How Nigerian youths are holding Nigeria hostage
Ekweremadu points the way out for policing in Nigeria
By Chioma Gabriel,Editor Special Feature
Nigeria is under siege.
The perceived ‘lazy’ and ‘criminally-minded ‘Nigerian youths recently woke up from a deep slumber and began to look for space in the society. With the #EndSARS, the youths want an end to police brutality. And from happenings in the the last few days it clear that they are also restructuring of the Nigerian society where they grew up without regards or space from the society. They are demanding for their rights in a society that did not have them in reckoning.
Every year, hundreds of thousands of graduates are being churned out of the universities and many have remained unemployed after decades of graduating from universities. The job situation could not cope with the graduates turned out from the universities and this poses a great problem for youths. Hence, a lot of young people who could be involved in building the nation are found in criminal activities such as armed robbery, prostitution and fraud. There is no justification for fraud though but the young people are saying enough is enough.
Led by celebrity youths like David Adeleke (Davido); Wizkid, Runtown, Flavour, Phyno and several others, the widespread protests are indeed a sign that the country’s massive young population is finding its voice and demanding reforms in Africa’s most populous country, which has been characterised by poor governance since its independence 60 years ago.
They practically forced President Buhari to disband the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) unit but even that could not satisfy them as they want total police reforms and for officers in the ‘rogue’ department to face justice.
It is estimated that about 60 percent of Nigerian population is under 30 and need to be accommodated with education, training and health but as the youths are not harnessed, it has become a challenge, because most Nigerian youths are unemployed.
The issue about SARs
The Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigeria Police Force under the Force Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department (FCIID) came into being in 1992.
The squad was created as a faceless police unit that performs undercover operations against crimes associated with armed robbery, car snatching, kidnapping and other crimes associated with firearms.
But over the years, SARS has been engaged in human right abuses, illegal stop and search, illegal arrest and detention, extrajudicial killings, sexual harassment of women and brutalizing many young Nigerians. The human rights abuses of SARS are seen in trending videos on social media.
In 2017, Segun Awosanya, a social activist took up the #ENDSARS campaign on social media alongside other activists and it later culminated into advocacies and protests in a call to end the police brutality and scrap the notorious police unit.
But this ongoing protest is no longer under his watch. It has outgrown him and shoved him aside and he is nowhere to be reckoned with in the ongoing protests.
The founder of EndSARS agitation alleged that politicians and commercial criminals have hijacked the protest for their selfish end.
In series of tweets, he warned the youths against endangering their lives if they insist on protesting after the government has agreed to all their demands.
He tweeted :”We have strictly maintained that the #EndSARS #ReformPoliceNG advocacy is not a protest even while we maintained that citizens have the rights as empowered by the constitution to demonstrate their discontent. It is obvious that once protest is ignited hijackers will infiltrate.
”Since we started the advocacy in 2017 until 2020 before they hatched the protest, no Nigerian has died based on the #EndSARS #ReformPoliceNG advocacy but since the protest started, we have been recording deaths and this hurts as we’ve never exposed citizens to undue risk.
”We made progress with the PoliceReform Bill and the Police Trust Fund bill without seeking governors and billionaires. It was organic, transparent and objective. There were no sinister plans to weaponize anything against anyone. But for these ones, the lives mean nothing.
”Our organization remains committed to the people without strings attached. We remain self funded and seek no grants. We will not sell our soul and risk human lives because of greed and lust after power. I’m not interested in 2023. Be careful out there. This is a Game.
”We have played our role and done the needful. SARS has been ended as demanded and the Police Reform is in gear beginning with the assent to the Police Bills as facilitated. Some of the demands however activated will take time to materialize. Don’t be kept on the streets unduly.
”We remain on course. Our dialogue of years with the authorities can’t be derailed and the movement cannot be hijacked no matter how much they try. Your genuine need to express discontent via protest is being exploited now. This is why they want to keep you in harm’s way.
“I hope at this point the authorities will do the needful and make a believer of the people so as not to allow these opportunists endanger more lives even after demands are met. These headlines could have been fine if the issues were not exploited by these lots.
“Businesses need not bleed while we agitate for better policing. The people don’t need to suffer more. This should end now. The exploitation of the idleness of Nigerian youth is an assault on their dignity with the commercialization of this protest. This is not Nation Building…”
Allegations against SARs
Over the years, SARs has spread bad blood amongst the polity. Amnesty International’s 2016 report indicted SARS as being responsible for human abuse, cruelty, degrading treatment of Nigerians in their custody, and other widespread torture. Some of the human rights abuse by SARS included the shooting of their detainees in the leg, mock or threats of execution, hanging and severe beating of their victims. A 2020 publication by the organization indicates that between January 2017 and May 2020, they have documented 82 cases of abuses and extra judicial killings by SARS. Currently, Amnesty International reported that 10 youths were killed during the nation-wide protests.
SARS officials were accused of detaining young Nigerians illegally and extorting money from their relations. A petition signed by 10,195 people was submitted to Nigeria’s National Assembly calling for a total disbandment of SARS.
Social media was basically the platform for campaigners but things got to a head and the youths hit the streets of Nigeria using organized, peaceful protests and the #ENDSARS campaign to agitate for other things. It has become difficult to keep them off the streets.
From Abuja to Lagos, Ibadan, Osun, Benin, Ilorin, Enugu, Owerri, Port-Harcourt and other Nigerian cities and states, the youths have taken the centre stage, refusing to accept promises of government.
Under the agitation of #EndSARs, the youths are also agitating for #EndBadgovernance; #Endbad leadership; #Endinsecurity; #Endcorruption and other ills bedeviling the society.
The protests are ongoing across the whole nation. The youths everywhere are indeed saying something and would not be cowed.
In many instances, the protesters were shot at and the campaigners accused of being “criminals” but that did not deter them.
A voice for youths at last
If the Nigerian youths have been tagged lazy and criminally-minded in the past, the current raging uprising is saying a different thing.
It is known that every young man wearing dreadlocks, ear-rings, weaved or tinted hair is tagged fraudster or ‘yahoo-yahoo’ by SARs. A successful young man who was lucky to make it in life and acquire a posh car is tagged a fraudster. Several innocent young people have allegedly been maltreated and humiliated by SARs for choosing a life-style of wearing dreads, ear- rings or permed hair. Several Nigerian musicians and Nollywood stars have alleged maltreatment and humiliation by SARs. Many innocent Nigerian youths who are successful and dared to show same have been allegedly framed by SARs.
Show of Evidences
Pictures and videos of SARs brutality of Nigerian youths have oftentimes, adorned the social media. Recently, a video started trending on social media showing a SARS police officer shoot a young Nigerian in front of Wetland Hotel, Ughelli in Delta State. It was alleged that the police officers took away the young man’s vehicle – a Lexus SUV and the trending video caused public outcry on social media, especially on twitter, with the #ENDSARS attending.
On Thursday 8 October 2020, nation-wide protests on #ENDSARS started across the federation. The protests were led predominantly by young Nigerians in different cities alongside many activists and celebrities. The Nigeria Police Force in some cases disrupted the protests in some cities, throwing teargas and shooting at unarmed peaceful protesters as seen in Abuja and Osun which led to the death of Jimoh Isiaq in Oyo.
The protesters had a litany of demands. They demanded the immediate release of all arrested protesters, justice for all deceased victims of police brutality and appropriate compensation for their families, setting up an independent body to oversee the investigation and prosecution of all reports of police misconduct (within 10 days), in line with the new police act, psychological evaluation and retraining (to be confirmed by an independent body) of all disbanded SARS before they can redeployed and increase police salary so that they are adequately compensated for protecting lives and property of citizens.
The government succumbed and on Sunday, 11 October 202 when the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu announced the “dissolution” of SARS. Many Nigerians within the movement criticized the announcement, however, pointing out that similar promises had been made in the past and that the government’s plan was to reassign SARS officers to other police departments rather than eliminate them from the force entirely. The protests continued despite the “dissolution” as many do not believe the pronouncement.
The protests even stretched to London, United Kingdom, Ghana, Texas in United States, New York and other countries by Nigerian youths in Diaspora.
A statement issued by the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Chief Femi Adesina, in Abuja, disclosed that after the meeting, organized by the Office of the IGP and National Human Rights Commission which was a multi-stakeholders’ forum attended by leaders and representatives of civil society organisations in Nigeria, activists from the entertainment industry and the #ENDSARS movement and development partners, the IGP was ordered to scrap SARS .
According to the statement, “The Ministry of Police Affairs and Police Service Commission were also present at the meeting that affirmed that the five-point demands of the protesters and the ENDSARS movement are genuine concerns and will be addressed by the government.
“A communiqué of Stakeholders’ Meeting on the Implementation of the Recommendations of the Presidential Panel on the Reform of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) said:
“Following the public protests regarding various forms of human rights violations by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and the consequent disbandment of the unit by the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, there arose the need for stakeholder engagement to build trust and restore public confidence in law enforcement.
“The agitations also brought to the fore, the need to implement the recommendations of the Presidential Panel on the Reform of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
“The Forum was addressed by the Inspector General of Police and the Executive Secretary of the National Human Rights Commission.
Perhaps the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu acted without tact when immediately after the scrapping of SARs, he announced a new body, Special Weapons And Tactical Team,SWAT, which the protesters perceived as old wine in a new bottle or SARs with a new name. The protests did not stop. The protesters added the #EndSWAT after a perceived attempt to hoodwink them.
Funding the Protests
There have been claims and counter-claims about how the protests are being funded. The protesters are being fed, sheltered, entertained and made comfortable in many ways. They even have a medical team attending to them. So much about their funding is shrouded in mystery but one of the protesters Bibian Chinenye tweeted: “ They thought protesters would get discouraged by their silence and disperse, but the numbers and locations have been increasing.
They thought we’d run out of cash, but we raised over ¦ 26million in less than 1 week. They shut down the Flutterwave link and we raised over ¦ 1million worth of bitcoins in an hour.
“They thought we’d get exhausted or fall sick, but we raised a team of medical personnel and even got ambulances for emergency.
They thought that arresting us would make us cower, but we mobilised a team of over 600 lawyers across the country to provide free legal services.
They thought that hunger would send us home, but protesters are literally having buffet services back to back. Small chops, rice, pasta, ¹wà agoyín, pizza, asun and drinks.
“They thought that using water canons, throwing tear gas and shooting at us would make us become violent, but we remained calm. They also thought that sending thugs to attack us would make us lose our cool, but we beat up the thugs, fed them, sent some to the hospital, arrested and handed the rest over to the police. They thought that destroying our cars and phones would make us retreat, but people are getting their cars and phones fixed at little or no cost. They thought that subtle threats of distorting the internet would shake us, but we immediately made plans for VPNs. They thought that the rain would scatter us, but we immediately ordered raincoats and umbrellas.
They thought that the football weekend would be a major distraction, but we created a stadium at Lekki toll gate and will be bringing football live to the protesters. Is there anything impossible for us to do? At this point, it’s a #WeDieHere situation and the government is left with no choice but to address our concerns.”
Reacting to the protests, Conference of Nigeria Political Parties, CNPP urged President Muhammadu Buhari to address the nation and calm nerves amidst the ongoing #SARSMustEnd protest spreading across the country.
The 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.
Replacing SARs with SWAT not the solution —Aisabor
Also reacting, an Assistant Inspector General of Police (Rtd), Mr. Ambrose Aisabor opined that disbanding SARS was not the solution to the problem.
AIG Aisabor emphasised the need for training and retraining of the officers to make the work effective.
“There is no need for ending SARS and replacing it with Special Weapon and Tactic (SWAT), without training and retraining, it is just a change of name. I think there is ulterior motive and that is why they are still protesting,” he said.
Beyond SARS, SWAT, we need state Police now —Ekweremadu
Also reacting to the disbandment of the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and proposed setting up of the Special Weapons and Tactical Team (SWAT), Ekweremadu said that the Federal Government was still addressing the symptoms rather than the real illness.
In a statement Ekweremadu said: “The ongoing street protests over the excesses of elements in the Nigeria Police did not come to me as a surprise. As a matter of fact, I had always known, and warned severally that a day would come when Nigerians would no longer tolerate the worsening insecurity in the land and the excesses of those charged with protecting lives and property.
“The problem with our policing and the attendant insecurity and excesses are engraved, majorly located in Section 214 (1) of the 1999 constitution, which provides that ‘There shall be a police force for Nigeria, which shall be known as the Nigeria Police Force, and subject to the provisions of this section, no other police force shall be established for the Federation or any part thereof’.
“It is also worsened by Section 215 (2), which goes further to declare that ‘The Nigeria Police Force shall be under the command of the Inspector-General of Police and contingents of the Nigeria Police Force stationed in a state shall, subject to the authority of the Inspector-General of Police, be under the command of the Commissioner of Police of that state.
“This informed my Bill for the Creation of State Police with adequate provisions in the mode of financing, control, and appointments of the high commands of such state police services to insulate them from any forms of abuse and give citizens roles in the various State Police Service Commissions. Unfortunately, this has not received the requisite political support. I call on the President and political stakeholders, once more, to seize the opportunity of the widespread demands for police reforms by Nigerians to do the right thing, addressing the structural challenges.
“Nigeria is the only federal state with a unitary police. It has never worked anywhere. It is not working here and it will never work.
“Therefore, whether we call it SARS or SWAT, we will only be addressing the symptoms instead of the diseases until we decentralize policing to allow citizens and the states take charge of the security of lives and properties of its people. This is the more reassuring way of addressing the mounting challenges of corruption, excesses, indiscipline, abuse, inadequate and poorly-motivated manpower as well as lack of equipment and security infrastructure currently bedevilling policing in Nigeria”.
There are genuine cause for protests —Uzodinma
In his reaction, Imo State governor, Hope Uzodinma said:”When you started this protest we met and found out that your protest and grievances are genuine and therefore must be addressed.
“It is not only disbanding SARs is the solution. This protest has provided an opportunity for government to look inward and look at the activities of the Nigeria police vis-a-vis, the welfare and activities of the Nigeria police; whether they are getting the desired training deserving of them. I want you to hold me responsible for that. I can assure you that this matter will be addressed. Nobody will ignore the grievances of the youths. If you ignore the youths of any nation, you have destroyed that nation. One thing I assure is that this matter will be taken very seriously. Go about your businesses in manner nobody will molest you.”
Hold Buhari by his words —Wike
In Rivers State, when protesters defied Governor Wike’s order not to protest in his state, he bowed when the #EndSARS protesters insisted that he should come out to address them after hours of siege at the entrance of Rivers State Government House Port Harcourt.
He said: “When I talked about it, they said it was politics. Today, everyone has seen it. Since Buhari has pledged a total reform of SARS, let’s hold him to his words. I’m not for SARS, they can’t be my friend. I also want a total reform”.