatory said.
The report identified several other gaps in the works of the panels:
1. Most of the panels of inquiry stopped receiving petitions, thus denying large numbers of potential petitioners the opportunity for redress through the panels.
2. Panels made adjournments based on improper service of summons and processes.
3. Absence or unpreparedness of petitioners, respondents or their counsel.
4. Reliance on legal technicalities to the disadvantage of the petitioners.
5. Absence of legal representation as most petitioners are not well informed about the pro-bono legal services provided by the Nigerian Bar Association across the states.
6. Security actors (police and military personnel) not honouring the invitation of the panel.
7. Most panels of inquiry are attending to only a few cases daily.
8. There is distrust and suspicion among families of victims and survivors of extra-judicial killings and police brutality regarding the extent to which the panels of inquiry can dispense justice and the possibility of the government acting on the recommendations.
9. Although the police have withdrawn a suit it filed against the judicial panels of inquiry, there are legal issues yet to be addressed regarding the powers of the panels and enforcement of their recommendations and decisions.
2) Compensations for victims of police brutality
Due to legal bureaucracy, many petitioners who had brought their cases to the panel in Abuja constituted by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), were finding it difficult to get compensations.
The NHRC set up the panel in November 2020 to review petitions on police abuse and also mandated it to determine compensations for proven victims.
A retired Supreme Court justice, Suleiman Galadima, was named chairman of the panel by the Executive Secretary of NHRC, Tony Ojukwu.
For instance, during a hearing by the panel, the families of six young Nigerians extra-judicially killed in June 2005 by some police officers in Abuja asked for N200 million compensation for each of the victims.
But the lead counsel for the police, James Idachaba, said the panel lacked the power to hear the petition by the victims’ families because the case had been decided in court.
After listening to both sides, the panel fixed April 15 to take a decision based on the documents submitted by the complainants. By that date, however, judicial workers had commenced their strike.
In another development, the panel asked a petitioner, Musa Wapa, to seek a settlement with a former Zamfara State governor, Sani Yerima, whom he had accused of instigating some police officer “to arrest, torture and detain him following a business dispute between them in June 2020.”
The petitioner had demanded N100 million compensation but the panel directed him to explore settlement talks over the dispute.
3) Release of arrested protesters
The Inspector-General of Police at the time of the protests, Mohammed Adamu, in October, agreed to halt the use of force against the #ENDSARS protesters and the unconditional release of those of them arrested.
Mr Adamu, the Ministry of Police Affairs and the Police Service Commission (PSC) also reaffirmed the constitutional rights of Nigerians to peaceful assembly and protest.
In November, the Lagos State Government announced the release of 107 people taken into custody in police facilities and correctional centres over the #EndSARS protests in the state.
This followed legal advice by the state’s attorney-general exonerating 253 #EndSARS protest suspects from the violence, looting and destruction of public and private asset recorded during the protests.
But even while small steps were being taken to meet the demands of the protesters, the federal government was targeting key figures in the protests for punishment.
PREMIUM TIMES reported in November how the government deployed different strategies to punish those who played key roles in the protests.
The development, which involved freezing of bank accounts, confiscation of travel documents and gestapo-like arrests, was likened by many Nigerians to what happened when President, Muhammadu Buhari was military head of state between 1984 and 1985.
The move is also contrary to the administration’s endorsement of dialogue for addressing the protesters’ call for justice and good governance.
Also, in February, dozens of youth protesting against the decision of the judicial panel allowing the Lekki Concession Company (LCC) to reopen the Lekki Tollgate were arrested.
4) Increase in the salaries of police officers
In their five-point demand, the #EndSARS protesters want an increase in the salaries of police officers, partly linking their endless extortion of citizens, corruption and viciousness to their poor remuneration, training and welfare.
PREMIUM TIMES had reviewed the poor salary structure of the Nigerian police.
In 2018, President Buhari had approved a new salary package for police personnel. But there are confusions over the implementation of the new salary structure.
READ ALSO: #EndSARS Timeline: How years of unending police brutality pushed young Nigerians into fierce demand for justice
The police service commission would not speak on the matter. Contacted, its spokesperson, Ikechukwu Ani, directed this reporter to the police management. But the police spokesperson, Frank Mba, too did not respond to repeated calls and text messages sent to his line. PREMIUM TIMES interviews with several police officers show that nothing has changed in terms of their remuneration and welfare since the #EndSARS protest.
5) Psychological evaluation of all disbanded SARS officers before redeployment
Two days after the disbandment of SARS, the then IGP, Mr Adamu, ordered officers serving the rogue unit to report to the Force Headquarters in Abuja for debriefing and psychological and medical examination, ahead of their redeployment to other units of the police.
It is unclear whether this process was carried out. While police vehicles and personnel are no longer seen in public with the SARS inscription, many believe members of the rogue unit have been redeployed without proper evaluation.
The IGP after disbanding SARS had also announced its replacement – Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT).
He said the training for the SWAT will commence a few days after it was announced.
Despite a widespread rejection of SWAT, the police IGP announced the commencement of the training of members of the new unit.
But since the pictures from the ceremony for the take-off of the training surfaced on the internet, nothing again has been heard of the new unit.
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