By Bola A. Akinterinwa
Ending police brutality is the cardinal objective of the #EndSARS protesters. They are a group that came into being spontaneously and that comprises youths protesting against the brutality of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) unit of the Nigeria Police Force. #EndSars began its protests peacefully in 2017 through the medium of tweeter handles. Their main demand was to scrap the SARS and put an end to police brutality and violations of human rights: extra-judicial killings, kidnapping, harassment of the youth, rape, unlawful detention, extortion, torture, etc.
The protests shifted from tweeter campaigns on Thursday 8th October, 2020 to mass demonstrations in the public in different cities of Nigeria, as well as in the Diaspora. #EndSars protests were very methodical and coordinated in terms of operational modality until Tuesday, 20th October, when the armed military men opened fire with rounds of live ammunitions on the unarmed protesters. The protesters maintained a high-level of cleanliness at the venue of their protests in Lagos. Their protests were patriotic because the protesters respectfully, joyfully and solemnly rendered Nigeria’s National Anthem, in spite of their anger. They were shot at when rendering patriotic songs and waiving the National Flags.
More important, #EndSARS, resultantly, is going to be a critical issue to contend with in the foreseeable future. First, there were initially few protesters on the first day. As at this time of writing, support for the #EndSars has gone beyond the scope of the organising youths. Parents at home and abroad, and particularly the international community (African Union, European Union, Sweden, Nigerians in Diaspora, etc), have been condemning the police killing of peaceful protesters in Nigeria. In fact, the hashtag has not less than 28 million tweets as at the time of writing this article. Government must tread more cautiously.
Secondly, the protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate were not armed by whatever definition. In fact, they knelt down, holding Nigeria’s green-white-green national flag and singing the National Anthem when Government’s quest to end police brutality was replaced with military brutality. The killing of innocent, young protesters and unarmed young Nigerians was wicked in mania, brutal in target and extrajudicial. This is why global hostility vis-a-vis the Government is also another issue to contend with.
Thirdly, both Nigerians and the protesters did not reckon with the impending brutal act of the Nigerian military when the military announced that it would be carrying out an Operation Crocodile Smile as from Monday, October 19, 2020. The notion of ‘crocodile’ necessarily connotes untruth, evil intention and wickedness of action. Whether it is crocodile tears or crocodile smile, any act of ‘crocodile’ is inherently devilish. Consequently, when the military said it would be carrying out its annual operation crocodile smile to coincide with the peaceful protests of #End SARS, a clash of interests should have been foreseen, an impending brutal killing was already in the making but not reckoned with.
Unfortunately, the act of killing by any national military is regulated in international law and raises the accountability and responsibility of Governments. The killing of unarmed protesters, during the exercise of their right to protest, not even in a situation of war when non-combatants are even required to be well-protected, constitutes an extra-judicial killing, with international consequences for Nigeria’s difficult future.
Definienda of the Difficult Future
There are two categories of definienda that are most likely to inform Nigeria’s future, which we believe, cannot but be difficult: the definienda before the advent of #End SARS Movement and the protest-driven definienda. As regards the definienda before #End SARS protests, political governance of Nigeria was hardly predicated on truth and objectivity of purpose. Engagement in politics is generally seen as the best avenue for illegal self-enrichment and aggrandisement with impunity. Consequently, every Dick and Harry wants to engage in the business of politics.
In fact, the logic of gubernatorial and presidential candidates in Nigeria is to first to seek to win elections by whatever means possible, illegally and otherwise, and then allow the losers to go to court, all in the expectation that judicial processes would be influenced. This is one major problem that has not made life and survival easy for the Nigerian youths, who account for about 70% of Nigeria’s total population. Nothing is done on merit when it comes to the question of public service. President Muhammadu Buhari is himself a chief apostle of nepotism as clearly shown in his political appointments. This has been a major issue of concern for the Nigerian youths.
Secondly, national unity has, at best, been very fragile. Without doubt, national unity has been by force and its origins can be traced to Friday, March 17, 1967 when the Daily Times reported the promulgation of a new decree that made secession from the Federation of Nigeria illegal. The decree empowered the then governors to appoint regional judges. The decree restored the regional legislative powers and gave the Supreme Military Council the responsibility to appoint the Supreme Court and the Lagos judges, Army and police personnel. However, the decree negated the obligations of the agreement reached with the secessionists in Aburi, Ghana. This partly still explains the anger of the Ibos in the governance of Nigeria.
More important, there are also the Boko Haram insurgency, which is directly aimed at national disintegration; various quests and struggles for self-determination; armed banditry and unending kidnappings; herdsmen-farmers dispute; coupled with the fears or threats of possible Islamisation and Fulanisation, etc. It is against this background that the #EndSARS protests began on October 8, 2020. In this regard, ending police brutality, as demanded, covers seeking enduring solutions to all the foregoing problems. The quest for restructuring is at the epicentre of the issues raised.
Thirdly, the call and protests by the #EndSARS Movement have not been well understood, and therefore, have not been well appreciated. In the eyes of the general public, it is the members of the SARS, on the streets extorting money and engaging in various acts of serious misconduct, that are often seen and held responsible and that should be removed off the streets and roads.
The neglected truth of the matter is the allegation that the SARS, considered severally or collectively, is nothing more than a representation of the institutionalised corruption within the Police Force. For long, there have been allegations that policemen, including SARS officials and Vehicle Inspector Officers (VIOs), are extorting money from the public and that they have a specific amount that must be given to their bosses in the office. It is useful to note here that on Friday, 16th October, 2020 my vehicle developed an overheating problem at the Lawanson bus stop in Surulere, Lagos, and I had to park it and chartered an empty yellow commercial bus to Oke Oloruntedo street in Ijesha.
The commercial driver did not fasten his security belt. He did not have any face mask. I asked him to comply with the rule of law as I did not want to be delayed in the event there was police check. I was already late for a traditional wedding engagement where I was to perform some roles. To my greatest surprise, he said, ‘baba’, that is, Father or elderly person, ‘there are no VIOs or police in this area, Ojuelegba-Lawanson- Ijesha axis.’ I asked why? He explained that every commercial bus plying this route, and there are about three hundred of them, do contribute the sum of N200 per vehicle daily at the Lawanson end and the same amount at the Ijesha end. And perhaps more interestingly too, the driver educated me that the contributions being made assist the policemen and their offices to buy pens, papers, and other office materials. I asked the driver if that was why he and his other colleagues do not bother about the need to respect traffic rules and the COVID-19 protocol. He asked me if I had just arrived the country. I kept silent. This is the environment of the so-called police brutality against which the EndSARS Movement is protesting.
Additionally, there have been allegations that many Police Commissioners, by embezzling security votes meant for the general upkeep of the operational officers, often deny such officers of their entitlements, thereby forcing them to seek other means to eke out a good living. Unlike the daily returns by commercial drivers discussed above, there is also the allegation of weekly monetary returns, through superior officers (DPOs and Heads of Department, to the Commissioner of Police or the Commissioner of Police of the Unit.
The import of the foregoing is not only to underscore the point that the police institution is corrupt to the brim at all levels. The seriousness of the problem is to the extent that the policemen of modern-day Nigeria cannot live and survive without bribe taking. Corruption is for them a way of life. It is also to emphasise that #End SARS protests are not simply to remove the SARS officers on the field, but to particularly seek total neutralisation of the system of institutional corruption.
Fourthly, another important definienda of the pre-#End SARS Movement was the September 11, 1963 allocutus of Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s before Justice Sowemimo, who found him guilty of the charges of treasonable felony levied against him. As put by Chief Awolowo in not only showing how he relentlessly fought colonialists, but how he also spent almost half of Nigeria’s three years of independence ‘under one form of confinement or another,’ made it clear that he fought ‘with special and relentless vigour for the eradication of feudal oligarchy in the North’ and that he wanted ‘in any case, to also prevent the spread of the evil political system to the Southern part of this country.’ This fear of evil feudal oligarchy is still much alive even after the demise of the sage. The fear of domination of one ethnic group over another is still a critical issue in Nigeria.
And more important, Chief Awolowo also had it that, as a nationalist, his only concern was that his incarceration might do harm to Nigeria for three reasons: in his words, ‘first, the invaluable services such I have rendered before and which I can still render would be lost to the country, at least, for a reason. Second, there might be a heightening of the present tension which has lasted for fifteen months and has done incalculable injury to the country’s economy. Third, for a while, and the rule of law might change into one of utter darkness.’ With this foresight, and in light of what currently obtains with the #End SARS, Chief Awolowo could not have been more correct, as the tension he foresaw not only led to a civil war but also made the aftermath of the civil war difficult to build a Nigerian nation-state that is free from political chicanery. National unity has been by manu militari since 1967.
On the post-#End SARS definienda, the basic one is the misunderstanding by the Government of what the demands by the #End SARS Movement really were. While the single request for an end to police brutality has a more holistic connotation for the #End SARS protesters, the Government simply took it as an ordinary disbandment of the SARS. This is a pointer to a more challenging future for Nigeria.
Future Problems and Implications
First, the #End SARS Movement demanded that all the protesters arrested and detained should be immediately released without condition; justice for all the deceased victims of police brutality and appropriate compensation for their families; establishment of an independent body to oversee the investigation and prosecution of all reports of police misconduct within 10 days; psychological evaluation and retraining of all disbanded SARs officers in line with the new Police Act and with the confirmation of an independent body before the disbanded SARs officers can be redeployed; and an increase in police salary as a compensation for protecting the lives and property of Nigerian citizens.
In reaction to the foregoing demands, the Inspector General of Police (IGP) explained on 11th October, 2020 that the SARS across the 36 State Commands and the FCT had been dissolved as a first step in Government’s commitment to more police reforms. The SARS was replaced with Special Weapons And Tactic (SWAT) Team, but what the protesters want are more than that. The implication is the likely clash of interests: PMB is very hostile to the idea of restructuring but this is precisely what the people are now more interested in. In this regard, struggle for national restructuring remains a critical definienda of Nigeria’s future. The quest for restructuring necessarily goes with the review of the Constitution, which is another issue entirely.
Secondly, there is the issue of which leader to relate with in the near future. When the protest began, the protesters had little experience, but continued to acquire experiential knowledge thereafter, to the extent that they are now talking like professional politicians and leaders. In the eyes of many observers, the #EndSars Movement has no leaders. This observation is quite arguable in the sense that the factor of spontaneity of the protesters coming together in different locations and almost at the same time to protest clearly suggests that there are leaders, but possibly operating behind the scenes. It is also very intelligent and strategic for the #EndSars not to make their leaders known to the public at the beginning of their protests. This cannot but be to make their possible harassment and arrest by security agents more difficult. However, the Government cannot avoid the #EndSars leaders.
Thirdly, Nigeria’s future is most likely to be influenced by much of untruth at various levels of governance. Public commentators and observers, even some academics in reputable universities, as well as retired security experts, have made unnecessary efforts to defend PMB rather than addressing the issues raised by the protesters. In fact, the protests are already being given a North-South colouration. For instance, Southern youths in the main are calling for an end to police brutality, Northern youths, with apparent support of Northern governors, have come up with #EndInsecurity in the North. They are opposed to the disbandment of the SARS.
Perhaps more disturbingly, some retired military officers, with security expertise, doubted any killing by the military in Lekki. They asked for evidence of the corpses and the locations of their morgues. The truth has now been partly revealed: not less than 15 people were killed in Lagos and not less than 60 nation-wide as at Friday, October 23rd, 2020. The military is claiming ignorance of the killing but different pointers clearly shown in different living videos argued to the contrary and this brings us to a fourth definienda: anti-legislative sentiments.
In this regard, an increasing number of Nigerians is showing much concern for the allowances of the legislators. This expression of concern is now part of what the #EndSars and the general public are currently complaining against. It is first argued that, while only N46 billion is budgeted for healthcare for about 200 million people, N48 billion for education and N125 billion budgeted for the NASS of less than 500 people. More annoyingly, it is observed that a Senator’s basic salary is N2,484,245.50k. His vehicle allowances is N9,936,982.00k. In fact, the total income per annum is N29,479,749.
People are now asking that the allowances of legislators be cut by 75%. In fact, Moris Monye @ Morris_Monye has given 72 hours for response and get the cut done or be faced with an #OccupyNationalAssembly. Agitation for salary and allowances cut have the potential to generate controversy and anger in the near future.
Fifthly, there is the PMB speech of Thursday, 22nd October. The 11-minute speech, unlike the two 19-minute speeches given during the COVID-19, placed greater emphasis on the activities of the hoodlums, but silent on the killing of peaceful protesters with rounds of live ammunitions. PMB also consciously confused the Nigerian public by considering the peaceful presenters also as hoodlums. By implication, he deliberate was silent on their fate. Silence over military killing of peaceful protesters can be interpreted as acquiescence, contrary to the denial of the military. This situation has the potential to hunt his administration in the foreseeable future, because the question of killers cannot be easily swept under the carpet.
But who killed the protesters: police or military? If they were killed by miscreants, how did they manage to operate freely without arrest? Why was there no security protection for the protesters? If we admit of military denial, how do we explain the fact that Governor Sanwo-olu of Lagos visited some victims in some hospitals? How do we also explain the finding of heavy 7.62 mm cartridges used to fire at peaceful protesters at the venue of protest? What about the military vehicles captured on videos? Who were inside? If they were not Nigerian soldiers, were they hoodlums on government’s pay roll? Whenever there is government-pronounced lockdown or curfew, it is then illegal activities are more pronounced. The period of the COVID-19 lockdown was when people were transported from the North to the South. It was during the 24-hour curfew that the hooligans had a free day to engage in massive destruction in Lagos. The military saw the protesters as possible subversive elements, warned them and publicly vowed its allegiance to PMB, rather than to the people of Nigeria. How can the military de-link itself? Probably, the killers have killed either to protest against PMB, or to discredit the peaceful protests, in order to forcefully disband the protesters and avoid increasing #Buharimustgo campaigns. Nigeria needs development of democracy and not democratisation of dictatorship.
Without doubt, the end of the current presidential system of government, which gives unlimited powers to the President and limits people’s control over his activities, is in sight. The agitation for a parliamentary system that will allow for competitive development, make nepotism difficult and the application of the principle of Federal Character unnecessary cannot but increase. Without promptly bringing the killers of the peaceful protesters to book, Nigeria’s international responsibility will be called to question, especially in light of the video revelations of coincidental, unusual power outage shortly before the dastardly killing.
Most important, the killings can seriously taint the chances of election of Dr.Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the next Director General of the World Trade Organisation. Apart from the likelihood of the lowering of Nigeria’s democratic rating, there is also the likelihood of charges of crimes against humanity being brought against PMB in the near future. Foreign policy must therefore begin to plan for the likely hostility towards Nigeria and how to stop the downward trend of direct foreign investments.