Juliana endsars infogfx LAGOS

Juliana Francis

As 20th October draws nearer, ongoing discussions at different social media platforms is on the events that shaped the #EndSARS protests of 2020, which was the most profound protest that had ever taken place in the Nigerian clime.

The protest was against the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). SARS operatives were accused of extra-judicial killings, assaults, unlawful arrests, extortions and harassment, amongst others.

The protesters demanded the disbandment of the SARS unit. The protest, which started in Lagos State, spread to other states.

The protesters demanded changes in the police and policing, including improvement of police welfare.

The government agreed to meet these demands, but on 20th October 2020, the protest, which had been peaceful, turned violent and bloody.

It was on that fateful 20th October 2020, that miscreants, believed to have been sponsored infiltrated the protesters’ ranks. It was also that day that masked soldiers stormed Lekki Toll Gate, where the young protesters were gathered and opened fire on them.

Many people were alleged to have been maimed and killed. Some of the dead bodies to date had not been found.

The state and federal governments both denied knowledge of the appearance of the soldiers at the Toll Gate. Again, they also denied that anyone was shot at, let alone killed.

The shooting of the protesters, which many Nigerians described as senseless led to different streets in Nigeria becoming covered in blood.

Nigerians armed with improvised bombs, fuel and other weapons, attacked police stations and police infrastructures. They burnt police stations, killed police personnel and razed banks.

Lagos State was the worst hit in the destructions. Millions of naira worth of items, if not billions, were damaged during that protest

Security News Alert speaks with experts and human rights advocates about that mother of all protests, analysing the past and present issues,

The Executive Director of the Rule of Law and Accountability Advocacy Centre (RULAAC), Mr. Okechukwu Nwanguma said: “It must first be recalled that the October 2020 #EndSARS campaign in Nigeria was a loud and clear message to the Nigerian government and police authorities from disgruntled youth about their frustration with impunity for police violence, corruption and abuse of power.

“It marked the limit of their tolerance for the government’s failure to end police violence and to hold perpetrators to account. Although the government initially 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 SARS, the government ill-advisedly made a volte-face when it ordered military crackdown and the use of unnecessary and disproportionate force to disperse the peaceful assembly of protesters leaving many dead and several others severely injured.

“Government followed up with crackdown on the leaders and champions of the campaign arrested, detained, tortured and imprisoned many of them, some of whom remain in prison till this day.  It also seized the travel documents of several others who wanted to flee from government crackdown while some others succeeded in fleeing to exile.”

He recalled that many state governments set up judicial panels of inquiry in their respective states to investigate complaints and petitions against police officers for brutality. Also, thousands sent in petitions across the country but very few have received justice.

The human rights advocate said: “In Lagos few of the hundreds who petitioned and appeared before the Lagos panel received 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 denied several of the victims’ justice while the perpetrators go unpunished. In other states, it would appear that the panels were set up merely as a subterfuge to calm public anger and do nothing once the anger dies 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.”

While recalling the horrific activities of the #EndSARS protest, Nwanguma stated that one of the ugly aftermaths of the #EndSARS campaign following the crushing of the protests with ruthless military force was the targeting of and attacks on police infrastructure and personnel across the country by violent mobs.

He said: “This also created the opportunity for other opportunistic criminal groups under different guises to continue 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 demoralising police officers especially when they realise that except in very few cases, the families of their fallen colleagues are mostly abandoned after the death of their breadwinner in active service.

“Police officers in many states in the southeast have stopped responding to reports and complaints or to situations and are afraid to visit certain communities for fear of being attacked. Failure by the police to defend themselves and their installations is a clear pointer to the poor capacity of the Police to discharge their functions including protection of life and property and the maintenance of social order.”

Nwanguma urged Nigerians to continue to remind the government to empower the police through adequate funding, training and retraining, provision of state-of-the-art security equipment, and radical improvements in the welfare of the personnel to improve morale and capacity to discharge their functions.

He said that human rights violations breed public resentment and widen the trust gap between the police and the citizens they are employed to serve and protect, their police authorities needed to increase their commitment to checking human rights violations in order to rebuild public confidence and invite public support.

“Police authorities also need to demonstrate their disapproval of human rights violations by punishing perpetrators. This will help them win public confidence, cooperation and support. They need to engage with the communities including civil society through dialogue to communicate their challenges. When the police understand public expectations and the public understands the challenges that the police face, the people will feel sympathetic and willing to partner with them and even become their voices for better treatment by the government. The Preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes the logical link between a lack of respect for human rights and the likelihood of disruption to the peace.  It says that if a 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. The NPF has acknowledged the need for respect for human rights. 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,” said Nwanguma.

Nwanguma added that some of the horrific incidents he witnessed during the #EndSARS protest that left his heart bleeding were the massive vandalism and looting of private businesses, which wrecked many businesses and rendered business owners impoverished.

He further mentioned: “Attacks on police stations and the killing of many police officers rendered many families helpless, denied of breadwinners and further lowered the morale of officers. The government’s attempts to sponsor thugs to infiltrate the protests in order to hijack the peaceful protests and discredit the protests and the protesters was another dark side to the protests. But the most remarkable and the most tragic was the deployment of the military which opened fire on a peaceful assembly of protesters who were only waving the national flag.  Government and the military first denied involvement but later admitted responsibility but began to twist and obfuscate the facts with a view to sweeping the scandalous crime by the state against its citizens under the carpet.”

A USA-based security expert, Mr. Ethelbert Oney, remembering the #EndSARS protest, said the unprovoked attack of Police Personnel, “means any attack that, at the time of the incident, was not prompted by official contact between the officers and the offenders. In other words, it is the brazen targeting of law enforcement seemingly for no other reason than because the criminals involved want to kill police, destroy police stations, and doesn’t fear the consequences. Over the past year, law enforcement officers have faced unprecedented levels of scrutiny, and in some cases, deservingly so but by killing them in the process or burning their stations, the authorities should consider charges under Terrorism Act (Domestic terrorism). In a democratic country, it is healthy for citizens to be sceptical of powerful government agents. On the other hand, police officers are vital for maintaining a well-functioning, crime-free and safe society no matter how much you dislike them.”

He argued that young Nigerians should find meaningful and legitimate ways to express their grievances which include; peaceful demonstrations and not hiding under the canopy of EndSARS to perpetrate crimes.

“Those that used it as a case study should think again. EndSARS or whatever name you call it does not justify criminality or jungle justice. Our laws should be even and taken seriously. For instance; on January 6th 2021, a group of fanatics stormed the United States Capitol Hill, for the purpose of thwarting lawmakers from certifying the current president as the legitimate winner of the 2020 election. Those people that broke into Capitol Hill about 90% of them have been apprehended and charged with various crimes to date, that is being serious with the law,” said Oney.

He added that there seemed to be nothing less or most horrific about this movement. “It is bad and not to be encouraged period! Nigerians should not allow politicians to hijack this movement, that’s my only fear. After painting the police as nothing less than evil, and corrupt and then coupling that imagery with soft-on-crime for some and hard-on-crime for others, it is easy to see why potential criminals and violent people would think killing police officers for doing nothing more than sitting quietly in a police car is justified, Endsars is just an opportunity. Police reform is necessary and now is the time.”

A retired Assistant Director of the Department of State Service (DSS), Dennis Amachree said: “The EndSars protests was an awakening for Nigerians and an outburst of bottled-up anger amongst Nigerians youths. It was unfortunate that the protest was hijacked, but the message was clear…Nigerians are tired of our corruption-ridden society and Police brutality. Criminal elements seized the opportunity to start attacking police stations and killing policemen. It was indeed a sad phase in our national history. The first lesson of EndSars goes to our politicians and the older generation. They have to understand that the youths have come of age and are ready to take over the leadership of the country. These youths live in a global village, and the language of doing business is different. The police need to review their crime profiling. A young man with tattoos and a laptop does not necessarily describe a criminal. The horrific tales of shooting at the Lekki toll-gate present lessons for all Nigerians and should not be allowed to happen again.”

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