By Evelyn Usman
The EndSARS protest has led to a seeming anarchy especially in the southern parts of Nigeria, unfortunately, the same areas that suffered most the police brutality that has brought shame to Nigeria.
The protest was sparked up by a video that went viral on social media last month , where some policemen suspected to be attached to the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS were alleged to have shot a young man to death in Ugheli south Local Government Area of Delta State and zoomed off in the victim’s Lexus jeep.
But police authorities debunked the report, clarifying that the policemen involved were not SARS operatives and that the victim did not die.
Rather, the victim, according to a statement by the Delta State Police Command, jumped out of a moving Police patrol vehicle and sustained body and head injuries, describing the video that went viral was the handiwork of mischief makers.
But the command’s explanation fell on deaf ears as youths went on rampage in Delta state , protesting the reported death of the young man . This snowballed into a general protest, first in Lagos and Abuja before it spread to other parts of the country, excluding the north.
At the initial stage, the main focus of the protest was the call for the disbandment of SARS.
To press home their demand, the protesters took over major expressways across the country. In Lagos State , the ever busy Lagos/Ibadan expressway was blocked , as well as the Lekki toll gate , thereby hampering vehicular movements.
The road barricades later spread to other parts of Lagos metropolis with the protesters, all of who were youths, blaring music and engaging in different sports to keep them busy.
Following the public outrage and when it became apparent that the protesters were not ready to shift grounds, the Inspector-General of Police, IGP Ibrahim Mohammed announced the disbandment of the SARS, with a directive for all Commissioners of Police to reintegrate the operatives into other policing organs.
This was immediately followed by the announcement of the Special Weapons and Tactics, SWAT as a replacement for SARS.
The protesters remained on the streets, stating rather that the disbandment of SARS was just the first port of their demands. They demanded for the prosecution of the disbanded SARS operatives and policemen accused of assaulting members of the public. For instance, Amnesty International alleged that the SARS had executed 82 persons in three years.
The protesters also demanded the release of their colleagues who were arrested by the security agents as well as compensation to families whose members were killed and brutalised by the Police, and prosecution of policemen involved.
In addition, they demanded for the psychological evaluation of all operatives of the disbanded squad and the need for them to be retrained before they would be deployed to any other police formation. Part of their demands also included the need for an independent body to oversee the investigation and prosecution of reported cases of police misconducts nationwide, as well as the need to increase salary of policemen, with a view to motivating them to carry out their constitutional responsibilities, chief among which is the protection of lives and properties.
Dismissed Policemen revealed
On the second day into the protest, the police Service Commission released names of policemen dismissed from the Nigeria Police Force over acts of misconduct. They included an Assistant Commissioner of Police, two Superintendents of Police, three Deputy Superintendents of Police and four Assistant Superintendents of Police . Nine others had their ranks reduced, eight officers had severe reprimand, 10 others were reprimanded, three got letters of warning while three others were exonerated. Some of the police officers were from the Lagos State Police Command.
LASG set up panel
In a swift response to the protesters demands, the Lagos State government constituted a Judicial Panel of Inquiry and Restitution to look into abuses by the dissolved Special Anti-Robbery Squad , on October 19,2020.
The panel was charged with the responsibilities to listen to and take evidence from all victims or families of victims of SARS abuse within Lagos State (somewhat akin to what the Truth and Reconciliation Committee did in some countries), as it would enable all victims and their families air and vent their grievances.
Upon determining the compensation payable, the Judicial Panel is to immediately issue a check in favour of the victim or their dependents, among other responsibilities .
At a point, the peaceful protest took a violent turn during which many people laid their lives for the fight of a just cause, with several others still in hospitals where they are receiving treatment for injuries sustained.
The first incident that signalled an unpalatable outcome ahead was witnessed when some thugs allegedly hired by politicians, attacked some of the protesters in Lagos. Hell was let loose at this point as some protesters were reportedly attacked, including innocent passers-by .
One of the areas in Lagos where violence erupted was Ikorodu , with the death of one person and injury on many others recorded. The protesters, barricaded the Ikorodu roundabout and Ogolonto axis, simultaneously, with the roads barricaded at both ends, Saturday, deprived residents from going in and coming out of the areas. Among the stranded persons were guests who were on their way to various social functions but could not attend.
Monday October 19
From attacks on innocent Nigerians, hoodlums extended their brutality to policemen. The first attack was on policemen attached to the Rapid Response Squad , RRS, at Adekunle, Yaba area of Lagos, where 19 of them were injured and four of their vehicles destroyed.
The policemen numbering 97, were being conveyed to their respective routine relief duties across the state when they stumbled on the protesters.
Sighting the policemen, the protesters began to chant ‘ no Police, no Police’ . They hauled stones and broken bottles at the RRS operatives, without any provocation. The operatives jumped out of their vehicles and scampered for safety. The injured ones were rushed to the Police Clinic at Panti, Yaba, for medical attention.
This attack sent fear into policemen in the state as most of them who usually wore their uniforms to work in order to avoid paying transport fare, all in a bid to augment their meagre salary , resorted to wearing mufti , with their uniforms left in the offices.
Owing to the violent dimension the protest assumed the Lagos state Government imposed a 24-hour curfew on Tuesday, October 20, 2020, beginning from 4pm. He however , moved its enforcement to 9pm, to allow those who could be trapped in traffic while returning from their respective business places, to return home.
But an unfortunate twist which sparked a renewed protest occurred before the enforcement time, as men suspected to be Military personnel stormed the Lekki toll gate where the defenceless protesters were, and opened fire .
Before the unprovoked attack on the protesters, perpetrators of the act had disconnected the Close Circuit Television, CCTV camera as well as put off the street light, thereby plunging the vicinity into darkness before releasing volleys of bullets.
Though the exact number of casualties could not be immediately ascertained, the protesters claimed many of their colleagues were felled by bullets from the suspected soldiers, while the state government said only one person died .
Again, two persons , one of them a Nolly wood actress , Eniola Badmus, who was said to have been shot dead at the scene , with a picture of her supposed self writhing in pains gone viral, later came out to debunk the news.
The hunter becomes the hunted
Angered by the alleged shooting, irate youths took to the streets, burning down government owned properties , starting with the Lekki toll gate itself.
As at the last count, at least 20 police stations and barracks had been burnt since the incident. Financial institutions were not spared either as over 10 of them were broken into and an undisclosed amount carted away. Also, private malls in the state were invaded, including the palace of the Oba of Lagos. The hoodlums who threw caution and total disregard to culture, made away with Oba Akinolu’s staff of office, an act described as sacrilege.
Some of the police stations attacked included : the Igando police division, (Wednesday) where a policeman was killed and another still in coma. One of the hoodlums said to have invaded the station had his knees shattered with bullets.
Also attacked were Isokoko, Ajah, Idimu, Layeni, Denton, Ilenbe Hausa, Amukoko, Ilasamaja, divisions. Cele Outpost under Ijesha division, disbanded SARS office under Ajegunle, Ebute-Ero, Mushin (Olosan) where two policemen were shot by the hoodlums, Ojo and divisions where two patrol vans each were set ablaze., were also affected.
“Similarly, the hoodlums attacked three new generation banks on Tuesday October 20 and Wednesday October, 21, 2020, respectively, and carted away an unspecified amount of money while some parts of the banks were set on fire . Some of the hoodlums according to spokesman for the Lagos State Police Command, SP Olumuyiwa Adejobi, were arrested with the loots from the banks, including arms and ammunition.
“ At the densely populated Ajegunle area, they burnt the Ajeromi Ifelodun Local Government Council secretariat and some valuables including cars. At the council, over 20 vehicles were burnt. One of the protesters said to have attempted to invade the Ajeromi Police division was shot dead by policemen who prevented them. The angry protesters were said to have besieged the council which was opposite the division , to vent their anger on the Chairman who was whisked away by some security agents . An Auto Teller Machine installed within the Council was destroyed . They also looted the chairman and treasurer’s offices.
“The same day, hoodlums also launched a series of attacks on many facilities within Lagos State . They included Shoprite Ajah, and the one in Surulere, Nigerian Port Authority head office Marina, Governor Sanwo-Olu mother’s house in Surulere, the VIO/Federal Road Safety Corps offices at Ojodu, the Lagos State Magistrate Courts, Igbosere, TVC station, the Nation Newspapers office, while many shops/malls were looted. Four police stations were set ablaze, with over 20 vehicles .Some of the hoodlums made away with police uniforms, vehicles , electronics and other valuables.
At the Orile attack, two policemen were killed . The attack was reportedly sparkled up by the killing of a young man by one of the policemen. An unconfirmed report however said another pregnant woman was also shot dead.
In his bid to escape , one of the policemen reportedly jumped through the fence only to land in the waiting arms of the angry youths who had surrounded the building.
LASG warehouse looted
On Thursday, the wanton killing and destruction of properties continued, with the attack on the state government’s warehouse where COVID-19 palliatives were stored at Maza -Maza area of the state. Some of the palliatives, especially bags of rice, were carted away .
Same day, an attempted jailbreak was foiled at the Ikoyi Correctional Centre. Saturday Vanguard gathered that inmates who got wind of the unrest in the state, set the Administrative and Records blocks on fire . During the pandemonium, they attempted to force their ways out , causing officials of the centre to fire warning shots into the air. The arrival of the Assistant Comptroller , Mr Tosin Akinrojuma reportedly saved the situation.
Akinrojuma said none of the inmates succeeded in escaping, adding that they were on top of the situation.
Sources hinted that a similar attempt occurred at the Kirikiri correctional centre but was also foiled.
Information at Saturday Vanguard disposal revealed that inmates in correctional centres across the nation had got wind of the ongoing unrest and the jailbreak in Benin , Edo State. Consequently, they were said to be liaising with members of their gangs outside to effect their forceful release , using the protest as an opportunity.
Invasion of additional six police stations
Same day, hoodlums who hijacked the #EndSARS protests, invaded Ojo Police division along the Mile Two/Badagry expressway and Aiyelegun police post under the Ejigbo division, overpowering the policemen. They reportedly made away with arms and ammunition.
From Ojo, the hoodlums proceeded to Okoko division but could not gain entry , as the Divisional Police Officer and his men engaged them to a standstill until 2am. At the end of the attack, the suspected leader of the gang was arrested. Hours later, the hoodlums returned in their number, overpowered the policemen and succeeded in rescuing their leader who was earlier arrested.
Same group as gathered, also razed PPL and Ilogbo posts , as well as the Federal Road Safety Corps and Lagos State Traffic Management Authority , LASTMA offices, all ,along the Mile Two /Badagry expressway. Thereafter, they marched to the Ilemba Hausa division but were accosted by policemen .
Hoodlums engage OPC in gun duel
At the early hours of Thursday, sounds of sporadic gun shots later discovered to be an exchange between hoodlums and members of the Odua Peoples Congress, OPC rented the air in the Ejigbo area of Lagos. This was a day after the Ejigbo Local Council Development Centre was attacked. The hoodlums were said to have attempted to burn down the Ejigbo division but met stiff resistance from OPC members who argued that the Divisional Police Officer DPO CSO Olabisi Okuwobi, had a robust relationship with the community and had been able to curb crime in the area. Two persons were said to have died in the crossfire.
Also in the satellite Division, same cooperation from the youths was witnessed as they prevented some hoodlums from gaining access to the division. The youths were seen carrying out 24-hour surveillance, as they described the Divisional Police Officer, CSP Chike Otti as one who had brought a human face to policing in the area.
Dilemma of the Police
The ongoing situation has really put the police in Lagos in a big dilemma. Some of them blamed their bosses for the death of their colleagues, saying they were warned from the beginning never to react during the protest. At the moment there is discontentment among the policemen who said they have been made sacrificial lambs .
Saturday Vanguard observed that during an attack on any of the divisions, there was never back up from other divisions around, as used to be the case. One of the police officers who spoke on the condition of anonymity said, “ everybody is manning his division. It is all man on his own.
They also stated that they were giving orders never to retreat even in the face of attack on their stations by hoodlums. But some of them defied the order claiming that the Police as an institution and the country at large was not worth killing oneself for.
But some of the DPOs who got wind of the invasion of their stations, reportedly told the women police to leave while they confronted the hoodlums. Unfortunately, some of them are still in the hospital.
Fate of the masses
Since the protest assumed a violent dimension, policemen have not been seen on the roads as usual, an indication of danger especially for essential workers.
At the moment Lagosians are gripped with fear over the outcome of the invasion of police stations and subsequent looting of arms and ammunition, including police uniforms. With these arms in the hands of wrong persons, it could lead to a spike in insecurity in the state as they could be used against the masses.
Considering the fact that we are approaching the end of the year when crimes are usually high, there are fears that there might be no response from the police in the event of distress calls .