By Ozioruva Aliu
Dennis Osaretin is a lawyer and an activist who was active during the EndSARS protest in Edo State.
He was Lead Counsel for some EndSARS protesters at the Edo EndSARS Tribunal. In this interview, he speaks on the attitude of the police one year after the protests, findings of EndSARS panels and why government must implement its recommendations.
One year after #EndSARS protests, do you think it was worth it?
The EndSARS protest has become a reference point of what the average Nigerian youth can do if we put aside all those elements that divide us as a people.
For once, the average Nigerian did not think about where he comes from, his religion or political persuasion; they stood up together in one voice to demand for certain things.
Whether these things have been met is another kettle of fish but I can assure you that a lot have changed since that time.
READ ALSO: EndSARS Anniversary: Human rights activist, Eholor drags Police to ECOWAS Court over alleged assault
If you want us to do another protest today, I will be glad to be a part of such movement so I think the EndSARS protest has come a long way to become a reference point of what Nigerian youths can do.
Why do you think the protest was hijacked?
For such a monumental protest that had no leadership structure, of course you would certainly see some setbacks and distractions.
It has never happened before in our recent history except maybe the protests against the annulment of the June 12 1993 presidential election.
Mind you, those who didn’t like the dimension of the protest also sponsored counter-protests just to give it a bad name. They made efforts just to hijack and derail the course of the protest.
So the only way they could probably cast the movement in bad light was for them to hijack it. But I still believe very strongly that it was some elements who didn’t want the system to change that sponsored a counter movement to hijack that protest.
They succeeded to some extent because it became violent. People started looting but the genuine EndSARS protesters did not take part in the looting or in the mayhem that came along.
We had the genuine protesters and we also had the criminal elements that were sponsored to come and give the entire protest a bad name and unfortunately, they succeeded.
My regret is that we couldn’t manage our successes and there was no leadership structure for the movement or rules on how the protest should be. We shouldn’t have used the same methodology for that long because we didn’t know it was going to last long.
We didn’t have plans for the different phases of the protest but I believe with the benefit of hindsight, if we are to hold such a protest again, I think we will do it differently.
Has any lesson been learnt particularly on the part of the Nigeria Police against whom the protest was planned?
Obviously the police have not learnt anything because one of the major agenda of the protest was total reform of the Nigeria Police Force.
I can tell you from a practitioner’s point of view that the police are worse off today because they don’t want the system to change.
If the system changes, many of them will be asked to go home because they are not fit to adorn the uniform that the taxpayers have bought for them.
They are not fit to bear arms or earn salaries from our tax money so they want the system to remain the way it is so that they can get away with a lot of the atrocities they are committing.
The police sadly still remain as bad as it was when the EndSARS was held. For example, police still collect money for bail; they still arrest indiscriminately and go on illegal road blocks and subject Nigerian youths to all forms of inhuman treatment.
They still search through their phones; they still arrest people just by the way they look without any form of investigation; they have even become more brazen.
Without their uniform, they will arrest people on the highway and take them to POS machines to withdraw money. They have become more daring and bold.
They only retarded for a little while and then came back with full force with a lot more dexterity to conceal their evil machination which is the sad reality after the EndSARS protest.
How would you assess the various EndSARS panels across the country?
For me, the setting up of the panels was one of the low hanging fruits or the positive outcome of the protests because for once, the Nigerian government listened to the yearnings or the demands of its people.
One of the demands of the protest which I was part of in Benin City, was that a panel should be set up to conduct investigation into all incidences of abuses and then make recommendations to government.
The Federal Government approved that demand and the state governors implemented it.
For example, in Edo State where I was part of the movement, the governor set up that panel and we even got to a point where we demanded that the panel should be enlarged and the governor acceded to our demands by expanding the panel and included major stakeholders in the EndSARS protest to be part of the panel.
The panel did a very brilliant job; they conducted hearing day to day even to their own detriment. Some of them had to cut short their Christmas and New Year holidays just to ensure that they were able conduct their sitting and hearing in public, took evidence from citizens and came up with a very brilliant report that I feel the government needs to issue a white paper on and begin its implementation fast.
The only issue I have now is that the Edo State Government has not taken any bold initiative to commence the process of implementation but thank God, the Federal Government has now issued a directive by way of a press release emanating from the National Economic Council meeting that the government should start the immediate implementation of these reports.
The governors have refused to take this initiative from the Federal Government and start their own implementation.
The Federal Government is the owner of the police, they are the ones managing the police so if they want to be sincere, they should start with immediate reform of the police; allow for state police so that the governors themselves can have some measure of disciplinary powers over their own police structure unlike the current over-centralisation of the police.
That is one of the areas I think the Federal Government also need to be creative about. We are using this medium of the anniversary to call on the stakeholders to mount more pressure on the various state actors.
They must stop paying lip service to the issues that border on police brutality because it affects everybody irrespective of class and status.
What is your position on the refusal by the police to honour summons issued by the panel?
That was another moment for me because I was a protester and also one of those lawyers that volunteered pro bono services. There was an incident involving a student of Auchi Polytechnic that was shot by army and police officers.
There was also another one that was shot in Ekpoma by a policeman. Despite having video evidence of the shooting and the overwhelming evidence that we had before the panel, summons were issued to the army, they did not come.
Summons were issued to the police and they refused to appear to state their own side of the story. One very sad incident happened in the panel when a member who is a police officer was trying to make defence for the police until he was called to order by other members of the panel.
But the good thing is that whether they came or not, as long as they were given the opportunity to state their own case, the panel went ahead to give its recommendations.
All the government needs to do is to issue a white paper and then we will do our job with that document. I can assure you that all those officers indicted will be brought to book.
We can commence legal action against them by way of an order of mandamus. We can also by way of public interest, write a petition to the UN, to various embassies, human rights organisations around the world to ensure prosecution of those indicted.
I can assure you that by the time we mount pressure locally and internationally, all of them will be brought to book. The world has become a global village and the standard of justice is the same.