Healing the wounds of #EndSARS speedily
Coming two years after the #EndSARS protest that shook the country down to its marrow, the report of the Federal Government’s panel set up to investigate the protest and violence that attended it is certainly late. This should be a matter of concern to all Nigerians, considering the unprecedented nature of the protest and its very huge collateral damages. The protests took the nation by storm in October 2020. The report of the investigative panel came on September 27, 2022. The Independent Investigative Panel on Human Rights Violations by the defunct Special Antirobbery Squad (SARS) and other Units of the Nigeria Police Force (IIP-SARS) panel was instituted by the National Economic Council (NEC). Beyond the late submission is the need to ensure speedy implementation of the report.
While receiving the report on behalf of the Federal Government, Tony Ojukwu, Executive Secretary of the National Human Rights (NHRC), noted that compensation payment was one step on the road to justice. He was reacting to Justice Suleiman Galadima (rtd), Chairman of the panel who revealed that the panel had awarded compensation to some victims in view of the mood and anxiety of the petitioners. We support the view of Ojukwu to the effect that,” there is still the need to hold indicted officers of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) accountable for these violations.” Ojukwu promised the victims and their families that NHRC will do everything possible to ensure that the decisions are implemented.
Government must not renege on these promises. In the aftermath of the protests in 2020, President Muhammadu Buhari had promised to ref
orm the police. Yet on the streets of Nigeria, violations of basic rights have continued. Any young man with a phone and a laptop is peremptorily harassed and their phones and laptop pried into in violation of their privacies in spite of the Inspector General’s (IG) statements against such practices. Pronouncements at the higher levels of officialdom in Nigeria are often at variance with what obtains on the streets and that is why the general populace often lose faith in government pronouncements.
Another reason for apprehension is the plethora of reports of commissions of enquiries and panel recommendations that are gathering dusts on government shelfs. Most often, nothing is ever heard of these reports beyond the fanfare of submissions and promises by the government to implement them. The rest is silence. This report should not travel that route.
Among highlights of this important report are the following:
The indictment of 72 police officers for various human rights infractions;
25 officers recommended for dismissals while 15 others to suffer rank reductions;
39 petitioners of extra judicial killings got compensations:
295 petitions were received while 95 decided and 33 struck out.
For a society that is not highly litigious, the number of petitions speaks highly of the spread and enormousness of the infractions in the polity. Many other infractions go unreported as the victims maul the many hurdles they had to scale to get judgements in their favour. So, for those who have braced these hurdles, justice must be served and be seen to have been served.
The spate of crimes and other conflicts continue to rise chiefly because of impunity from prosecution or sanctions. It has been noted that every society harbours criminals who are ready to go against societal rules and norms. What discourages their commission of crimes is the possibility of detection and prosecution. But a society where the possibility of being held to account is low, breeds more criminals. We hold that the reign of impunity in Nigeria is a major fillip for the commission of crimes in the country. We must reverse the trend by making everybody account for their actions. It is no longer acceptable to allow reports of properly constituted panels to gather dust. They should be implemented judiciously and quickly, too.
In the specific case of the police reform is overdue and this reform must start with the welfare of its personnel. The condition of police barracks is an embarrassment to any serious nation. After providing for their basic needs, it becomes easier and morally justified to apply sanctions on erring officers. No nation can breed the kind of police needed under the parlous conditions as exemplified by their barracks. These reforms must be extended to all the arms of the military and paramilitary services.
Nigeria must be one of very few countries that allow their law enforcement personnel to embark on public protest over poor salary and condition of work. Sadly, this has become a recurring decimal, the last such protest having taken place as recently as March this year. Surely policemen cannot give their best to the country under the dehumanising situation of their homes and working environment. Although the issue of decentralising the police was not on the terms of the #EndSARS panel, it is high time the issue is addressed, as a permanent solution to resolving police inefficiency in fighting crime. Government ought to know that the #EndSARS movement did a lot to weaken the police, physically and psychologically; and that the country is worse for the failure of the authorities to restore the police confidence and morale.
One other imperative of implementing the #EndSARS, and indeed, all other reports is to prevent a repeat of the largely amorphous movement. A frustrated populace may be tempted to take the laws into their hands.
Get the latest news delivered straight to your inbox every day of the week. Stay informed with the Guardian’s leading coverage of Nigerian and world news, business, technology and sports.