Nigerian Youths: The Dangling Meat Between SARS and SWAT

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By Toyin Ajao

Within 24 hours, about 100,000 twitteratis have massively unfollowed Buhari, the ‘sleepy’ leader who has ‘remained unmoved’ about the #ENDSARS protests. In spite, the Inspector General of Police Mohammed Adamu following the directive of the president to dissolve SARS on 11th October 2020, the public’s belief firmly rested on the disbelieve that the president cared. The Nigerian denizens took the president’s silence as lackadaisical attitude to addressing the protracted police brutality that has plagued the country for aeons. The Nigerian youths who once trusted in the superhero power of the Buhari presidency to curb corruption, impunity and injustices are now so sure they have backed the wrong horse. Also, not with the Inspector General, ending SARS for the umpteenth timewhile swiftly announcing another unit, Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT). The youths see SWAT as SARS With Another Title.

The Business Unusual

The genesis of the recent #ENDSARS began with a video of a Nigerian shot dead, sparking series of enduring protests in several states in Nigeria, with one rugged goal, ending SARS. Likewise, ten more deaths have occurred in the hands of SARS personnel since the beginning of the protest. To make sure no one is above the protest happening in several states where the citizens are fervently demanding immediate police reform, no clear leader has emerged among the protesters. This unified front indicating how tired and angry the youths are with unending abuse, extortion and humiliation in the hands of SARS. A recent development showed that the Nigerian youths are not relenting and will not let anyone hijack a collective effort.

For instance, one of the early starters of #ENDSARS in 2017, Segun Awosanya exhibited ‘rightful’ indignations in a tweet for being left out of a recent zoom call with government representative to deliberate a way forward. His annoyance got him cancelled by followers who unfollowed him en masse thinking he was all about activism grandstanding, while it seemed he was concerned about averting a takeover as witnessed in the previous Occupy Nigeria protest. It appeared there is a glaring misunderstanding somewhere.

Unfortunately, adding to the difficulties faced by many this year, from a global pandemic to economic collapse, and deep emotional vulnerabilities, more is still at hand. #BlackLivesMatter protest once again shook the world when George Floyd was murdered by the US police, and in another clime, the Namibia netizens are calling for the end of the prevalent femicide in Namibia through the #ShutItAllDown campaign. Furthermore, gender-based violence, extremism and gross abuse of the police units like SARS continue to affect the tranquility of the Nigerian citizens.

The 21st-century realities of humankind looking like a thousand steps back into the Dark Ages. When humanity ought to be closer than before and compassion and love at the epicentre of our daily engagement, we are rather sinking into a bottomless pit of apathy. More so, how a Special Anti-Robbery Squad ends up terrorizing all and sundry should worry everyone. Instead of carrying out their directive, they windup terrorizing the Nigeria youths with such impunity that Amnesty International called out this gross abuse of human rights in their 2016 report to no avail.

By and large, the protest, which started the week of 9th October 2020, has sparked international outrage with several protests occurring in the USA, Canada and UK. The protest garnered over 28 million tweets with various celebrities amplifying Nigerian netizens’ voices all over the world. Crowdfunding to ensure protesters are not left stranded or hungry or left without medical care became part of the protest’s necessities. Like in the case of Larababeaten to a pulp by the Nigeria police during the protest, a newly formed feminist coalition was able to secure funding for her treatment. The feminist coalition that mobilizes protests daily has raised N62.6 million thus far and has disbursed N13 million to the protest in different capacities. This is a strong young-women-led coalition displaying integrity, accountability and firm commitment to endingpolice brutality in Nigeria.

Concerned people and businesses from home and aboard have contributed to the crowdfunding of this organic protest. The coalition is also crowdsourcing for service provisions such as pro bono lawyers to represent arrested protesters, while persisting in revolutionizing the Nigerian Police Force.

The Pervasive Theatre of Abuse

It is to the extent that the police under SARS authority will look for anything to incriminate any youth stopped for questioning. If you are flashy, trendy, or wear piercings or tattoos as a man, you’re doomed. Being you is a recipe for harassment, an insinuation of crimes and the accusation of homosexuality to exploit, harass and humiliate. In acountry where life is already hard, the police sure make it harder by sucking at doing their job. The job to protect and defend is reserved for the elite while the masses are getting harassed daily. And branding the entire cohorts of diverse youths criminals, spoiling their reputations home and abroad while destroying their creativity and patriotic pride is a lowbrow.

The Nigeria police force, which ought to have undergone an overhaul, has continued to survive on a life support of misconducts. Despite the passing of a progressive bill by the senate in 2019 to repeal and re-enact the Police Act of 1943, which still reeked of colonial legacy, no one was clear as to the way forward. But suddenly the outcry of the protesters awakened the ‘sleepy’ leadership to their forgoneresponsibility.

It is announced that the Buhariadministration through his Presidential Panel will honourthe recent meeting held with the Nigeria stakeholders involving some of the protesters to attend to their five demands. These demands include the immediate release of arrested protesters, a setting up of Independent Investigation Panel into the human rights violations of SARS and other police segments, and the psychological evaluation of SARS officials before redeployment. While this is appears like a breakthrough, more is needed.

Transforming the Murkiness

Efforts have to be put in place to turn police job into a prestigious and lucrative one, instead of a hand-me-down and safe-me-from-poverty mentality. In Addition to the need for a better salary scale and treatment of the police staff, deconditioning and reprogramming training is necessary for them to truly see their job as a career choice:to protect and defend the citizens.

Also, the political will to sincerely reform the police force to combat real crimes and not remain a nemesis to the entire nation rests squarely on the shoulder of the leadership. The ongoing effort at the security sector reform and the review of the inheritedcolonial decree still in used by the police have to concede with attitude reform, psychological assessments, and police salaries and benefits evaluations.

It is a situation needing a thorough approach that is holistic and sustaining to transform. The place of humanity in our interaction as we engage in a constructive change to end longstanding impunities, imbalances and injustices in our structural, relational and cultural problems will so much launch us into a cohesive living.

Delving into the root causes and underlying problems of crimes in Nigeria with a very holistic approach will not only stop police’s rash and crash approaches but also will allow for sustainable solutions to these lifelong problems. Lip service or a short–term, fix-it-now, top-down solutions that have not worked for the betterment of the country cannot continue to be the go-to tactic for a complex problem as this. We cannot continue to forgo our humanity or the Ubuntu of our existence when our method to life and its attendant conditions ought to stem from a fountain of mutual respect, love, and compassion. Finally, If we fail to embrace overarching reform, it will not be long before SWAT begins steering again, the vicious wheel of abuse previously engineered by their predecessor SARS.

…Dr Toyin Ajao engages the world as a Globetrotter, Storyteller, Public Scholar, Feminist Activist, and Holistic Researcher and Practitioner. She holds a PhD in political science from the University of Pretoria majoring in peace and conflict studies. She is the director and founder of iAfrika Centre for Holistic Research and Praxis focusing on advancing peace education and healing culture in Africa. She is an associate and alumnus of African Leadership Centre.