Ifunanya Brown-Okoroafor urges government to do more to ensure peace in the land

The lashing rain had died down with a chilly weather when I regained my sense of calm. It was a weather I would have relished any other day, but today is not that day. If anything I am still shocked to the core from watching, through various media platforms, the brutal killings of young, unarmed Nigerians in their noble protest against Police brutality on 20th October, 2020. As I watched the rain settle into a drizzle, I could not help but imagine the rain as tears of the motherland, weeping over the blood of her young spilled on the Lagos Toll Plaza and across the nation. As I cast my mind back to the night of 31st December, 2019, when we were all so eager to dance away the year and welcome the new year, it would have been far better if we were allowed a sneak preview of the year 2020.

Perhaps we would have been better prepared for what was to unfold. The first quarter of the year started with a global unleashing of the Coronavirus, a pandemic, which was first dismissed as an epidemic before it steadily swept across the globe like a tidal wave snuffing out lives in its wake. As the virus crippled nations and economies, scientists scrambled to compete for a space in the discovery of a vaccine(s) to stave off the pandemic. Nigeria, though not as badly affected as Europe, United States, and Brazil, to mention a few, it has had its fair share of casualties. While the erstwhile lockdown had since been lifted for businesses and indeed the economy to thrive, Nigeria still grapples with the pandemic. As if that stark reality was not bad enough, another festering disease suddenly reared its ugly head, in the guise of police brutality, when a young man was killed in cold blood by SARS (Special Anti-Robbery Squad) officials on 3rd October, 2020.The Special Anti-Robbery Squad was established in 1992 following the notorious spate of armed robberies in Lagos.

They were combatants and with their special training, rose to the occasion in swiftly clamping down on armed robbers in Lagos State and its environs. However, as time progressed, the men of SARS prowled for a new target and began to prey on young Nigerians. In a country lacking the basic necessities to cater to the needs of its teeming population, the people made up largely of a young demographics, must hustle in order to provide for themselves and their families. While some may have deployed unsavoury means to make ends meet, in the eyes of the men of SARS, everyone is a suspect. This is especially true for the Nigerian youth, whom the police would brutalize, main, and kill without hesitation, especially if they carried a laptop or rode a flashy car. Unfortunately, attempts since 2017 to introduce needed reforms to the Nigeria Police Force, following calls by concerned Nigerians and civic organizations, have only been met with short term solutions, which failed to bring any sustainable change to the force. As a result, the men of SARS were further emboldened to unleash terror on Nigerians. Sadly, the proverbial chickens finally came to roost when on 3rd October, two days after the country’s Independence anniversary, a young man was gunned downed in Delta State by SARS officers, who later fled with his Lexus Sport Utility Vehicle.

Nigerians immediately called for the scrapping of SARS, when video clips of the incident surfaced on social media platforms, notably Twitter, leading to the break out of protests by youths across the country with the hashtag, #EndSARS. On 11th October, the Inspector-General of Police, quickly announced the scrapping of SARS to be replaced with SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics Team), a move which further reinforced the youths who regarded the change as premature. Incidentally, the protest took a turn for the worse, when on 20th October, the Nigerian military unleashed brute force by firing at the unarmed protesters at the Lekki Toll Plaza, which, reportedly, resulted in the maiming and killing of 12 people. This singular act triggered the breakdown of law and order across the nation. The extra-judicial killings and human rights violations drew the condemnation of the international community, including the UN Secretary-General, Anthonio Guterres; the former President of the United States of America, Bill Clinton; and former Secretary of State of the United States of America, Hillary Clinton, among others. Two days after the senseless killings of those brave, young Nigerians, the father of the nation and President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria failed to address the nation and comfort the families of those who lost their loved ones. He more or less grudging did late on the 23rd without attempt to mitigate the pains.

While a handful of states have gone ahead to set up judicial panels of inquiry into the abuses and violations by the Nigeria Police Force, it is instructive to note that under the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, policing falls under the exclusive list and therefore requires a national, holistic approach and direction.

In order to forestall further tragedy, the government should, with a sense of urgency, call for calm and enter into a dialogue with a view to bringing lasting solutions to police brutality and reforms across board. Such dialogue should be all inclusive, with youth and civil society participation, as young people today are considered to be effective in decision-making over matters concerning them. More so, the government should also provide restitution to families who have lost their loved ones. As the world watches, we are reminded by the words of Chinua Achebe that, “He who fetched an ant-infested firewood has invited lizards for a feast.” It is hoped that the Nigerian government would quickly do the needful in rewriting its wrongs by bringing about a better Nigeria for its peoples.

Brown-Okoroafor is of Let’s Help Humanitarian Foundation

The government should, with a sense of urgency, call for calm and enter into a dialogue with a view to bringing lasting solutions to police brutality and reforms across board