The combined effect of sections 39 and 40 of the 1999 Constitution as well as Article 11 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, unfurled that the right to freedom of expression and right to assemble freely. Hence, the right to assemble freely cannot be violated without violating the fundamental right to peaceful assembly and association. Today, I’ve read about so many protests, many stories of protests from the book of history. First, I have read about the Aba Women’s Riots, which unfurled at period of unrest in British Nigeria over November 1929. The protests of which broke out when thousands of Igbo women from the Bende District, Umuahia and other places in eastern Nigeria traveled to the town of Oloko to protest against the Warrant Chiefs, whom they accused of restricting the role of women in the government. is more aptly considered a strategically executed anti-colonial revolt organised by women to redress social, political and economic grievances. I’ve also read about the Abeokuta Women’s Revolt also dubbed as the Egba Women’s Tax Riot. It was a resistance movement led by the Abeokuta Women’s Union (AWU) in the late 1940s against the imposition of unfair taxation by the Nigerian colonial government. The women of Abeokuta believed that, under colonialism, their economic roles were declining, while their taxes were increasing. Additionally, they argued that until they were granted representation in local government, they should not be required to pay taxes.
More recently is the Occupy Nigeria Protest of 2012, it was a socio-political protest movement that began in Nigeria in January 2012 in response to the fuel subsidy removal by the Federal Government of President Goodluck Jonathan on Sunday, 1 January 2012. Protests took place across the country, including in the cities of Kano, Ojota ( -part of metropolitan Lagos ), Abuja, Minna, and at the Nigerian High Commission in London. The protests have been characterised by civil disobedience, civil resistance, strike actions, demonstrations and online activism.
Yes today again, it seems history is repeating itself, as Nigeria is currently under the siege of a national protest. It’s dubbed the ENDSARS/ENDSWAT protest. ENDSARS of which was recently disolved and remodeled into SWAT. The End Special Anti-Robbery Squad (End SARS) is a social movement in Nigeria that first started on Twitter, calling for banning of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, a unit of the Nigerian Police Force. True, It is obviously a call to end police oppression and brutality in Nigeria. The protests started as a social media campaign using the hashtag #ENDSARS to demand for Nigeria’s government to scrap and end the deployment of Nigeria Police Force Special Anti-Robbery Squad, popularly known as SARS. Intriguingly, within a weekend of 9th to 11th October, 2020, the #ENDSARS hashtag had up to 28 million tweets.
Blatantly, Nigerians have shared both stories and video evidence of how members of SARS engaged in kidnapping, murder, theft, rape, torture, unlawful arrests, high-handedness, humiliation, unlawful detention, extrajudicial killings, and extortion. They are not taking it easy with the Nigerian Police Force.
Apparently, it has been seen and experienced that SARS officers profiles youths largely based on appearance; mount illegal road blocks, stop and search, arrest without warrant, rape women, extort young Nigerians for driving exotic vehicles and using iPhones. While some claimed victory as the Nigerian Police Force dissolved the Special Anti-Robbery Squad on Sunday, October 11, 2020, others noted similar promises had been made in recent years and the government planned to reassign SARS officers rather than eliminate them entirely. The government has continued to repress protests with lethal force despite the announcement. Little do I know why the Amnesty International accused the SARS officials 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. In recent times also, some have been talk of reforms of the force, instead of full disbandment. Yet, the campaigners are not agreeing to reforms, they are vehemently moving from social media to organized peaceful protects in various Nigerian cities, from Abuja to Lagos to Ibadan to Osun to Ogbomosho to Benin to Ilorin to Kaduna to Owerri and many more, promising to continue if the government refused to disband the force.
Today, we can look back and lament over the pains the Special Anti-Robbery Squad has caused Nigerians since 2016 or even since establishment. A 2016 Amnesty International report showed how SARS officers frequently detained, tortured, and extorted young Nigerians. The report exposed detention facilities in Abuja, Enugu, and Anambra, where victims were tormented and coerced into confessing to crimes they did not commit. Again, I read a disgusting story of oppression of Abdulahi Zachari, one of the popular victims of SARS. He and his brother were detained by SARS in Abuja and were tortured and forced to admit to being robbers. He narrated how they were asked us to lie down and were beaten with rods all over their bodies. They were telling them to admit that we were armed robbers. While they kept denying it. Abdulahi’s injuries were so severe that he spent weeks in the hospital after his release.
The abuse of power displayed by SARS officers does not stop at unlawful arrests and extortion but has evolved into murder. Still in the same vein is how the Medical personnel have also shared in this pickle. Medical doctors have described how members of the anti-robbery unit shoot their victims and cover their tracks at the hospital. There was the story of Kingsley Umebinyuo, a medical practitioner at the University of Abuja teaching hospital, reveals how SARS operatives visit the hospital every week demanding death certificates for their victims. Bringing in dead bodies for death certificate. In his words, “Any night I am on call, I sight SARS police officers bringing in dead bodies for death certificates. Sometimes they come in more than once in a night with these bodies,” he tells me. SARS officers often deny involvement in the death, yet know too many details.” More pathetically, Amnesty International again documented at least 82 cases of torture, extrajudicial killings, extortion and rape by SARS between January 2017 and May 2020. According to their report, victims held in SARS custody have been subjected to “mock execution, beating, punching and kicking, burning with cigarettes, waterboarding, near-asphyxiation with plastic bags, forcing detainees to assume stressful bodily positions and sexual violence.” Arrests and cases are rarely investigated. Despite the fact that Nigeria criminalized torture in 2017, no SARS officer has been convicted.
You see them dressed in mufti, they drive around streets in questionably unmarked vans. They accuse would-be victims of being criminals either because such young people are carrying laptops or phones, or for their physical appearance. More worrisome, Techcabal reported about Yele Badamosi. A sufferer of SARS. He runs a venture capital firm that has invested more than $200,000 in 14 early-stage African companies (most are Nigerian). But when he was stopped by SARS officers on a fateful October evening in 2019 when he was barely two minutes from his home, none of that mattered. In his Twitter thread, he narrated about how they took his phones, wallet, house key, my Apple Watch, how they didn’t care about his ID cards and claimed he was a Yahoo Boy because he had messages on telegram with foreigners. More disgustingly, he narrated about how they demanded ₦1m from him, and yet made a “fake” phone call to their commander, and said he would sleep in cell. He also lamented how they forced him to open his US bank accounts and said he should transfer USD from his Bank of America account to his GTB. Yele unfurled how he cried and prayed because he didn’t know what to do and couldn’t understand why and how this was happening. Just imagine this?
Dear readers, it’s very blatant that terrifying experience has a wider implication for young people who depend on mobile devices and fintech apps for daily transactions. A SARS officer have always easily assume one is up to mischief when they see such apps on a phone, or chats with foreigners on your WhatsApp. To be safe, some people even say they delete their work and finance apps when they approach Police checkpoints. Now someone who is not clearly informed of the protest should understand the strategy that comes with this. Again, one will see the reason why protest organizers were clear about what they wanted, that SARS needed to be abolished. Many times In 2016, the World Internal Security and Police Index rated Nigeria’s police forces as the worst in the world. According to recent polls, Nigerians place the majority of the blame on police and government for high rates of human rights violations. For the last 25 years, the government’s response to calls for reform has been a running joke on the continent. Instead of providing better training and disciplining units guilty of abuses, successive Nigerian governments have instead responded with useless committees and panels. In 2006, President Olusegun Obasanjo set up the Danmadami police reform committee. Then, in 2008, President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua’s Presidential Committee on the Reform of the Nigerian Police was set up to investigate the implementation of previous recommendations. In 2017, the Nigerian Government also opened up another reform from SARS to FSARS. Still SARS didn’t change, they didn’t stop their brutality and Nigerians nor extrajudicial killings. And as abuses and impunity persist, Nigeria’s democracy has been dying in the darkness of government committee panels.
One should thus see the reason, for the fact that both the rich and the poor are the first hand victims of these SARS operatives, the energy and spirit of the Nigerian people is on display. On the ground, it has been Nigerian women and youth who have been the driving force of the protests. Nigerians around the world are also rallying around the #EndSars movement. Nigerian celebrities, including Yemi Alade, Adekunle Gold, Genevieve Nnaji, Jackie Aina, Ayo Balogun, David Adeleke have all been trouping out in numbers in the course of ending these brutality. Yet more, at the various scenes of peaceful assembly by these protesters, one can see that Nigerian youths are not bothered about taking the pain, protesting in solidarity and protesters placing themselves before storefronts to prevent looting and brawling at odds with the message of nonviolence. Even at this, they are still attacked by the Police Force. I have seen videos that showed police officers in recent protest using batons, tear gas, pepper spray and shooting on protesters, bystanders and journalists, often without warning or seemingly unprovoked. The footage, which has been shared widely online, highlighted the very complaints over police behavior that have drawn protests in at cities across the country. Obviously, we have also seen some of the campaigners that have been killed during these protest from Jimoh in Ogbomosho to another in Delta. It’s so pathetic that Policemen are not just cooperating.
Meticulously, one will wonder that as crowds began gathering again in cities on daily basis, one will observe that President Buhari have failed and resisted calls to address the tensions roiling the country. Instead he has used Twitter to sending us a needless recorded video, giving unacceptable excuses, and on some instances having personal meetings with some State Governors. Similarly, in many States of protest, State Governors and police chiefs have spent the day explaining, defending and promising full investigations into the actions of officers seen on the disturbing videos, and all. Police vehicles in recent have moved down city streets as phalanxes of officers in full riot gear fired clouds of noxious gas. Yet the show of force showed little sign that it would bring calm. Nigerian youths are not yet bothered, they want to see the end to SARS and Police brutality. It’s all evident in some overnight demonstrations at the Police head offices and legislative buildings have been supported by citizens mobilizing funds to feed themselves. The demand this time is not for reform. “END SARS Immediately” is the rallying cry. The echo appears to be catching attention in some of the places it is targeted towards. Even the global world is seeing this, Nigeria’s movement comes as protests demanding the protection of Black lives continue in the United States. At their core, the protests carry the same message: A country that allows state security agents to kill and abuse people with impunity is not a mature democracy. And, as in the United States, this is not the first time Nigerians have risen up against police brutality.
The campaigners’s movement has received a boost from several countries after many celebrities joined the advocacy. Last week, Friday, the #EndSARS hashtag was trending not only in Nigeria, but in the UK, Canada, and the United States. The hashtag has remained on Twitter’s Nigeria top 10 trend table since the weekend. British-Nigerian actor John Boyega voiced his support for the campaign, as did popular footballers like Marcos Rashford of Manchester United and Mesut Ozil of Arsenal. Anonymous, an international group of anonymous cyber-activists, has also joined in the campaign, even it was said that they already hacked the Police website this week. Even today government response has been bad to tolerate. In the disturbing footage taken by visitors at a hotel and posted on to social media on Saturday, armed officers of the SARS can be seen dragging two limp bodies from the hotel compound into the street before one of the men is shot. The video has sparked a deluge of footage and stories posted on to social media alleging recent atrocities and brutality by the notorious Sars unit, long accused of rampant abuses. Now, from Ogbomosho in Oyo to Surulere in Lagos to the nation’s capital and parts of many other states, protesters are calling for police reform and demanding an end to brutality. For the many day running, #EndSARS has been among the top trends on social media. Maybe the killing of a young man in Delta state and the brutalisation of another person in Lagos had triggered this unrest which made Mohammed Adamu, inspector-general of police, to dissolve the special anti-robbery squad (SARS) 48 hours after the youth trooped to the streets. Maybe!
Refusing to back down, the protesters said dissolving of SARS is just one out of the demands that they have. They vowed not to leave the streets until all other demands are met. Earlier on Tuesday, Femi Adesina, presidential spokesman, announced that presidential panel on on the reform of the special anti-robbery squad (SARS) had accepted the five-point demand of the #EndSARS protesters. Of which included the Immediate release of all arrested protesters, justice for all deceased victims of police brutality and appropriate compensations for their families, setting up an independent body to oversee the investigation and prosecution of all reported police misconduct within a period of 10 days, carrying out psychological evaluation and retaining of all disbanded SARS operatives before they can deployed (this should be verified by an independent body) and again that the government should increase police salary and they should adequately compensated for protecting lives and property of the citizens.
Over the past few days, there have been renewed calls for the scrapping the new SWAT of the Nigeria police force and that all the demands of the campaigners be met before the Protest could come to an halt. The President and his people have been promising, they have released some protesters, they are still promising to release more. They are promising, the dead victims and there families are yet to be vindicated. The Federal Government are still settling up the independent investigate body, they haven’t considered increasing the salaries of police. They are still promising. They are even restricting the activities of protesters in Abuja. You wonder? Now, Nigerian youths are frustrated and quite sober-minded. Look out to your window, they are watchful, they are fervently protesting, because their adversary, SARS/SWAT, the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. They are obviously resisting it, they are protesting against SWAT, they are firm in their faith, they are thus are glued to their demands, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by their brotherhood throughout the country. It’s necessary to meet this demand, it’s a start of a new thing in Nigeria. Here we go again!