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New twists in anti-SARS protests

By Igho Akeregha, Kanayo Umeh, Anthony Otaru, Nkechi Onyedika-Ugoeze (Abuja), Saxone Akhaine (Kaduna), Gbenga Salau (Lagos) Ibrahim Obansa (Lokoja) and Monday Osayande (Asaba)
15 October 2020   |   3:50 am
Nationwide protests against brutality by men of the proscribed Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (FSARS) entered its sixth day yesterday with new twists and turns...

Thugs, robbers attack protesters in Abuja, Lagos
• Protesters occupy Kogi Government House
• CNPP asks President to address the nation on protests
• Northern coalition begins to protest, demands a state of emergency

Nationwide protests against brutality by men of the proscribed Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (FSARS) entered its sixth day yesterday with new twists and turns.

In Abuja, many of the protesters were injured as they came under severe attacks by thugs armed with dangerous weapons. This happened as protesters, numbering over 1000, occupied the Kogi State Government House.

Also yesterday, a pressure group, under the aegis of Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG), declared that it would today (Thursday) commence indefinite protests across the 19 Northern states over the high level of insecurity and killings in the north.

Police officers stands near a road to prevent further advancement by protesters against abuses by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) at the Lekki toll Plaza in Lagos, on October 12, 2020. – Nigerians protested to pressure the government to follow through on disbanding a feared police unit after authorities made the rare concession in the face of widespread anger over abuses.<br />Around 2,000 people blocked one of the main highways in the country’s biggest city Lagos, demanding officials make good on an announcement on October 11, 2020, that the federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) was being scrapped. (Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP)

In Abuja, there was confusion at Berger Under Bridge as fierce-looking hoodlums, armed with machetes and clubs, attacked protesters.

The activist had gathered at the Berger area for the third day running, calling for police reform.

They were, however, attacked about 1 pm, throwing the busy area into pandemonium.

While the demonstrators tried to talk with the machete-wielding men, they were attacked, leaving many of them with serious injuries.

The situation degenerated as the assailants started destroying windscreens of parked cars and attacking protesters. Some medics who accompanied the protesters later intervened and rushed some of the injured to the Jabi Medical Centre.

Determined to stand their ground, some of the protesters launched counter-attack on the assailants, injuring several of them. The medical team also treated the injured assailants.

IN Kogi, youths blocked the gate to the Government House, denied everyone, including security operatives, government officials, access into the complex.

They insisted the disbandment of SARS by the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, was not enough to stop their protest and demanded a total overhaul of the police.

“There is a need for a total overhaul of the Nigeria Police Force,” one of them declared.

They demanded to meet with Governor Yahaya Bello, and rebuffed attempts by the governor’s Chief of Staff, Jamiu Asuku; State Security Adviser, Air Commodore Jerry Omodara, and other government officials to address them.

The protest took place despite an address by the state governor warning that hoodlums had hijacked the march.

Bello had, on Tuesday, expressed worry that people he described as hoodlums and criminals had hijacked the rally.

The governor, who stated this while addressing journalists at the Lugard House, Lokoja, said he was concerned that what had been a generally peaceful protest by citizens was threatening to become mindless attacks on government facilities and running battles with the police.

As part of an effort to discourage the protest, the governor stressed that the disbandment of SARS was only the first step in “our commitment to extensive police reforms to ensure that the primary duty of the police and other law enforcement agencies remains the protection of lives and livelihood of our people.”

AGAINST the backdrop of the continuing protests, the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP), yesterday, called on President Buhari to address the nation over the agitation and put an end to the crisis in the country.

CNPP said the address by the President would calm nerves and halt the remonstration spreading across the country.

CNPP, in a statement signed by its Secretary-General, Chief Willy Ezugwu, said: “There is a time silence is not golden and such a time is now. For the President to continue to keep quiet while peacefully protesting young Nigerians are being brutalised and killed by security operatives raises doubt on how sensitive the current administration is to the plights of suffering Nigerians.

“In case Mr. President is not aware, our findings, since the current unrest in the country began, show that the people are determined and continued deployment of security forces against the citizens will worsen the situation as bottled anger in the last five years of maladministration will finally be unleashed by the citizens.

“We then call on Mr. President to immediately address the nation and order security agencies to leave the protesters alone.”

WHILE announcing the commencement of EndInsecurityNow across 19 northern states, the CNG spokesperson, Abdul-Azeez Suleiman, vowed that the group would remain on the streets until their demands were met.

He told journalists yesterday in Abuja that all CNG state chapters and student wings had been mandated to resume the mobilisation of responsible sections of the civil society, NGOs, women groups, professional associations, artisans and concerned parents in their respective states for the protests started in Katsina State in June.

Suleiman hailed the scrapping of SARS and its replacement with Special Weapon And Tactics Team (SWAT).

He, however, noted that the sudden scrapping of the SARS had now created a huge vacuum in the fight against dangerous crimes in most northern communities.

He urged #EndSARS protesters to support EndInsecurityNow protest.

He called on the Federal Government to declare a state of emergency on security and take practical steps to end all manifestations of insecurity in northern Nigeria and other parts of the country.

He said: “While we welcome the creation of the SWAT to replace SARS, we call for expeditious action for improvement of professionalism among the personnel to be drafted through reinforcement, retraining, equipment update and improved welfare. It is also imperative that henceforth, all formations of SWAT be monitored by officials of the Human Rights Commission and members of the police/community relations to forestall FSARS breaches.

“The coalition has followed developments around the bold and necessary steps taken by Nigerian citizens in some parts of the country, including some northern states, to call attention to the deteriorating national security and other pressing concerns around the dwindling economy, prohibitive commodity prices, rising inflation amidst mounting poverty and prolonged stay at home by university students. CNG notes also the reassuring cooperation and solidarity extended by governors and elected representatives to the protesters in mostly the southern parts of the country and Zamfara and Borno state in the North.

In the unfolding scenario, Suleiman lamented that, while leaders and representatives were quick to identify with their people at the time of need, their counterparts from the North, including the President, the Senate President, Senators, Rep members, governors, state legislators, and other government appointees would rather abandon northern communities exposed to crime, lawlessness, and insecurity in the hands of bandits, insurgents, kidnappers, rapists rustlers, and other violent criminals without any form of protection.

The CNG spokesperson called for a thorough reorientation of the entire police force and its empowerment, saying the group would mount pressure on leaders to show commitment to protecting the lives of citizens, ending the prolonged closure of universities, reconsidering hiked commodity prices, reducing youth unemployment, and checking the rise in poverty level.”

MEANWHILE, protesters in the Alausa area of Lagos, yesterday, arrested a suspected armed robber, who infiltrated their ranks.

It was learned that the protesters were standing in small groups around the Lagos State House of Assembly when two boys, alleged to be armed with gun and cutlass, accosted a group of five protesters and wanted to rob them of their phones and other belongings.

The targets of the robbers raised the alarm, making the robbers flee. But other protesters gave them a chase and one of them was apprehended, while the second escaped.

When the protesters descended on the nabbed robber, the Lagos State Rapid Response Squad (RRS) officers intervened, rescued the suspect, and took him to the station.