Nigerian youths protesting against police brutality

By ADEBAYO OBAJEMU

The protests embarked upon by  youths against SARS nation wide had entered tenth day Saturday, and has assumed a life of it’s own, this according to observers was totally unprecedented in our history.

“Revolutionary pressure is mounting in Africa, beginning with the Arab Spring in Tunisia , Egypt and other parts of the Maghreb”, says professor David Fiki of the department of French, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, in his chat with this medium on the ongoing protests by the Nigerian youths against SARs’ brutality.

“The #EndSARS Campaign is the culmination of frustration by Nigerian youths, and the release of bottled up revolutionary pressure”, declared Dr. Muyideen Mohammed of the department of political science, University of Ilorin, in his comments sent to BH on the ongoing protests by  the youths.

He says “the fervour for change, greater accountability, good governance and respect for the will of the people, seems to have taken a centre stage in this revolutionary pressure not only in Africa but in the West.

“Now, this pressure has finally berthed in the country, and the impetus for this was driven by the independence celebration on October 1st, which reminded our millennials that the country they live in has no future for them, the incessant SARs murders of innocent youths and other unethical, unprofessional acts of the police”, Fiki concluded.

He admitted that the SARs  brutality was just a platform the Youths are using to finally settle the national question, which to him, is  “the sum of all our fears about the country; ranging from lack of accountability, to accusations of marginalisation by some ethnic nationalities, from impunity of political actors to insecurities, warts and all.”

The ongoing protests against police brutality deviantly continued  Saturday for the tenth day, with demonstrators fending off attacks from weapon- wielding gangs suspected to be sponsored by some state governments and backed by the police.

The protesters also brushed aside warnings from the Nigerian military, and a government order to stop because of COVID-19.

From Lagos to Anambra, Ebonyi, from Oyo  to Rivers State, from Kwara to Abuja, it was an unprecedented show of anger and frustrations as thousands of determined youths poured into the streets against the brutality of the police anti- robbery squad.

In Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city, protesters blocked the road to the international airport and the main highway into the city, causing traffic gridlocks, especially in Lekki toll gate where the protesters set up temporary headquarters.

The Lagos-Ibadan highway, one of Nigeria’s busiest, is the main road linking the port city to the rest of Nigeria.

Protesters in the capital, Abuja, dedicated the day to Nigerians they charge have been killed by SARS. The unit has killed and tortured many Nigerians, according to human rights groups.

Since the protests began more than a week ago, at least 10 people have been killed and hundreds injured, according to Amnesty International, which accuses the police of using excessive force against the demonstrators.

The #EndSARS campaign has attracted international support, including from supporters of Black Lives Matter in the U.S. and Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey who has retweeted posts from Nigerian demonstrators.

Many foreign countries are reportedly in support, even as The United Nations advised the Nigerian government to listen to the demands of the protesting youths, saying government should avoid using force against them.

Earlier before the disbandment, a jittery federal government agreed to this demand when President Muhammadu Buhari announced that SARS would be disbanded.

“The disbanding of SARS is only the first step in our commitment to extensive police reforms,” Buhari said in a televised statement. “We will also ensure that all those responsible for misconduct are brought to justice.”

There have been reports of unlawful arrests, extortion and torture of young Nigerians over false claims of fraudulent activities. This was what made the youths to stay determined to press further for the overhaul of the police. SARS has become an octopus, a kind of Frankenstein monster with a destructive life of it’s own, says Barrister Leke Ojo, SAN, in his chat with Business Hallmark.

But the protests continue because activists say the root problem of police brutality persists. Already, at least 10 people have been killed in the protests across the country and scores more have been arrested. The police have also charged the entertainment entrepreneur Ademola Ojabodu with killing a police officer, even though available footage contradicts this allegation.

 As the #ENDSARS protests enter a new phase calling for systemic reform, artists from Nigeria and around the world have raised their voices in support. Many of the leadership musicians, entertainers and artists were part of the protests, including David and other big names in the industry

The immediate trigger for the  protests was  a video circulated online showing a man being beaten, apparently by police from the SARS unit.

In response to the widespread demonstrations by young Nigerians, the government disbanded the notorious police unit accused of widespread human rights abuse.

But the disbandment of the  unit has not assuaged the anger of the protesters who have  since widened the scope of their demands to include reduction in the salaries of national assembly members, reform of the  police, and greater accountability on the part of political actors.

The largely peaceful protesters have been attacked in recent days by gangs armed with guns, knives, clubs, and machetes. The protesters say they are determined to continue and charge that the attackers are backed by the police, and sponsored by state governments, such attacks on the protesters were last week witnessed in Lagos, Osun, Edo and Abuja.

In Lagos, the protesters accused the state government, speaker of Lagos assembly, Mr. Obasa, and Musilu Akinsanya, the chairman of NURTW in Lagos, popularly called M.C Oluomo of being behind the attacks, they all denied responsibility for the attacks.

To underscore the growing fears  of the federal government, the Nigeria’s military issued a warning against “subversive elements and troublemakers,” saying the army would “maintain law and order, and deal with any situation decisively.”

Authorities in the capital have called for an end to all protests in the city, saying the gatherings risk spreading COVID-19 but a protester in Abuja said they are ignoring the order.

Anthony Chukwueke, a banker told Business Hallmark that there had been simmering tension in polity over the leadership style of president Buhari.

“I can tell you that though, our youths have had this feeling of frustration before Buhari came to power , but this feeling of hopelessness has been accelerated by Buhari’s nepotism and clannishness which is unprecedented”, he says.

He posited that the President has been most divisive, and this has frustrated the youths.

The immediate cause may be SARS’ brutality, the remote cause is the current administration, according to Business Hallmark’s findings.

Many have blamed the administration for the accentuation of the ills in the polity

These protests are  an unprecedented challenge to Nigeria’s leaders

The protests which are globally supported are largely unprecedented. Last week, the reticent, but  unarguably the most influential Christian cleric in Africa,  Pastor Enoch Adeboye  led the protesters across some streets in solidarity.

This is ominous and a clear signal that the misrule, corruption and general state of anomie in the land characterized by unemployment, widespread poverty and the conspicuous consumption of the ruling class can no longer be accepted.

Other Christian leaders, including the Catholic Bishops and some Muslim clerics have voiced their support.

Foreign governments such as UK, US and Canada among others say they are watching the development.

The protests are clearly a strong message not only to the current government but to the entire political class in Nigeria.

The relentlessness of the young people is uncommon. Demonstrations like these rarely last for more than three days but these ones are now in their third week without any sign of a let-off. Instead, they appear to be gathering momentum.

In conservative North, especially Kano, a coalition of Northerner Groups last week defied Directorate of  State Security, DSS’s warning not to protest , as they marched through the city, finally ending up at the office of the State’s commissioner of police where they delivered letter to him on their demand.

The protesters also attacked Ekiti State governor’s convoy at the premises of the  House of Assembly where they destroyed some of his convoy’s vehicles.

The protesters have largely widened their demands,  calling for an end to bad governance and poor economic conditions.

 Some protesters are also beginning to demand more action from the government to tackle widespread insecurity in the north of the country, where armed criminal gangs carry out deadly attacks and kidnap people for ransom.

The government’s response to some of the demands of the protesters has been unprecedented too.

It has  disbanded Sars, set up of panels to investigate and prosecute erring police officers and promised wider police reforms.

Another rare gesture is the public apology by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, who admitted that the government had not acted fast enough to address young people’s concerns.

But the protesters remain unsatisfied, saying they need more action.

It is obvious Nigerian officials are nervous about the ongoing protests and are deliberating how to handle them before they get out of hand.

A new unit has now been created to take SARS’ place: The Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) unit. Nevertheless, that has not put an end to the protests as it is feared SARS has simply been rebranded. If that is the case, protesters say, it would symbolize a failure to address the systematic problem at its core: abuse of power.

“Protests are not going to stop until we can be assured of real change. When you put a rotten egg in among good ones, all you have to do is wait. The good ones are not going to make the bad one good, but the one will make all the good ones bad,” says Amaechi.

Amnesty International says at least 10 people have died since the protests began on October 8, and that the government has not been forthcoming in addressing claims that protesters were shot. It is, however, trying to stop the #EndSARS protests. On Thursday, the government said such gatherings in Abuja, the capital, were in “violation of COVID-19 safety protocols

Now that the demands of the protesters are widening and their chants begin to include anti-government slogans, there is speculation that some political opponents of President Muhammadu Buhari might be fuelling the protests from behind the scenes.

Last Saturday, Bola Ahmed Tinubu issued a statement denying sponsoring the protests , as some have alleged.

Now, federal government is saying it can no longer tolerate the growing slide into anarchy.

Lai Mohammed, Information Minister says the FG is no longer dealing with #EndSARS but a volatile situation that can lead to anarchy if the government does not take some very firm steps to protect the lives and livelihood of innocent Nigerians.

The Federal Government has warned that it will not allow the country to be thrown into anarchy following the violence that has trailed the #EndSARS protests.

The Minster stated  this on Saturday when he featured on a late-night Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) news programme, “Weekend File”

The programme entitled, “EndSARS Protest: The Way Forward,” was monitored by the News Agency of Nigeria(NAN) in Abuja.

The minister said Saturday’s assassination attempt on the Osun Governor, Adegboyega Oyetola, while addressing the protesters was a clear confirmation that the protests had been hijacked by hoodlums and people with ulterior agenda.

He noted that while the original conveners of the protests might have meant well, it was obvious that they were no longer in control of the initiative.

“Peaceful protest is an integral part of democracy and that is why the Federal Government in the last 11 days has treated the protesters in a very civilised manner.

But, if you look at what happened to the governor of Osun State, it has gone completely beyond peaceful protest against excesses and abuse of power by the police.

“There is nowhere in the world where a government will fold its arms and allow the country to descend into anarchy.

“We are no longer dealing with #EndSARS but a volatile situation that can lead to anarchy if government does not take some very firm steps to protect the lives and livelihood of innocent Nigerians,” he said.

The minister added that the protests have gone beyond being peaceful because lives have been lost and innocent Nigerians, including workers and students, are passing through harrowing experiences.

“We have nothing against peaceful protest but there are civilised ways of doing so.

“This is by going to a venue where you are not going to disturb other Nigerians because where your own right stops, other persons’ right begins,” he said