…‘Instead of addressing demands, they are busy arresting, profiling protesters’
By Funmi Ajumobi
Activist, Aisha Yesufu, in this exclusive interview, speaks on the clampdown on #EndSARS protesters, saying Nigerians should not be silent in the face of what she describes as intimidation of young people by government.
She also shares her perspective on ongoing inquiry into the activities of the disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS, the outcome of which she believes would be a nullity so long as President Muhammadu Buhari fails to constitute National Human Rights Commission Governing Council.
What do you make of the clampdown on #EndSARS protesters?
The arrests just showed how insincere Nigerian government is. Imagine the President’s countenance on camera when Lagos State governor presented the five-point demand to him.
Protesters were killed before, during and after the protests, but there is no sincerity on the part of government. Their action says more. Many people still ask why the protesters remained on the streets when government said they had accepted their demands. But I need to remind them that the Nigerian government lies. There is nothing this government says that is trustworthy.
In 2017, SARS was disbanded. In 2018, 2019, and 2020, the outfit was disbanded. It shows that government has never been sincere regarding SARS. In 2018, the President set up a panel to look into the allegations of human rights abuses and police brutality. In 2019, they brought out their findings and reported to the President.
The President said within months, government was going to implement the recommendations. It is 17 months after the report was given to him and nothing has been done. When #EndSARS protesters stayed on the streets, they knew that this government is always saying one thing and doing another thing.
Amid all these, protesters were the ones who showed leadership. Yes, they didn’t have the traditional type of leadership we are used to, but they displayed organisational skills which is leadership. On October 11, 2020, the Inspector General of Police, IGP, said he had disbanded SARS. On the same day, the #EndSARS protesters brought out their five demands. On October 19, they explained how government can implement the demands because they knew government was not showing leadership other than mere rhetoric and blaming the protesters.
Since the arrests of protesters and those termed promoters have continued, what do you make of the situation?
Instead of implementing the demands of #EndSARS, government is arresting and profiling them. They are going after them and seizing their passports. The accounts of many of them were blocked long before any court injunction. They went as far as going to their houses to pick them. Some were picked for just being in a WhatsApp group. This is the persecution that is going on.
The youths demanded in their presentation to the National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, to have Governing Council because, without Governing Council, the legality of all these panels set up will be questioned. Of what use is it for people to go through pains of testifying, relieving their pains and the horror they went through in the hands of SARS and people are indicted but, at the end of the day, nothing would come out of it just because the legality of the panel is in question.
They also asked that those who have been indicted by the first panel to be prosecuted. There are police officers and SARS members who have been indicted but they have not been prosecuted. One of them allegedly tortured Hassan Alfa to death in 2014 in Kano. He has been promoted and he is in Abuja. There is a systemic abuse that the Nigerian government doesn’t want to address. Instead, government is actively supportive of the abuse.
Today, we have seen what the Police meant when they tell you they will kill you and nothing will happen. “I will waste you and nothing will happen,” is their common phrase. Indeed, nothing will happen because the people who came out and cried to their government are being killed under the cover of darkness. What happened? The absence of sincerity of purpose on the side of government was the reason youths decided to continue the protest in the face of attacks.
On the roads
EndSARS protesters were on the roads because they were being killed. Even when government said they were meeting their demands, thugs were brought to attack protesters. They used police to attack protesters. They also used the military to attack protesters. Thugs were carried around in Abuja in vehicles belonging to security agencies.
In Lagos, they attacked protesters at Alausa. Some of the protesters were able to get the attackers and handed them over to the Police, but they refused to arrest them because they actually supervised them. Of course, as I said earlier, government lacks the sincerity of purpose and the protesters wanted to see action and not mere rhetoric. As I speak today, there has not been any action from government.
Threatening young Nigerians
We should all call on government to stop threatening young Nigerians. Government is going after young Nigerians who said they wanted the right to live. Why the threat from government? Why are Nigerian citizens keeping quiet? When things are happening to other people, they look the other way because they think they will not be victims. Indeed, they will be victims. In 2015, members of the Shi’ite group were killed by the army, Nigerians looked the other way and the Police still kill them.
Indigenous People of Biafra, IPoB, members have consistently been killed by the Police and military, Nigerians look the other way. Now, it is #EndSARS protesters that are being persecuted by the Police and the military, Nigerians are looking the other way. They will come after every one of us because when we do nothing, we are emboldening them to continue to behave in that brazen manner.
READ ALSO: UK responds to #ENDSARS petition against FG
Nigerian government has no business persecuting citizens who did the right thing by coming out to make a demand in peaceful manners. The terrorists who are killing us, who attack the Nigerian states, are being given amnesty and state pardon. They are being fed, catered for and taken to government houses, but citizens who came out to peacefully say these are our demands, are the ones being killed. I think every Nigerian citizen should be sick and tired of that.
Panels of inquiry
I said earlier that the legality is being questioned since the National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, doesn’t have a governing council for five years. When will Nigerian journalists ask Buhari why so many things are not happening? The journalists do not have access to the President. Why are we allowing this to happen in a democracy?
These are some of the things journalists need to ask about. Why is it that we do not have a governing council at the National Human Rights Commission for five years? Other panels have been set up and nothing has happened. Who is in control of the Police and the military? We saw what happened when the panel wanted to check the military morgue at the Military Hospital in Lagos. They were denied access. It is something to worry about.
What do you make of threats of further protests and IGP’s order to the Police to use legal force?
Absolutely, we the older generations are cowards. When we were threatened, we ran away and that is why we are having the problem we are having today. When people were coming out to protest, what did government do? They began to attack them, persecute them, kill them and everyone will keep quiet as if nothing happened.
That is why the problem continued. Government cannot mess up with this generation. They need to understand that. They are calling them coconut head generation and they are not giving up, no matter the attacks on them. For me, they have the right to protest. Government does not have the right to arrest them. The Inspector-General of Police should be ashamed of himself. He sat down in his office while his men were being killed in Borno. He didn’t give an order to his squad to go to Sambisa Forest or where Shekau is and arrest him. On the issue of peaceful protesters, he was telling his men to shoot them. Is that what the constitution asked him to do? There is a difference between rioters and protesters. We must stop blaming the victims rather than the perpetrators. Security agents have no business shooting at peaceful protesters. What they should be doing is to protect them. Recall that Buhari’s running mate, Dr. Chuba Okadigbo, died as a result of police brutality.
They went to Kano where they were teargassed by the Police and that was what led to Okadigbo’s death. Buhari has not learned from that experience. Up until now, I have not seen him honour the late Okadigbo, who was with him at the rally. Today, he is in power as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. He is sending policemen and the military to brutalise protesters, and destroy their properties. Who does that? The disruption of the #EndSARS protests was started by the Police.
On October 10, 2020, when the Police were shooting at us, they used knives to cut and destroy our tyres.
These are youths government did not provide livelihood for and youths they did not give a nation that they can be proud of. They are only fighting that they should be allowed to live. As older citizens of Nigeria, we should cover our faces because we have really failed the youths of this country. And now that they are being killed, instead of us to stand up, people are blaming them for protesting.
Are you not afraid that anything can happen to them?
Why should something happen to them? Why should government arrest them? People should be outraged and not afraid. People should be calling out government. This silence is why these things are going on. Are they not citizens of Nigeria?
Did the constitution not allow for protest? Why are we not calling on government to stop arresting peaceful protesters? Why is government not arresting Boko Haram, bandits and kidnappers? Why are they not arresting killer herdsmen? Why are they arresting peaceful and innocent protesters? Nigerians think nothing will happen to them because they pray. They forgot that the last victim also prayed.
I always tell people that yesterday’s victims were once survivors. Today’s victims were yesterday survivors, and tomorrow’s victim will be today’s survivor. The question is: Who is next? Being a victim in Nigeria is no longer a matter of if, it is a matter of when.
The next family that police will kill their child will come out and start crying because they didn’t know it can happen to them. The #EndSARS protesters are coming out to protest so that other families will not feel the pains. Most of the people who are protesting were once victims. In the words of Lawrence Osborne, this #EndSARS protest is a protest for survival.
It is not a protest of empathy that we used to have. Instead of being afraid that something will happen to them, they should join them in calling out government to do the needful so that we won’t have police brutality and we will not have another family just like the father of the 20-year-old that was killed in Port-Harcourt. They don’t want other families to go through that. It is not that they don’t have work to do as some people insinuate. Most of them are business owners, some are entrepreneurs, some have worked in the system that didn’t work and have been able to carve a niche for themselves. They are not hungry people.
You refer to the #EndSARS protesters as “they” and not “we”. Are you not part of them?
I am a huge supporter but it was done by the youths. They organised it. The beauty of it is that I don’t want it to be taken away from them. In the early days of the protest, I refused to talk to journalists about its because the youths own it.
I started talking about it when I saw that government was trying to change the narrative. I am a huge supporter of #EndSARS protesters but I wasn’t one of the organisers. I went out on October 8, 2020, to join the protest and when they were being attacked by the Police, Oby Esekwesili, I and Maureen went to see the Police to ask why they were attacking peaceful protesters.
On October 10, I was there and came to the front when the Police wanted to attack them, telling them to shoot me first. For me, they really made Nigeria proud and they really showed they are leaders through their organisation. Their logistics were amazing. I wish I had such in my organization and we must give them the credit.
Message to youths
I am proud of them. Government has the whole force but the youths have the technology, intelligence, and social media. They should use it strategically. They should ensure that they are not cowards. They should ensure that they ‘Soro Soke,” stand and keep moving because the greatest power of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed. And they should not give their minds to the oppressor we have in power in Nigeria.
Government should begin to act the way government should be. The primary responsibility of government is to protect lives and property. And any government that cannot protect the lives and property of its citizen is not fit to be a government. Government should know that they owe the citizens the right to protect them and they should also know that the youths are not the enemy. Those bandits and terrorists using arms against Nigeria are the enemies.
They should stop attacking the youths and also know that nobody infiltrated #EndSARS, it is the thugs that were brought in by government that attacked# EndSARS. They should know that weaponising illiteracy and poverty is not a good thing. They need to stop. The media should be outraged.