#EndSARS Protest: Picking the Pieces

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ONIKEPO BRAITHWAITE

Last week Wednesday marked the 1st year anniversary of the #EndSARS Protest of October 20, 2020; and it was sad to see that nothing has really changed for the better. With the lives that were said to have been lost during the Protest, and many other lives lost due to Police brutality (may the souls of the departed rest in peace. Amen), it is really as if these poor souls died in vain, as it certainly has not constrained the Nigeria Police to change their ways, and become law abiding.

Outcome of the #EndSARS Protest

In terms of the outcome of the #EndSARS Protest, it should have been two-fold. One part would be the reform of the Nigeria Police Force, while the second, the Reports of the Panels of Inquiry and the actions taken thereafter in terms of victim compensation, the prosecution of erring law enforcement agents and any hoodlums who were apprehended for whatever offences they are accused of committing during that time.

1) Institutional Reforms

Obviously, we do not expect the reform of the Police to take place in one day, but it should have commenced immediately after the Protest if Government is really serious about it, starting from the foundation, like how the IG is appointed etc. Unfortunately, there has been no notable institutional reform. The disbandment of SARS in favour of SWAT, is simply a change in nomenclature, and nothing more. The Police are still poorly paid; their mode of selection and conditions of training, suspect; conditions of service abysmal; and the “I will kill you, and nothing will happen” narrative which Police Personnel are infamous for, is still very much at play today, despite the #EndSARS Protest. Isn’t it ironical, tragicomic really, that the body whose constitutional mandate is to maintain law and order and protect the people, is one of the worst lawbreakers in our society? See Section 4 of the Nigeria Police Act 2020. Also see the case of Fawehinmi v IGP 2002 7 N.W.L.R. Part 767 Page 602 per Uwaifo JSC on the duties of the Police.

Their slogan, “Police Is Your Friend” which features prominently at Police Stations around the country, is a sham – meaningless, worthless, and mostly, the opposite of what actually obtains in reality. On the contrary, Nigerians are scared of the Police, because they are largely trigger-happy, corrupt to the highest levels of criminality, vicious and bloodthirsty. The fear of the Nigeria Police Force and all weapon-bearing security agencies in Nigeria, is the beginning of wisdom! I would venture to declare that, “Au contraire, Police Is Your Enemy”!

Nigerians recently saw a videoclip of Policemen terrorising passengers travelling in a commercial vehicle in Kogi State, threatening to open fire. They were said to have taken a passenger to a cashpoint (ATM), where he was forced to withdraw a sum of money and give to the Policemen. This is nothing short of armed robbery, and those Policemen should be charged to court accordingly, after facing their Orderly Room trial for dismissal.
For once, I do agree with the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, that Police Personnel should undergo regular psychological screening. I also believe that similar psychological screenings, should also be extended to Government functionaries – Ministers and so on.

Deplorable and Condemnable Show of Shame: Assault of Arise TV Staff

I also watched with shame, fear, and utter disgust, the videoclip of how Arise Television Correspondent, Adefemi Akinsanya, was bullied and manhandled, in a nutshell, assaulted last Wednesday, simply because she was trying to do her job as a News Anchor at the Lekki Tollgate. Ditto for Seyitan Atigarin, another Arise TV Correspondent, who was threatened with teargas. Arise TV drones were also aggressively plucked from the air, and seized by the Police. So much for Sections 22, 39, 40 & 41 of the Constitution – Freedom of the Media, of Expression and the Press, of Peaceful Assembly and Association, and of Movement – they seem to be almost non-existent in Nigeria; that of freedom of movement has also been curbed as a result of insecurity, as well as the non-Muslims avoiding the Sharia States because of the Hisbah Police. See the case of Olufunmilayo Ransome-Kuti & 3 Ors v AGF, Chief of Army Staff & 7 Ors 1985 2 N.W.L.R. Part 6 Page 211 on the uniqueness and importance of fundamental rights.

Should I bother to repeat myself and say that it is the duty of the Police to protect Protesters and the media that attend any type of Protest or Demonstration, not to brutalise them, unless of course, we are in an autocratic, despotic Police State where the duty of the Police is to stamp out dissension? In the past, I had observed several times on this page that Nigeria is fast descending into a Police State, where Government is totally intolerant of any form of criticism. How Adefemi and Seyitan were treated by the Police last Wednesday, is deplorable and condemnable – another example of how a Police State operates. The Policemen who perpetrated the crimes against these young ladies, should also be arrested, dismissed from service and charged with Assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm.

2) Panels Inquiry, Victim Compensation and Prosecution of Erring Law Enforcement Agents and Miscreants

Only 28 out of 36 States set up Judicial Panels of Inquiry. Eight have submitted their Reports to the National Economic Council, while one submitted an Interim Report. Some States like Lagos and Ekiti have paid a few compensations. We heard some shocking testimonies from some of the witnesses, while the Lagos State Panel inquiry was ongoing, but, to the best of our knowledge, no law enforcement agents have been prosecuted for their brutality or extra-judicial killings.

Conclusion

So far, the #EndSARS Protest was successful in bringing many issues to the fore. But, in terms of results, it doesn’t seem as if the success rate has been up to even 30%, since Government has not implemented the demanded institutional reforms in the Police (apart from the Police Act which was passed in 2020 before the Protest, over 70 years after the previous Police Act of 1943).

In the five demands of the Protesters, we do not know if all the Protesters in 2020 were released, but certainly new ones were brutalised and arrested, during the first year anniversary last Wednesday. I also don’t know how independent the 28 Panels of Inquiry, could have been said to be. Last year, I had expressed my reservations that – nemo judex in causa sua – no one should be a judge in their own cause. The Police is a Government Agency, but the Government played a huge role in the Panels. For instance, will the Lagos State Panel of Inquiry be independent and bold enough to indict the Lagos State Government, for allegedly inviting the Army to the Lekki Tollgate, an action which is alleged to have resulted in the death and injury of unarmed Youths? I’m not sure that the Panels may have met the acceptable standards of independence, especially as, in the face of all the testimonies that Nigerians have heard, the Minister of Information (Disinformation) still has the temerity to maintain that there were no fatalities during the #EndSARS Protest, and that no live bullets were used at the Lekki Tollgate that ‘Black Tuesday’, in spite of the fact that CNN has provided concrete, overwhelming evidence to the contrary, which has not been rebutted or refuted with the same standard of proof as CNN or acceptable legal standards of proof. Certainly, the Panels of Inquiry not only did not meet the 10 day ultimatum given by the Youths (which would have been impossible to meet), many victims are yet to be compensated, while the perpetrators of Police brutality are yet to be prosecuted.

The combination of the body language of the Minister of Information one year later, the Federal Government’s inaction as far as the implementation of urgently required sweeping Police reforms, the fact that all victims have not been compensated, nor offending law enforcement agents, including the soldiers that opened fire at the Tollgate are yet to be prosecuted, shows that, to date, the #EndSARS Protest is yet to achieve the desired results.