…Says it’s ill-timed, could exacerbate citizens’ distrust, lack of confidence in State institutions

By Luminous Jannamike

No fewer than 30 civil society organizations, on Sunday called on Federal Government to prevail on the Nigerian Army to suspend its planned ‘Operation Crocodile Smile VI’.

They made the call in view of the ongoing nationwide civil protests by youths against police brutality.

The CSOs, which spoke at a joint press briefing in Abuja, condemned the military exercise as unacceptable, alleging that it seeks to crush the civil protests.

Besides, the Coalition which includes: Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD-West Africa), Enough is Enough (EIE), and other groups such as Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), faulted the timing of the exercise.

The Army had said it would commence Exercise Crocodile Smile VI, which is usually conducted annually to checkmate the activities criminals across the country during the ember months.

However, it noted that this time, the military operation which would run from October 20 to December 31, would carry out cyber warfare operations to counter negative propaganda by criminal gangs and groups in social media and across the cyberspace.

But the CSOs unanimously warned that the Exercise Crocodile Smile VI will only serve to exacerbate the distrust of citizens and lack of confidence in the state and its institutions.

So, they urged the military to withdraw the Operation and remain in their barracks defending the territorial integrity of the country until the #EndSARS protests abate.

Speaking on behalf of the Coalition, Ezenwa Nwagwu, a co-convener, said: “In the last two weeks, the streets of Nigeria have been convulsing with protests and agitations. The clarion call as reflected in the multitude of young Nigerian voices is for an end to police brutality and all related abuses, which unaccountable policing has left in its wake.

“For the avoidance of doubt, these protests are legitimate, and young people who ignited the movement have a right to express their grievances using the weapon of protest.

“While #EndSARS is focused on the immediate concern of a brutish policing system, the protesters are also inherently voicing their anger against a governance system, which has failed to reckon with them.

“#EndSARS is, therefore, an affirmation of citizen’s readiness to resist bad governance in all its ramifications beginning with inadequate government response over the prolonged trend of police brutality.

“The accumulated anger of citizens over decades of failure in the delivery of basic social services, endemic corruption, and impunity of political office holders has precipitated distrust of, and lack of confidence in the state and its institutions.

“These frustrations are visible in the pent-up anger, which has been boiling over in mass street protests in cities across the country.

“Collectively, we affirm the validity of the protests, and the grievances driving the organization and mobilization of popular anger. Police brutality in particular, and the brutality of security, armed forces, and law enforcement agents towards citizens, in general, is a fact and a reality that cannot be contradicted.

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“In this respect, we strongly condemn the thinly veiled threat issued by the Military High Command, wherein the unacceptable move is being made to crush the peaceful protests.

“Such a threat is ill-conceived in the face of legitimate citizens’ protest and a threat to constitutionally guaranteed rights.

“We call on the military to immediately withdraw its ill-advised attempt to undermine the constitutional freedom of citizens to voice their displeasure about the state of the country.

“We reject in its entirety the move to draft in the military to quell the protests, even where there has been no violent conduct on the part of protesters.

“The Military should remain in their barracks and at their duty posts, defending the territorial integrity of the country, and not deployed in a dangerous anti-people and anti-democratic operation to crush a people who are exercising their right to freedom of association, freedom of expression, and freedom of assembly.

“It is important we state here that the commencement of the Exercise Crocodile Smile VI is ill timed and will exacerbate the distrust of citizens.

“Equally, it is important to let the Nigerian authorities know that the entire world is watching its response to the legitimate demands of the youth.

“The world is watching the state-sponsored assault on the freedom of expression, and association of Nigerians in the forms of illegal bans on a protest by the governor of Rivers State [CO1] and the authorities in the Federal Capital Territory. These bans are patently unlawful and constitute an ominous prelude to what we suspect would be a harsh clampdown on citizens.

“The ongoing protests to end police brutality and compel sorely needed reform of the police and policing, is thus a legitimate movement, raising legitimate concerns, making legitimate demands, and as such because the movement is exercising universally recognized and constitutionally guaranteed rights, the movement must be protected, and not repressed.

“We must reiterate here that the practice of dehumanizing citizens and stripping them of their dignity, which has become endemic in the security and defence sectors, is a manifestation of the institutional decay and systemic crisis of governance. This is a measure of the failure of political leadership by Nigeria’s ruling class.

“And so, what is expected of any responsible government, political leadership, and ruling class, is to step back and reflect and to undertake a radical overhaul and comprehensive root and branch reforms of the security and law enforcement agencies, as well as of the armed forces.

“So far, we can confirm at least 13 persons have been extra-judicially killed in the course of the peaceful protest (Oyo – 4; Edo – 2; Ondo – 1; Osun – 2; and Lagos – 4). In addition is the attack on peaceful assembly in 8 states (Oyo, Lagos, Edo, Plateau, Anambra, FCT, Kano and Osun).”

So, the CSOs joined the youths in demanding: “Accountability for previous, current, and ongoing acts of the brutalization of citizens from the government and its agencies. Offending officers must be identified, investigated, prosecuted, and punished.

“That a mechanism is put in place to identify all previous and current victims of police brutality, to ensure that they get justice, including compensations.

“That all those arrested during the ongoing protest be released unconditionally.

“That the President constitutes and summons an emergency and inaugural meeting of the Nigeria Police Council [NPC] provided for in the 1999 CFRN [as amended], in section 216, and whose composition and functions were clearly stated in Part III [Supplemental and interpretation], sections 27 & 28 of the same constitution.

“That the government moves beyond cosmetic approaches in responding to the yearnings of protesting citizens. Building confidence would involve moving speedily to implement key first steps, including the expeditious public trial of police officers who have been accused with evidence and are found to have perpetrated crimes, including extra-judicial killings, against the Nigerian people.

“That an independent and multi-stakeholder committee, including the acknowledged representatives of the protesting youths among others, be constituted to oversee the implementation, and undertake monitoring and assessment of the implementation of the Police Act 2020 as the basis for undertaking the institutional and systemic reforms that are urgently needed.

“Finally, as we reject the repression of ongoing protests.”

The Coalition commended the youths who have defied the odds to make their voices heard.

“This is just the beginning as we stand with the youths of Nigeria who have taken leadership to demand accountability and a better Nigeria. The struggle has just begun, and the people of this country must brace up to take their destinies into their hands,” they said.

Other organizations represented at the briefing are: Partners for Electoral Reform, Centre for Information, Technology and Development (CITAD), Yiaga Africa, Global Rights, Project Alert, Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC), Paradigm Initiative, Rule of Law and Accountability Centre (RULAAC), HEDA Resource Centre, African Centre for Media & Information Literacy (AFRICMIL), Community Life Project (CLP), Protest to Power, Social Action, Take Back Nigeria Movement (TBN), Right to Know, Lawyers Alert, Private and Public Development Centre, South Saharan Social Development Organisation, Partners West Africa- Nigeria, Centre LSD, Connected Development (CODE), Stakeholders Development Network (SDN), BUDGiT, CWCW Africa, Peering Advocacy and Advancement Centre in Africa (PAACA), Invictus Africa, and Prisoners’ Rehabilitation and Welfare Action (PRAWA).

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