By Oludayo Tade
AFTER years of agonising over their brutality and killing by the (now disbanded) Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS, a tactical unit of the Nigeria Police formed in 1992 to fight robbery and other violent crimes, Nigerian youth organised themselves through a protest that was well co-ordinated and organised through deployment of technology, leadership and administrative sagacity.
It was popularly known as the #ENDSARS protest. The protest was about holding the police institution to account for taking the youth and by extension Nigerians for a ride for a long time. They made this happen between October 8 and 20, 2020 starting in Lagos and spreading to other southern states while few states in northern Nigeria joined.
Their message was to end police brutality using SARS as the signpost of what a tactical unit ought not to be. They were not violent. They sang, cleaned the streets and raised money for the vulnerable they met on their way. In fact, they provided food for some traffic wardens who wanted to run away when they saw the protesters coming towards them.
They were not on the streets to repay evil with evil; their goal was different: they wanted justice and compensation for victims of police brutality, effective governance system in Nigeria that would address problems of unemployment and poverty and also demanded enhanced welfare for the police.
The protest was both online and offline with thousands on ground and millions online globally holding the banner of soro soke to raise their voices against the docility of their parents who belong to the ‘off-the-microphone’ generation that allowed degeneration of the country into its comatose present.
State sponsored thugs and infiltrators were identified and ejected from the purposeful protest march. After delayed response from the state and attacks on peaceful protesters by sponsored state agents, the protesters became more organised in their resolve to get the state to listen. But the character of our state is one which does not listen to peaceful people or encourage democratic engagements.
The youth presented their demands through Lagos Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu who ran to Abuja to present it to President Muhammadu Buhari. They insisted that their demands must be met before leaving the streets. Aso Rock could not stomach such audacity to constituted authority.
And on October 20, 2020 the ‘forces beyond our direct control’ shot at Lekki protesters leaving many injured and others claimed to have been felled by the bullets of ‘unknown soldiers’. ENDSARS protesters succeeded in getting SARS disbanded but SARS was a microcosm of the policing system and this explains why brutality and extortion have not abated.
It is now a year after that protest and we seem not to have learnt anything or nothing seemed to have improved. A few days ago, a video trending showed a police officer assaulting a passenger with what Nigerians would call ‘dirty slap’ somewhere in Kogi State. They were led by an Assistant Superintendent of Police and extorted N25, 000 from their victim.
Those who challenged them were threatened with death with a shameless police officer in the video going up and down and shouting down on helpless Nigerians. Many of these cases still happen across the country on and off the streets.
In my research on ENDSARS protests, participants shared the reasons for participating in the protest. Some had been direct victims while many knew those who had been victimised by police officers.
Morenike is one of those who shared her experience with me. “My fiancée was almost arrested on his way from work because he had his laptop with him. His bag was seized and kept in their (Police) van while their boss looked on. He kept shouting and making lots of noise which attracted lots of persons.
It was when they realised he was a lawyer he was given his bag and told to go. Also, while coming back from work he was making a video of SARS officers harassing some youths and his phone was seized from behind.
They also went as far as putting him in their van and claimed they were taking him to the station. One of the officers wanted to unlock his phone to delete the videos and saw that he was a lawyer. They, however, made him transfer N10,000 before he was released.”
Another person is Sanya who said police extorted money from his friend. “A friend of mine was once arrested just because he uses an I-phone and was ‘fresh’, even after they couldn’t prove he was into anything illegal.
He still had to be bailed with N20k”. Gbemi is the third who shared what happened to her friend. “They (police/SARS) once told my friend that because she has big back side she has to be doing asewo (prostitute) work and be sleeping with yahoo boys because they’ll be the only ones able to pay fee of big girl like her and told her other friend to pull up her gown cause they were not sure if she was putting on any panties!!!! They had to settle with 50k”.
Since that brutal clampdown on Lekki protesters on October 20, 2020, the victims of police brutality are yet to get justice. It was Governor Sanwo-Olu while reacting to the infamous Lekki shooting who said “this is the toughest night of our lives as forces beyond our direct control have moved to make dark notes in our history”.
Till date, this dark notes are still boldly written with the blood of over 70 persons who died during the ENDSARS protests, 22 of whom were policemen still cry for justice.
Lagos, the epicentre of the protest suffered losses estimated at over one trillion naira. About twenty-nine states have submitted the report of their panels of enquiry set up to probe cases of human rights abuses and brutality of the police to government for implementation. As justice gets delayed, new persons become victims of police brutality and citizens continue to lose trust in government.
To what extent has government improved on the welfare of the police as demanded by the protesters? When will justice be served on the victims so that Nigerians can trust their government?
Nigerians continue to cry for justice as forces beyond our control are allowed by the state to write dark notes in our history. Justice nurtures social order and progress while injustice breeds disorder and stifles development.
I celebrate the soro soke generation urging them not to lose sight of future struggles to get an egalitarian Nigeria where the children of the masses will not be sidelined for not knowing somebody.
Dr . Tade, a sociologist sent this piece via email@example.com