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Lessons of #EndSARS not learnt two years on, citizens tell government

By Odita Sunday (Abuja), Waliat Musa (Lagos), Rotimi Agboluaje (Ibadan) and Timothy Agbor (Osogbo)
21 October 2022   |   4:00 am
The lessons of the 2020 #EndSARS protest have not been learnt. This was the verdict, yesterday, from stakeholders and citizens, as youths trooped out across the country to mark two years of that defining moment in the country’s history.

In this file photo taken on October 21, 2020 A general view of a Police blockade at the Lekki-Ikoyi toll gate in Lagos where about twenty people, blocked by curfew, have been facing law enforcement since last night, without water or food. – Nigerians were in shock on October 21, 2020 after a deadly shooting of peaceful protesters in the biggest city Lagos that Amnesty International blamed on security forces.<br />There was no immediate death toll from the incident on the evening of October 20, 2020, in which witnesses and NGO’s said armed gunmen opened fire on a crowd of over 1,000 people to disperse them after a curfew was imposed to end spiralling protests over police brutality. (Photo by Sophie BOUILLON / AFP)

Heavy security deployment scare protesters away in Osun, activists gather indoors
• In Oyo, protesters call for the release of nine victims
• Saraki: The protest was a message that Nigerians are tired of insecurity, unemployment
• Ighodalo: Nigerian leaders missed a great opportunity for change
• Implement probe panel reports, experts urge government

The lessons of the 2020 #EndSARS protest have not been learnt. This was the verdict, yesterday, from stakeholders and citizens, as youths trooped out across the country to mark two years of that defining moment in the country’s history.

Police brutality reared its ugly head again, yesterday, during the #EndSARS memorial procession at the Lekki tollgate in Lagos, where celebrities, Folarin Falana, aka Falz, and Adebowale Adedayo, aka, Mr Marcaroni, led the march in honour of those killed by security forces at the tollgate on October 20, 2020.  

Police officers interrupted the procession to request that protesters remove a coffin, which was a symbolic reference to the victims. The protesters refused and this led police to shoot tear gas canisters. 

In Osogbo, the capital of Osun State, heavy security deployment at strategic locations, yesterday, prevented protests as youths mobilised to mark two years memorial of #EndSARS. Security operatives, as early as 6:00 a.m. had taken to major areas in Osogbo and embarked on a show of force, apparently to scare intending protesters away.

One of the leading faces of the movement in the state, Comrade Emmanuel Adebisi, said: “Some of us have not forgotten the blood of our fallen heroes by having their memorial. Some are saying the protest didn’t have leaders, which was why it ended the way it did, but I am saying it didn’t have leaders because it wasn’t a paid protest.

“We started the movement in Osun following the killing of two guys in Osogbo. The families of Azeez and Fresh, who were killed by police, are still anguishing without compensation. My case is still in court since 2020. We will continue to raise our voices against bad leadership.”

Speaking at a memorial event organised by Osun Civil Society Movement, a lawyer, Ibrahim Lawal, urged the government not to wait for any issue to get out of hand before initiating reforms once there is public consensus that a system is not working.

Chief Press Secretary to Osun State governor, Ismail Omipidan, said the government had compensated victims of police brutality, adding that Osun is one of the few states that achieved the feat.

In Ibadan, Oyo State, youths held a memorial procession and called for the release of nine #EndSARS victims languishing in the state prisons. The youths marched from the Iwo road interchange and proceeded through Idi Ape, Gate and the state secretariat to Ojoo.

 
The protesters were followed by security operatives to prevent the breakdown of law and order. They also called on Governor Seyi Makinde to release the report from the #EndSARS panel.

Agitations by protesters had led the National Economic Council (NEC) to establish judicial panels to probe allegations of human rights violations by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigerian Police Force in all the states.

According to a civic organisation, SBM Intelligence, 23 states have concluded and submitted their reports, which include findings and recommendations to dismiss, discipline and demote police officers found wanting.

Seven states were yet to submit their conclusive reports. They include Anambra, Bauchi, Cross River, Enugu, Katsina, Kwara and Taraba, while seven others refused to establish panels. They are Borno, Jigawa, Kano, Kebbi, Sokoto, Yobe and Zamfara.

Two years on, experts and activists say justice has not been served and brutality by security agencies has continued, mostly away from the public eye.

On October 11, 2020, the police announced the disbandment of SARS. But citizens say SARS officers are still in service as plainclothes policemen patrolling the streets, extorting, arresting and torturing citizens without reason.

Between January and September last year, there were 164 recorded extrajudicial killings by law enforcement agents, according to Global Rights, a Washington, DC-based human rights group.

Former Senate President, Bukola Saraki, said the event redefined the present generation of Nigerians.

Saraki on his Twitter handles: “We remember the events of 20.10.2020 and how they redefined this generation of young people. We must never forget the peaceful protesters who demanded a better society for themselves and all those who will come after.

“As much as the #EndSARS protests were about the negative actions of some members of the police force, it was also a cry for help. It was a message to the world that young Nigerians were tired of insecurity, high cost of living and unemployment under this present government. Let us all use our PVCs on February 25, 2023, to usher in new and responsive leadership.”

The Lead Pastor, Trinity House Church, Lagos, Pastor Ituah Ighodalo, said the #EndSARS protest was a great opportunity Nigeria leaders missed to bring youths together and provide answers to their request for redirection and restructuring. Ighodalo spoke, yesterday, at the Bishop Kola Onaolapo 10th memorial anniversary lecture held at the University of Lagos.

According to him, the protest was rather seen by leaders as an action taken against them. He said: “The protest was a cry of the heart of the child to the father, telling the father what they were going through, asking for help, redirection and restructuring. They were just using the police as an instrument for one of the things they were upset about. It shows the collective unity among youths. It shows that it was possible for Nigerians to speak up.

“Instead, they felt that there was something personal against them. And this is one of the challenges of Nigeria. All our leaders take things so personal; you can’t criticise, you can’t question.”

Ighodalo further commended the courage and organisation the youths displayed during the protest, adding that they offered themselves like Jesus Christ to be slain on the grounds of Nigeria at the entrance of Lagos where a lot of Nigeria’s colonialism started.

“We shot them, but God had mercy and decided to use that blood as the blood for cleansing. 2023 is going to be different. Those children cannot die in vain. And those who think they are in charge and in control of Nigeria will be shocked because this thing has gone beyond what you see. It has gone to the womb of God and God has decided that there must be a change in Nigeria. Nigeria belongs to all of us and nobody should think that they can advocate power for themselves. We must all sit down to talk about this Nigeria and decide where we are going.”

Speaking on the controversy surrounding the alleged killings at the tollgate, he said: “They cannot deny it. I saw the video, people saw the video. There was coverage all over the place. The British saw it, and the Americans saw it. The hospitals were there. Mortuaries were filled with dead bodies. So, let them not try to deny it. Let them accept that people were slain. Let them take responsibility. If they need to punish anyone in the military who behaved like that, let them find out who gave the instruction. But they covered everything up. Even the investigation they did, they scattered it, and nothing came out of it. Nobody was questioned in the army and everybody kept quiet. That is complicity.”

Rinu Oduala, a Lagos-based activist, said the government is yet to actualise real police reforms. “That makes young people afraid to step out of their homes, in a bid to not become victims of torture, extortion, harassment and extrajudicial killings,” she said.

Moreover, many families of the victims are yet to receive compensation or justice, including those who died at the Lekki tollgate, said Osai Ojigho, country director of Amnesty International in Nigeria.

“Justice is still elusive, more so, where representatives of government continue to dispute the number of dead and injured people at Lekki tollgate. This is very disappointing. The lack of punishment for erring police officers sends a message to young people that their lives do not matter,” Ojigho added.

Kikelomo Shodeko, a senior analyst at Horizon West Africa, an Abuja-based security consultancy firm, said the demonstrations were a turning point. “What it has brought about is a change in the psyche,” she said. “It helped young people recognise their capacity to organise not only protests but also politically.”

This change may influence political attitudes as the country heads towards general elections next February. In August, the Independent National Electoral Commission announced that 10.5 million new voters had been registered, with 84 per cent of the number aged 34 and below.

DURING the protests, over 20 police stations and outposts were burnt by hoodlums who hijacked #EndSARS in different parts of country. The situation has since demoralised officers and men of the Nigeria Police Force.

Some of the burnt police stations in Lagos are still in shatters and unrepaired. The stations are Orile, Igando, Okoko, Ijora-Badia, Agbara, Merian, Cement, Amukoko, Layeni, Ilasamaja, Cele outpost under Ijesha division, Ikotun, Ajah, Elemoro, Ebute-Ero, Onipanu, Pen Cinema, Makinde, Isokoko, Alade, Igbo-Elerin, Shibiri, Gbagada, Onilekere, Charly Boy police post, Ojodu, Surulere, Makoko, Idimu, Denton, Ilemba-Hausa, Olosan, Aiyelegun police outpost under Ejigbo division, and Daleko police post.

Criminologist, Mr. Albert Uba, said: “The issues raised have not been addressed, rather, they have been compounded. #EndSARS protest was far from police brutality; it was a cliché for bad governance, youth unemployment, lack of basic amenities and of course, the incivility of the police. Two years down the line, we are still witnessing a worse scenario of the cause of the agitation.

“The policing system is still unrefined, the unemployment index has skyrocketed, and students have been at home as a result of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU)-FG face-off among other problems.

“The unfortunate thing is that Nigeria is practicing statism rather than federalism. This statist method of the police running to the headquarters for any far-reaching decisions should be discouraged. The police system should be decentralised in a nutshell. Well, some of the destroyed police formations had been fixed, while many have yet to be attended to.”

According to the president of private security practitioners, Dr. Wilson Esangbedo, “the panels of inquiries set up have submitted their reports, which government should implement fully. Policing is much better with the disbanding of SARS across the country. The police are more civil than in the past and the present Inspector General of Police (IGP) is making efforts to change the orientation of policemen through training and retraining.

“A lot of money is needed to rebuild the burnt police stations. Unfortunately, Nigeria at the moment has very lean resources as we are borrowing to pay for recurrent expenditures. To have a people’s police starts with recruitment and changing the orientation of the people.

“FG should equip the police with modern gadgets such as stun guns, teargas canisters, water cannons and rubber bullets, to reduce killings during protests. They should be discouraged from using life bullet.”

According to a security expert, Christopher Oji, “the only achievement of the protest was disbanding of SARS, but that is on the periphery. If you look deeply, nothing has changed so far. The people in SARS are still the same. Policemen are still in the tactical units and squads all over the police formations. Nothing seems to have changed because, since the protest, we have witnessed many extrajudicial killings, brutality and extortions by the same police.”

President of the Human Rights Writers Association (HURIWA), Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko, said: “The investigative panels set up by different levels of government, including the office of the Vice President, have still not conclusively implemented or enforced the judgments that were awarded by those panels. So, it is difficult for any rational person to say that the issues that led to the protests have ended.

“The police do not respect human rights and the police still use physical torture to extract confessions from suspects, while execution of suspects in police cells has continued.”