By Gabriel Ewepu
ABUJA-AN international non-profit making organization, Global Rights Nigeria, Wednesday, disclosed 82 cases of brutality by the disbanded Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad, F-SARS, as EndSARS protests continue to rage across the country.
This was made known by the Country Director, Global Rights Nigeria, Abiodun Baiyewu, in a report showing different cases of torture, oppression, harassment, false allegations, lack of fair hearing, exortion, maiming and killing.
According to Baiyewu since formation of SARS in 1992, an entire generation of Nigerians have grown to live in the dreaded shadows of SARS and other security forces as since pre-independence Nigeria. Year after year, their notoriety grew, causing a fearful citizenry who feared being attacked by violent criminals as much as being subject to extra-judicial treatment by their own security forces.
She said: “Between January and September 2020, Nigeria Mourns recorded at least 122 persons that had been killed in extrajudicial circumstances by security forces including SARS. These numbers did not include the ‘disappeared’, or the other various forms of rights violations that citizens suffered.
“Amnesty International’s special research report on SARS – Nigeria: A Time to End Impunity states that within the period of January 2017 and May 2020 it had documented 82 cases of SARS brutality, which included various forms of extortion, torture and ill treatment such as: hanging, mock execution, beating, punching and kicking, burning with cigarettes, waterboarding.
“SARS was also notorious for its unlawful ‘stop and search’ which often targeted young men and subjected them to harassment and extortion. Many victims reported being kidnapped by SARS operatives, their debit cards taken from them and their bank account drained as their ‘bail ransoms’, some spent weeks in detention waiting to be ‘bailed’ by their families.
“Some were not so lucky and never returned home. Offences unknown to law such as wearing dreadlocks, driving an expensive car or wristwatch, wearing a tattoo, owning an iPhone, or carrying a laptop could put them in trouble with this squad who would search without a warrant, slap, kick, mete out corporal punishment, and generally intimidate citizens.
“SARS epitomizes for most Nigerians the brutality of their security forces – in particular the police force; and each year there has been fierce public outcry against their flagrant disregard for the rule of law and their atrocious impunity. As a matter of fact, the hashtag #EndSARS was first used on Twitter in 2017 by @mzNkemjoy, and apparently created by @billz005. And since then, it has taken on a life and a verve that finally hit its crescendo this week. Since 2017, the government has in very vague terms ‘disbanded’ or ‘restructured’ SARS.
“It makes its 5th promise this week, but citizens are asking for more than promises.”
According to her in September 2020, Nigerians reeled shock in as they had many times before, at the impunity of the SARS unit when Ms. Ifeoma Abugu a 28 year old woman who had been ‘arrested’ in lieu of her fiancé, and in custody, was raped, killed, and her family advised to pick her body up from the morgue at the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
“Not a single officer was indicted for her wrongful ‘arrest’, torture, and death – not even when it was raised on the floor of the National Assembly. On October 2nd, they were further outraged when a video had emerged of SARS agents accosting and gunning down an unarmed young man, had fled the crime scene in their victim’s car at Ughelli town in Delta state. On October 8th, another video of an unidentified, unarmed woman who had been shot in the mouth at a bus-stop in Lagos, by a police officer later identified as Sergent Eze Aiwansoba emerged on twitter.
“Nigerians had had enough! Their fury became unleashed. They started to vote with their feet.
“Nigerians had had enough! Their fury became unleashed. They started to vote with their feet. Governor Wike of Rivers state threatened protesters and ‘banned’ all #EndSARS protest in his state. Protesters in Abuja suffered tear gas attacks, arrests, and live bullets being fired at them.
“It was in this context, at a moment of absolute defiance, while bullets flew from the police to silent, peaceful but defiant protesters, that Aisha Yusuf with a single fist raised, stepped forward, and in that single moment became an icon of the movement.
“Nigeria’s uprising is not a novel movement to the rest of the world, earlier this year, the United States had also erupted in yet another #BlackLivesMatter wave of protests, and became a global symbol against the violent atrocities of state security agents, and the racial injustice with which black people were being treated. Only this time, it was in the world’s most populous black country.”
She (Baiyewu) said what Nigerians want is at the crux of the #EndSARS protests, which is a simple cry for dignity; the right to live without oppression in their own country; A right to fair hearing; A right to freedom from discrimination; A right to life!
“All rights guaranteed by the country’s constitution. Section 14(2) (b) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria clearly states that “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government’; while Section 17(2)(c) instructs that “governmental actions shall be humane”. If the Nigerian government had simply followed the injunctions of the Constitution, it is very doubtful, that in the throes of a global pandemic Nigerians, young people, mainly in their 20s and 30s would take to the streets no longer fearing the brutal treatment meted on protesters.
“What Needs to happen? First, government needs to listen to its citizens. Sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria and the legitimacy of the government is derived from their collective will. Section 14(2) (a).
“Second, the government needs to fulfill its constitutional mandate of ensuring the security and welfare of the people through every single one of its organs, in particular – the security forces.
“Third, impunity needs to end and the rule of law prevail in Nigeria. The government needs to demonstrate immediate action investigating and punishing the crimes of its security forces.
“Fourth, a reform of Nigeria’s security forces must commence, and its loyalty realigned. Sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria! Human Rights norms must be taught to be respected, and security based on intelligence rather than torture or brute force needs to become cultural.
“Fifth, Nigerian security officers, especially its police force need to be treated with greater dignity. These officers are some of the poorest paid in the world, and work and live in some of the most deployable conditions. It is difficult for frustrated, gun-toting, and often inebriated officers to be respectful.
“Finally, Nigeria’s civic space must become free from the deliberate and draconian encroachment by its government. In essence, Section 14 (1) of the Constitution must come alive and in the country’s reform must now begin to happen 60 years after its first independence.
She also added that, “Global Rights and its partners will continue to partner with grassroots activists to ensure that a culture of respect for the rights and dignity of all persons ‘till the hills of Nigeria sway with truth, peace and justice!’”