November 11, 2020

How reformed is govt and her institutions after #EndSARS protests?


File photo

By Rotimi Fasan

Following last week’s commentary where I spoke about the absence of the Police from our communities and the kind of reform the Police needs going forward, I think it’s only fair that I report what has since happened.

I made yet another trip along the same route I talked about last week. Six hours or a little more this time both ways.

Whereas on that previous occasion the highways were shorn of police presence, now I can positively report that the Police are back. It was a return to the normal; the familiar sight that must have reassured many Nigerians that worried for their safety on the roads.

But the return of the Police, the familiarity of their presence was of a kind with the old type that predated the nationwide rage against them now nicknamed #ENDSARS. It was full of contempt. Police officers are back to the vomit of their usual pastime: corruption, marked by the demand for and the taking of bribes from road users.

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As in the past, their action was buoyed on the arrogance that came with the arms with which they are supposed to keep our communities safe. Plastered on the faces of these incorrigible crooks is the same cool but menacing look of a licensed bandit.

It is rather disheartening that after all the trauma of the last few weeks during which police personnel became subjects of national scrutiny and mortal attacks, it is shameful that they could so quickly go back to their despicable old ways. It is a very bad sign that nothing might have been achieved by the protests in spite of the expressed position of Nigerian politicians that they had heard the complaints of the people loud and clear.

In the case of the Police, their Inspector General, Muhammed Adamu, in a confidence-boosting gesture had advised them to defend themselves against the public. In what context our men and women of the Police Force are to defend themselves was not made clear.

But there is the possibility that these officers and men may have read the IG’s words as evidence that there was nothing wrong about their activities that justified the moral outrage they elicited from Nigerians.

Yet, the promised reform of the Police ought to take effect from their mental state that should be reorientated and directed towards honest and respectful discharge of their duties. This would in turn inspire a similar gesture from the public.

The Police, however, appear too set in their way to attempt any kind of reform, mental, moral or physical. Their boycott of duties and refusal or failure to obey lawful orders of the IG that they be withdrawn from guarding unauthorised persons misnamed VIP and VVIP, and to return to work after the attack on them, were early signs that nothing or very little would change without people putting the Police under constant watch.

Nigerians are a patient lot and would not mind waiting to see how things unfold in the days and weeks to come.

Looked at from a larger context, the Police may have taken their cue from Abuja itself. The All Progressives Congress-led government had in the rising heat of the protests agreed to meet all the five-point demands of the protesters including the scrapping of the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad, FSARS, and the reform of the Police as a whole.

Soon the demands would expand to a general overhaul of the machinery of governance as #ENDSARS transformed into a codename for bad leadership and governance in all ramification. Gripped by the fear of a popular upheaval, Abuja was prepared to do anything.

It hurriedly urged states across the country and the FCT to establish judicial panels of inquiry to investigate cases of human rights abuse against Nigerians by the defunct FSARS. At the same time, President Muhammadu Buhari and the governors of the 36 states urged Nigerians to take full advantage of the judicial panels set up in the states for the airing of their grievances.

Reports from these judicial centres are anything but encouraging with apparent underhand dealings and expression of bad faith by agents of government like the Army that are dragging their feet in a clear demonstration of disinterest in the activities of the judicial panels.

Perhaps, the worst expression of duplicity was displayed by Abuja through agencies like the Nigerian Immigration Service and the Central Bank. From available reports, a number of the #ENDSARS protesters, individuals and organisations that offered their services and expertise in the course of the youth-led siege are now persons or objects of interests to security agents.

These youth leaders and others are being hounded and their movement restricted without lawful orders of the courts.

It’s either passports are being seized while the Immigration Service play hide and seek with the travel documents of these Nigerians. Some of them are asked to make interminable visits to the offices of the Immigration Service without any charge being made against them.

The Central Bank, whose Governor, Godwin Emefiele, played a prominent role in the initial attempts of Abuja to browbeat the protesters, has on its own placed embargo on the accounts of supposed #ENDSARS leaders and sympathisers. These are draconian measures that are incompatible with democratic principles.

They are the ways of a government that is not accountable to the people. Abuja has been speaking from both sides of the mouth on the harassment of #ENDSARS sympathisers.

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While the President and his surrogates call on Nigerians to trust them and to give them time to deliver on their promises to the people, their agents are doing everything possible to undermine any trust in the government by their unlawful acts of intimidation.

The Nigerian state is still smarting from the temporary loss of power and face that accompanied the protests and is desperately looking for scapegoats. This move is neither wise nor considerate.

The same lack of emRS Protesrathy and disinterest in the plight of young Nigerians that led to the protests is again on full display in the detached rhetoric of government officials and the President who depends on pictures taken from the ground zero of the ENDSARS protests in Lekki to know what went down there.

There are increasing reports of pockets of protests here and there, and while these may lack the huge following and calibrated spontaneity of the #ENDSARS protests, they could be a smouldering fire that may yet engulf the land, a sign of dissatisfaction with the manner the youth grievances have been responded to. The ball is in the court of the government to deal straight and transparently without the tongue in cheek rhetoric that has characterised its conduct since the national protests and the mayhem that trailed them cooled off.

Vanguard News Nigeria