Beyond the #ENDSARS Protests

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Aka Sòrò Soke (Speak Up)

With every passing moment, with its actions, Government continues to reveal the fact that, it has no interest in any real positive reform, whether economic, political, social or otherwise. Government does things superficially, and because, I’m sorry to say, they obviously think majority of Nigerians are docile “Mumus”, hitherto, they have been able to get away with their cosmetic initiatives which have no real substance. Because, if we had a Government that is thorough or one that is truly interested in our welfare (as Section 14(2)(b) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended)(the Constitution) mandates it to be), I don’t think that the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu (IG) would disband SARS, and automatically re-christen SARS, SWAT, without undertaking the necessary reforms first! This has always been Government’s knee-jerk fire-brigade approach/response, not just to this #ENDSARS matter, but to burning issues that have faced the nation, and this trait is not the exclusive preserve of this administration alone. So, the PDP who may be trying to score cheap political points by making a hue and cry of all this, ‘should let us rest’ as we say in Nigerian parlance – they are not any better. Did SARS not exist during their 16 years in power? How did they reform SARS in their own time?
The inequality and mess in our country is not the exclusive creation of this administration – but, because this administration came in on the mantra of changing things for the better, which they have not particularly done, people expected much more from them. Take for example the President’s nomination of his aide, Lauretta Onochie as an INEC National Commissioner – it shows that this Government does not care too much about the maxim “justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be done”, and that is why it is no surprise that without thorough consideration, the IG would imagine that he can simply change SARS to SWAT with a snap of his fingers, and it would be acceptable! Third Schedule Part 1 F Paragraph 14(2)(a) of the Constitution, provides that a member of INEC shall be non-partisan. To be partisan does not only mean a card carrying member of a political party, it also refers to a person who has an affiliation or connection with a group. Ms Onochie’s affiliations with this APC Government and the President are as clear as crystal; and therefore, in such a crucial job within INEC, a body which is meant to be independent, even if she’s the most upstanding person in the world, it goes without saying that in a country like ours where election malpractice is the order of the day, such an appointment would be viewed with the utmost suspicion. INEC is certainly not the place for her.

As far as I’m concerned, this whole #ENDSARS scenario, again, shows that, Nigeria is in dire need of restructuring. While those in the South are tired of SARS, it seems that the Governors in the North still want SARS. Is their call for the remain of SARS genuine or simply a show of support for the IG and the Government? Because, truth be told, if SARS has been that effective there, why is there still such a high level of banditry, insurgency and violence up North? Be that as it may, this is why Nigeria is in urgent need of reforms, constitutional and otherwise, geared towards fulfilling the different needs of the different zones and peoples. However, even if the North wants SARS/SWAT, I don’t think they want brutal Policemen who have a penchant for violence, torture and oppression; we all deserve better – unless of course, they are being shipped directly to Sambisa Forest to feel free to enjoy their trigger-happiness and brutality fighting Boko Haram, and nothing more!

Congratulations to the Nigerian Youths

Sections 39 and 40 of the Constitution guarantee our rights to freedom of expression and association for the protection of our interests, and I congratulate the Nigerian Youths on account of them exercising these rights peacefully (while inter alia, demanding that Government respects our rights to life, dignity of a human person, personal liberty, and freedom of movement – Sections 33, 34, 35 and 41 of the Constitution); I also congratulate our Youths for their focus, organisation, resilience, and for being more effective than any other group in Nigeria in recent times – be it ASUU, or the NLC and the like, in terms of getting Government’s attention and making them feel somewhat jittery. They were able to elicit a swift response from the President and the IG, no matter how shallow. This kind of outing by Nigerian Youths nationwide simultaneously, is the first of its kind – and for those who once referred to them as ‘lazy’, it proves quite the opposite! Troubling however, is the high rate of Youth unemployment, evidenced by the fact that so many Youths across the nation have been able to stay on the streets for so long, because they may not be in any gainful employment. Government must address this NOW.
This is the excerpt of my chat with a 22 year old friend of mine who is studying in USA. We chatted last Monday: –

“Child: I even went to go and protest yesterday in Atlanta.
Me: Really?

Child: Yes, of course. Me, that I am exactly the type of person SARS would stop, imagine me not
doing my part.

Child: I hope you too you’re doing your part to support the protest o.

Me: It’s going to be our topic for October 20th.

Child: Nice one! #ENDSARS, not reform o. Please, don’t embarrass us.

Me: But, my issue is that most of the SARS people are still in the Police. Will there be any
difference?

Child: Nope, there is no difference. Those former SARS Officers cannot be allowed to re-enter
the Police Force. They must also be held accountable for everything they have done.

Me: They have already been redeployed, I guess apart from the ones who may be facing criminal
charges.

Child: What a yèyè country! You might be lucky sha; these protests are making me rethink the possibility of moving back to Nigeria one day. Maybe there’s hope for our yèyè country after all.”

Genesis of SARS/Police Problems

The issue of the Nigeria Police Force, in my opinion, is simply a vicious cycle – the beginning, the circumstances and the outcome, are all contributors to what we are seeing today. Section 17(3)(b) & (c) of the Constitution provides that conditions of work for employees must be just and humane, and the health, safety, and welfare of all persons in employment (including members of the Police), are safeguarded and not endangered or abused – the Police have not been given this.

I believe that the qualifications to get into the Police at entry level, is School Certificate or HND. In Nigeria of today, this is no big deal as you need lesser qualifications, that is, only education up to School Certificate level (not actually doing the examination or passing it) to qualify for the highest political positions in the country, except for the Attorney-General who must be a legal practitioner of at least 10 years standing. One of the major problems which Nigeria faces today, is the bevy of people who have low educational qualifications, placed in jobs which they are simply not equipped to do. This is not exclusive to SARS or the Police, alone; it is time to raise the bar in Nigeria, across board.

A few years ago, there was an exposé on the Police College in lkeja – it was in such a disgusting and deplorable condition, that people wondered how human beings could live and be trained there. Some went as far as saying that, even animals would find life in the Police College unpalatable. What then, would you expect products who emerge from such a nasty sub-human, sub-standard environment to be like? Reasonable gentlemen and women? I think not. Again, with that kind of inhumane atmosphere, it is unlikely that recruits are put through any proper psychological assessment, if any, before they are unleashed on the public.

I watched a television interview in which a retired senior Police Officer was asked why some SARS Policemen were often seen wearing cut-off tee shirts, shorts, and bathroom slippers (flip flops), bearing weapons?

That it was difficult to distinguish them from armed robbers. The Officer replied that, since the Police is grossly underfunded, all Police personnel have to buy their own uniforms themselves, and a full set of uniform is about N15,000. He went on to say that, on a salary of about N43,000 per month or so, the rank and file officer who has to feed his family, pay his/her children’s school fees, pay transportation fare to get to and from work, can barely survive, let alone buy uniforms! Indeed, the Police is grossly underfunded. The Barracks in which the rank and file reside in, is an eyesore.

My point? Because, successive Governments (present company included) have failed Nigerians, and are only concerned about paying those at the highest levels of the Government employment pyramid undeserved exorbitant salaries and perquisites, fantabulous severance and pension packages for Governors and their Deputies etc, because the rate of unemployment is high and people simply get the jobs they are able to secure as a means of survival; when you then put weapons in the hands of badly trained, poorly educated people whom the system has shown nothing but contempt for, in the manner in which they have been treated from the get go, pay them the poorest remuneration possible, and make them work and risk their lives in the harshest of conditions, with little or no provision for their families if anything happens to them in the line of duty, it follows that many of them will use those weapons against the same society they are recruited to protect, as their own means of livelihood, and to secure their future and that of their families!

Armed Robbery

Listening to many of the Youths who have been interviewed on television during the protest, many recounted encounters with SARS Operatives who forcibly extorted money from them by threatening to kill or maim them, taking them to the ATM to withdraw money for them at gunpoint – do we call this legalised armed robbery?

The Collins Dictionary defines armed robbery as “a robbery that is carried out by people carrying guns”; the Robbery and Firearms (Special Provisions) Act in Section I(2 (a) & (b) provides for “death by hanging by the neck or by firing squad for an offender who commits robbery armed with any firearms or any offensive weapon or is in company with anyone so armed” – it is obvious that this is what our Police/SARS, have been reduced to – armed robbery!

#ENDSARS Agenda

When one examines the five, seven or eleven-point agenda of the #ENDSARS protest, the demands are nothing more than compelling Government to properly implement Chapter 2 of the Constitution, that is, the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy – Good governance in all its ramifications.

The five-point demands of #ENDSARS are reasonable enough, and Government should accede to them forthwith – the immediate release of all Protesters, justice for all deceased victims of Police brutality (like the Apo-6 and Kolade Johnson), and appropriate compensation for their families (though no amount of money can be compensation for a life that has been taken unlawfully); setting up an independent body to investigate and prosecute all reports of Police misconduct (I believe that Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, in 2018 as acting President, set up such bodies for the Police and Army – where are their Reports?); psychological evaluation and re-training of all disbanded SARS personnel before they can be redeployed; increase in the salary of the Police, so that they are adequately compensated for protecting the lives and property of Nigerians.

It is senseless that our Senators/Representatives who sit only a few times a week, many of them being nothing more than bench-warmers who make no meaningful contribution to law-making and oversight, aside from chorusing ‘nay and yea’, are possibly the highest paid law makers in the world, our Senators taking home over $2 million per annum, with American Senators coming a distant second with $174,000 per annum, while a rank and file Policeman who stays on the road all day and all night, goes home with about $1,000 per annum! Look at the severance packages of Governors and their Deputies, who serve no more than eight years maximum and then retire to the Senate to earn fat salaries in addition to their scandalous pensions, compared to a Police Commissioner who has served the country for 35 years – I understand that the latter’s severance package is below $500!

Going Forward

The bottom line is that the Nigerian system is upside down – it is unreasonably inequitable, and this is one of the major causes of what we are seeing translate into corruption and violence. Nevertheless, frustrated or not, there is no justification for SARS/Police to brutalise the Youths or anybody for that matter, and I make no excuse for them for so doing. But, it goes beyond the reform of SARS/Police. What the Youths are asking for, is simply good governance, accountability, a society that is more equitable, inclusion of the Youths in decision making and employment opportunities, sack of the service chiefs for their failure to secure Nigerians, revamping of the educational system and so on – implementation of these demands (which in the first place, are the purpose of government) will go a long way to achieving a more peaceful, secure and progressive nation.

Aside from empanelling a transparent Judicial enquiry into the abuses of SARS/Police, the Nigeria Police Council and the Police Service Commission which are responsible for the general supervision of the Police and the discipline of Police Officers respectively, should be up and doing (Section 153(1)(l) & (m) and Third Schedule Part 1 L Paragraph 28(b) & M Paragraph 30(b) of the Constitution). What has happened to the Police Trust Fund?

The type of remuneration packages for crucial services like the Police, Medical Personnel, Teachers, and Judges/Justices require an immediate upward review, while those earning unjustifiable salaries should be reviewed downwardly. Hardship allowance for NASS members in their luxurious chambers and offices? It is one of the most ridiculous allowances I have ever heard of! Should it not be the Police who stand outside in the sun and rain, day and night, that deserve this hardship allowance?

No matter what psychological evaluation is carried out, if conditions of service are not improved, the Police will continue to transfer their aggression onto the same citizenry which they are meant to protect, whether by extorting money from the Youths, or unleashing violence against us all. Nigerians must see a true and positive change, and the time is NOW.