For over two weeks now, the predominant talk of the town which has even crossed the Nigerian border to attract international attention is the #EndSARS protest. It is a serious issue that resurfaced on the 6th of October 2020—five days after Nigeria turned 60years. The movement is noted to have started in 2017 as a Twitter campaign using the hashtag #EndSARS to call the attention of the government to dissolve the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
What rekindled the #EndSARS campaign and subsequently drove multitudinous people to the street for protest in several cities in the country was a footage of a youth who was shot dead at Ughelli, Delta State by some alleged SARS officers. That particular incident resurrected the clamour of Nigerians that the government should disband SARS and put an end to police brutality in the country.
The Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), which was a unit under the Nigerian Police Force, was created in 1992 majorly to deal with criminal acts such as robbery, motor vehicle theft, kidnapping, cattle rustling, and firearms. However, this unit was seen over the years to have dumped its original objectives. There have been plethora of reports from human rights organizations and media about cases of extrajudicial killings, extortion, torture, and many other ill-treatment committed by SARS officers against the citizens they were expected to protect. The youths are the major victims of these atrocities committed by SARS.
Gradually, the #EndSARS protest started spreading like wild fire and the hashtag on Twitter #EndSARS began to trend globally. In response to this, the Inspector General of Police, Muhammed Adamu announced the disbandment of SARS and replaced it with the Special Weapons and Tactics Team (SWAT). With immediate effect, another hashtag emerged on Twitter #EndSWAT to show that Nigerians have refused to accept another team as a replacement for SARS. In short, police brutality should be addressed first.
The #EndSARS/SWAT is a campaign and protest of all Nigerians, and not the youths alone, against police brutality. The real aim behind the outcry is to call upon the government to combat injustice for justice to reign. We have seen elderly men and women, celebrities, activists, feminist coalition, physically challenged citizens among others who also joined the protests.
However It is quite unfortunate that a protest which was initially regarded as “peaceful protest” has now turned to violence in some places due to the fact that it has been taken over by hoodlums. Some protesters have lost their lives in the course and the number of death keeps increasing. While there are reports of hoodlums attacking the protesters on one hand, there are also reports of policemen shooting protesters on the other hand in spite of the directive of the Inspector General of Police that they should not use force against protesters. Some Police stations have been attacked and set ablaze in states like Lagos, Benin and the FCT. In Lagos, all schools have been shut down because of the protest and aside that, some businesses and government offices have been shut down as the protesters keep blocking major roads. Another shocking event was that of the hoodlums who broke into prison in Benin to set prisoners free. It is now obvious that turbulence has dominated the scene. As a result, the state government in Lagos, Edo, Ekiti and Osun have declared a curfew so as to halt further violation of law and orders. IG of Police also has ordered the deployment of anti-riot police unit across the country. Even the military personnel are now on the street and there are reports showing that they are confronting and harassing protesters. It is better for the government to officially order the security operatives to stop opening fire on armless citizens. Several people were allegedly injured/killed on Tuesday night when Nigerian soldiers opened fire on protesters at the Lekki toll gate. This is undeniably going out of control.
The Step taken by government
Apart from the disbandment of SARS, the federal government has started taking certain steps towards meeting the demands of Nigerians. Few days ago, the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, held meetings with the Senate President, Speaker of House of Rep, Inspector General of Police, Human rights commission, State governors among others, and there was agreement that state governments and the FCT should set up an independent judicial panel of inquiry to investigate all cases of police brutality and extra-judicial killing and ensure that justice is done. States like Lagos, Ekiti, Enugu and Kaduna have set up this panel.
Moreover, the Minister of Youths and Sports Development, Mr Sunday Dare reported what President Muhammadu Buhari said during their meeting. In his statement, he said the president appealed to the protesters to give the government time to address their demands. The President promised that he will ensure that the reforms as promised are met.
At this stage, even the whole world has heard that Nigerians have vociferated enough against injustice and ill treatment of the people. The government both at the federal and state level should please do the needful as soon as possible. We beseech them to thoroughly address and effectuate all the demands put forward for justice to prevail over injustice.
It is clear to everyone that the protest which was expected to be peaceful has now gone wild because it has been hijacked by hoodlums. Even the security operatives are not helping matter. As citizens of Nigeria, it is our duty to obey law and orders. Therefore, this is time to give our government the chance. The chance to show us that it is indeed government of the people, by the people and for the people.
Let’s remember the last line of the second stanza of our National Anthem that reads thus: To build a nation where peace and justice shall reign. Essentially, the justice that is being clamoured for can only be served where there is peace.