October 20, 2022 marks the 2nd anniversary of the #EndSARS protests that erupted and swept through Nigeria in mid October 2020 demanding an end to police brutality, violence and abuse, justice for victims and accountability for perpetrators.
It must be first restated that the October 2020 #EndSARS campaign in Nigeria was a loud and clear message from disgruntled youth to the Nigerian government and police authorities about their frustration with impunity for police violence, corruption and abuse of power. It marked the limit of people’s tolerance for impunity and government’s failure to end police violence and to hold perpetrators to account.
There were many horrific incidents that characterised the EndSARS protests. The vandalisation and looting of private businesses wrecked many of those businesses and rendered their owners impoverished and melancholic.
Attacks on police installations and the killing of many police officers rendered many families helpless, denied them of breadwinners and further lowered the morale of officers.
Government’s attempts to sponsor thugs to infiltrate the peaceful protests in many states, to hijack and derail them in order to discredit the protesters was another dark side to the protests.
But the most remarkably egregious and the most tragic was the deployment of military brutality, the opening of fire by military personnel on a peaceful assembly of protesters who were only bearing and waving their national flag.
Was it not an irony of fate that a peaceful campaign organised to demand an end to police brutality was quelled with brutality? One of the five-point demands of the protesters was improvement in police welfare, a recognition of the fact that poor welfare conditions make police officers prone to corruption and violence.
Government and military authorities initially denied responsibility for the brutal attack on the unarmed protesters but later admitted and began to twist and obfuscate the facts with a view to sweeping the scandalous crime by the state against its own citizens under the carpet.
Government also admitted that the youth were justified in their anger and that they had the right to express their grievances through peaceful protests and actually acceded to some of their demands including the disbandment of the notorious rogue unit FSARS. Nonetheless, the same government ill-advisedly made a volte face when it ordered military crackdown and used excessive violence to suppress the peaceful assembly of protesters leaving many dead and several others severely injured. Government followed up with highhanded crackdown on the leaders and champions of the campaign – arrested, detained, tortured and imprisoned many of them. Some of them remain in prison till this day. Security agencies also seized the travel documents of several others who wanted to flee from government crackdown and security manhunt while some others succeeded in fleeing to exile.
Many state governments set up judicial panels of inquiry in their respective states to look into complaints and petitions on police brutality.
Thousands sent in petitions across the country but very few have received justice.
In Lagos few of the hundreds who petitioned and appeared before the Lagos panel received some sort of compensations before the panel wound up and submitted its report and recommendations to the Lagos State government. That report, instead of being implemented, was rather used to stoke needless and diversionary controversy which has hampered progress and denid several of the victims justice while the perpetrators remain unpunished and undeterred.
In other states, it would appear that the panels were set up merely as subterfuge to calm public anger and do nothing once public anger died down.
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) also set up a panel which has recently awarded compensations to some of the petitioners who appeared before its panel.
Today, human rights violations, the sorts that sparked the endsars protests, still persist.
Attacks on police personnel and installations
One of the ugly aftermath following the crushing of the #EndSARS campaign with ruthless military force was the outbreak of violent riots across the country which mainly targeted and attacked police personnel and infrastructure across the country by violent mobs. Opportunistic criminal groups under different guises emerged, seized the opportunity and continued to carry out daredevil attacks on police personnel and installations. These attacks have continued especially in the South-East and Imo State in particular.
Many police officers have been killed simply for who they are and not for any justifiable reasons. This has had the effect of demoralizing police officers especially when they realize that except in very few cases, the families of their fallen colleagues are mostly abandoned after the death of their breadwinners in active service. Police officers in many states in the southeast have stopped attending to reports, treating complaints or responding to situations and are afraid to visit certain communities for fear of being attacked.
The failure or inability of the police to defend themselves and their installations from mob attacks is a clear pointer to the poor capacity of the Police to effectively discharge their functions especially the protection of life and property and maintenance of social order.
This failure arises in part from lack of will to implement genuine and far reaching police reforms including improving funding, tackling internal corruption and instituting accountability by the police management, and in the other part from mismanagement of police trust fund which was set up to augment poor funding for the police and provide additional funds for training and retraining, procurement of modern state of the art equipment, improving personnel welfare and addressing sundry other needs.
We must therefore continue to remind the government of the urgent need to commit to genuine police reform, empower the police through adequate funding, entrenching integrity, prioritizing training and retraining, provision of state-of-the-art security equipment, and radical improvements in the welfare of personnel to improve their morale and capacity to discharge their functions.
The lost lessons of EndSARS
Human rights violations breed public resentment and widen the trust gap between the police and the citizens they are employed to serve and protect. Therefore police authorities need to increase their commitment to checking persistent human rights violations in order to rebuild public confidence and invite public support. Police authorities also need to demonstrate their disapproval of, and zero tolerance for, human rights violations by punishing perpetrators. They must become more diligent, professional and honest in investigating cases. This will help them win public confidence, cooperation and support.
The police as an institution needs to prioritize engagement with the communities including civil society through dialogue to communicate their challenges. When the police engage and dialogue with communities and citizens, they will be able to better understand public expectations and the public will also understand the challenges that the police face, and will feel sympathetic and willing to partner with them and even become their voices for better treatment by government .
The Preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes the logical link between lack of respect for human rights, and the likelihood of disruption to the peace. It says that if man is not to take recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion then human rights must be protected by the rule of law.
Thus, as stated in the Commonwealth Manual on Human Rights Training for Police “the day-to-day conduct of police in protecting and ensuring the human rights of all persons contributes to safe, stable and peaceful communities. And violation of rights only undermines, rather than enables, the possibility of real security and stability.”
Successive NPF leaderships have acknowledged the fact that the police is a creation of the law and must always operate within the law. They also acknowledge the need for human rights to be respected and protected. Therefore police officers must conduct themselves in ways that guarantee and invite public support. Wrongful law enforcement methods cannot and do not encourage community collaboration
As we get closer to the 2023 general elections..
Insecurity has increased in Nigeria becoming worse than what it was under the previous government under President Jonathan. This was one of the basis for which General Buhari and his allies in the ruling APC which was then in opposition criticized Jonathan and accused him of being clueless. This government has borrowed more money than any other government ostensibly to strengthen the fight against insecurity. Yet insecurity continues to escalate with government being completely helpless. Families whose members are kidnapped are left with the responsibility to raise money demanded by terrorists as ransom to secure the release of their kidnapped members. General Buhari has also expressed his helplessness when he said he can’t wait to leave office. Therefore, we do not expect anything more from this government. We can only hope that Nigerians will unite to take their destiny into their own hands by electing a person who is competent to clear the rubble of the collapsed house and begin the process of rebuilding it.
Being a Statement issued by the Executive Director, Rule of Law and Accountability Advocacy Centre (RULAAC), Okechukwu Nwanguma