#EndSARS: Beyond the Contentious Lekki Massacre

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Nigerians are marking one-year remembrance of #EndSARS — a social movement against police brutality.

It is the right thing to do—peacefully, in the spirit of patriotism and justice.

When people came out last year to call for an end to police brutality, they didn’t do so for fun. It was a call borne out of pains and bruises from constant harassment, detention, and sometimes death in the hands of security agents mandated to protect them. There were a lot of media reports and documents validating such incidents before the eventual protests which shook the country.

The eventual disbandment of the notorious police unit SARS and the directive by the federal government to states to form panels of enquiries to investigate citizens’ petitions of unprofessionalism and brutality, in line with demands of the protesters, gave hopes that things could turn out differently.

It is rather sad we are
stuck in this past one year after, trying to prove the extent of human and
physical losses and absence of none, instead of having real conversations on
implementing the changes in the Nigerian police, and preventing another
outrage.

What should form the
line of discussion is what we are to do and are doing to reform the police.

Before the one year
memorial, all but Lagos and Kwara State panels on #EndSARS sat satisfactorily
in the country. Even at that, the findings of the committees have largely
remained obscure and no visible actions have taken place to implement the
reports in line with the struggle. Essentially, the light earlier thought shone
on the bad police system has dimmed painfully, the nation losing a fine moment
to fix national cancer.

The police reform may
well be President Buhari’s biggest honour or a blot in years to come. I say
that as one of his admirers. The everyday abuse and indignity in the hands of
gun-toting agents are indescribably deeper than being reported. Young Nigerian
females still get harassed; the boys are in fear of chasing their dreams, and
the many weaknesses of the police form remain glaring. It is not normal to
mistake their genuine concerns for quality space as noise making. It would be
absolutely lovely to have him rehabilitate the police force as part of his
efforts on national security.

We may have people who
do believe in #LekkiMassacre and some who strongly hold that there was nothing
close to it. But we cannot have a Nigerian who does not have a feeling that the
nation deserves a better police force. We do not have many who have not had the
taste of human rights abuse. Yet, abuse is not a feature of effective
policing!

We have all either been
extorted, harassed, or denied protection at one point or another; we have had
moments to hope we didn’t grow up to fear those who should protect and defend
us from injustice and extortion. The truths are that we have a police and
justice system badly in need of an upgrade.

Much more than proving
there was a massacre or not, we need to open conversations on plans and
timelines to get the identified weaknesses fixed. This is the line to thread
for urgent and genuine overhauling of the sector. I call on the stakeholders to
spotlight the issues, as I plead with the media to rev up their support for the
cause.

The past is what may be
forgotten. Police brutality is the lot of Nigerian youths, not their past, it
cannot be forgotten. When the lice on one’s head remain uncured, the hands do
not stay clean of stains.

However, the memorial
is an opportunity to do it better. Carnage and arson like the one which
eventually started in Lagos and snowballed to other states stand condemned and
unacceptable. We should only continue as young people pressing the demand for
change with every sense of modesty and responsibility through the years.

Then, I have a word for
all. Fighting for social causes is not the same as fighting the government. It
is a mismatch. I hold that the movement has been tarred with such an ugly brush
to the elites and decision-makers. It is such a phenomenon that underscores the
language of policy and engagement in the civil and leadership space. #EndSARS
is not a youth uprising against the old people. It’s not a mutiny against the
authorities. It is simply a people demonstration, a call to responsibility for
the safety and wellness of all. This is such a mindset I wish all — the
social, religious, political leaders and Nigerian protesters — have on this
crusade for an end to the scourge of suppression of the weak and the
vulnerable.

I appeal to the states
and federal government to seize the memorial as an opportunity to reflect and
continue the reforms (#5 of 5 Demands) in our police and justice sector in the
interest of peace and progress of our dear nation.

Ibraheem Abdullateef,
youth leader, is the founder of Torchbearers Impact Network