In October last year, Nigerian youth trooped to the streets in different parts of the country to vent their anger against the cruel treatment of citizens by the now-disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the police.
The protesters also used street demonstrations, tagged #EndSARS, to demand good governance and broad police reforms.
It started as a peaceful protest but turned violent midway after hoodlums hijacked it.
As the protest escalated into violence, private and government properties were looted and damaged; police stations and correctional centres were burnt down in different states across the country. In Lagos, the epicentre of the protests, police officers were killed, BRT buses in large numbers and media houses were torched.
Amnesty International had documented 82 cases of maltreatment, extortion, extra-judicial killings, among other acts, capable of forcing the beast out of the young people, perpetrated by operatives of SARS between January 2017 and May 2020.
In its statement commemorating the first year anniversary of the protest, the organisation insists 12 persons were killed by soldiers and police officers on October 20, 2020 at Lekki Tollgate, Lagos.
How it started
A viral video showing a SARS official attacking a man in Delta State sparked a wave of anger expressed through a hashtag, #EndSARS, which quickly gained popularity on social media platforms.
The hashtag, at the time, topped the list of trending topics on Twitter and other social media platforms as A-class hip-hop celebrities such as Davido and Wizkid, began to key into the campaign.
Anxious to get results, the campaigners took the agitation to the streets with protests spreading like wildfire to different towns and cities.
Buhari bows to pressure
As the situation was getting scary, President Muhammadu Buhari administration bowed to pressure, announcing the immediate disbandment of SARS in the same October.
The move, the government said, was the first step in a broad police reform to be embarked upon to reposition policing in the country. A new unit named Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) was announced to replace SARS, with promises that it would be professional in its dealings.
The concession was a product of the struggle of the protesters, many of whom were either arrested, detained, brutalised or even killed during the protest.
Another gain of the struggle was the setting up of the #EndSARS panels in various states to probe cases of police brutality, recommend the prosecution of erring officers and compensation for deserving victims.
In November, the National Executive Council, NEC, headed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, with all the 36 state governors and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) governor as members, resolved to set up judicial panels of enquiry to probe cases of police brutality as demanded by the #EndSARS protesters.
At its latest meeting held on October 15, the NEC promised to implement the report of the panels, which were set up in 28 states and in Abuja.
In its resolution reported by PREMIUM TIMES, the council assured that indicted police officers would be prosecuted and victims of police brutality compensated as recommended by the panels, popularly referred to as #EndSARS panels.
But apart from in Lagos State, where the #EndSARS panel’s recommendations have led to compensation for victims, in other states, they have remained on paper.
This development has caused many, particularly the victims, to doubt the sincerity of the whole exercise.
In Ogun State, a victim, Muraino Akintunde, narrated how officers of the disbanded SARS broke his leg and caused him to contract tuberculosis in a police cell at Magbon in Abeokuta. He accused the government of trying to deprive him of the promised compensation.
His concerns, our reporter confirmed, are representative of the frustrations of many of the victims who have been waiting in vain to be paid the compensations awarded to them months ago by the panels in various states.
Mr Akintunde said the government was trying to make him “die of pains inflicted upon them by the terror disbanded SARS members.”
But he appealed to the government to implement the recommendations of the report of the panel, as only through that will the victims get succour.
“I was so happy when EndSARS came up, and, immediately, I used the opportunity to file my petition to the Ogun State judicial panel of enquiry. The panel’s sitting lasted six months, and the panel took another two to three months to submit its report to Ogun State governor, Dapo Abiodun. It was pathetic and funny as the Magbon men of SARS could not produce any evidence to the panel against me throughout the sittings.”
Mr Akintunde noted that the governor promised to implement the panel’s recommendations, but expressed disappointment that “it is getting late now”.
“I need to take care of myself as my left leg still needs to be cast for permanent healing and some other injuries in my body,” he said.
He described how some who lost their relatives and others with various degrees of injuries were looking forward to the implementation of the panel’s report on time.
Mr Akintunde said he had been living in pain, with a final surgery needed to be done on his leg put in abeyance because of lack of funds.
“My broken leg is giving me problems and the tuberculosis I contracted in the cell has not been cured after about eight months of medication. The governor promised to implement the panel’s recommendation, but since then, we have not heard anything about it.
“Our government is not as friendly as it is supposed to be. The same government which set up the panel of enquiry in the state on police brutality now refuses to implement the same panel’s recommendation after months. Isn’t that a sign that our governments are our enemies?”
A civil society organisation, The Crusaders of Freedom Initiative, through its lawyer, threatened to sue the Ogun State governor if he continued to hide the report of the panel from the public.
The organisation’s lawyer, Kayode Aderemi, sent a letter, asking the governor to release the report of the panel to allay the concerns of the victims.
“We, hereby, humbly request for the release/publication of the details of the panel’s recommendations.
“We made this request pursuant to Section 1 of the Freedom of Information Act 2011, which guarantees any person to access or request information in custody or possession of any public official, agency or institution.
Mr Aderemi told PREMIUM TIMES he represented no fewer than four petitioners at the panel, all of whom he said were looking forward to the implementation of the report.
“The EndSARS panel was a public hearing, not a private hearing. So, it is common sense that the recommendations of a public hearing should be made public. There is no alternative to that. That is just the normal thing,” he said.
Another lawyer, Taiwo Olawanle, of the law firm of Femi Falana, who also represented petitioners at the panel, expressed his disappointment in the government of Ogun State.
“It has been disturbing and the clients too have been disturbing us. After the panel closed its investigations, nothing has come up, no information, nothing!”
Mr Olawanle said the corpse of the brother of his client was still at the morgue, saying the remains could not be buried owing to the failure of the governor to approve the recommendation of the panel for the release of the corpse.
“Very unfortunate that no one to give order on how to pick the corpse and bury it. I am worried and disappointed.
“Everybody is disappointed and frustrated, there is nobody to be contacted. Even the panel had no secretariat, we are tired.”
Ogun govt reacts
When contacted, the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice in Ogun State, Akingbolahan Adeniran, confirmed the receipt of the panel’s report, but said it had been submitted to the Vice President’s office for a review.
“We have submitted along with other governors to the Office of the Vice President. The idea of the panel came after discussions with the Vice President, who encouraged states to set up panels to look into it. The panel will do its report and there will be a white paper.”
He added, “Regarding how the compensation is to be paid, I think they are trying to resolve which fraction is to be paid by the federal government and which fraction is to be paid by state government, after which the report will be made public. It is difficult to make predictions about when that will be done. We are pushing internally to make it happen.”
Police, EndSARS protesters clash
The non-implementation of the reports of the majority of the #EndSARS panel contributed to the resolve of organisers to stage the anniversary protest on October 20, the day soldiers shot at protesters at Lekki Tollgate in Lagos, last year.
An activist, Omoyele Sowore, through his verified Twitter account had tweeted ahead of the memorial protest, “@PoliceNG in Lagos & across Nigeria, there will be #EndSARS memorial protests and direct actions on October 20, 2021.”
But, the police, through its spokesperson, Adekunle Ajisebutu, opposed the planned protest saying, it would use all legitimate means within its constitutional powers to suppress any #EndSARS memorial protest.
Mr Sowore, however, responded to the police threat through the same Twitter handle, saying, “@PoliceNG in Lagos & across Nigeria, there will be #EndSARS memorial protests and direct actions on October 20, 2021.
“Nobody can suppress the will of Nigerians to repudiate the mass atrocities of the @mbuhari regime on that day and beyond.”
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