The Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development (CEHRD) has been observing a dangerous trend and pattern in Police brutality and corruption in Nigeria. The ongoing protests by the youths all over the country is the cumulative consequence and evidence of reactions to police brutality nationwide. The protest was borne out of the fact that the authorities could not suppress the menace of Police brutality and bad governance any longer. The protesting youths started on the premise of citizens’ grievances against the Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). The SARS had become notorious for harassing, extra-judicial killings, extortion, torture, framing, blackmailing, arm robbery, motor vehicle theft, kidnapping and rape of women, etc. However, in terms of the subsisting protests, SARS typifies ‘bad governance’, suppression, inequality, intimidation, unemployment and mismanagement of resources.
The Nigerian Federal authority was constrained by the protest to disband SARS but was swift to replace it with Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT). The dramatic swap of SARS for SWAT has attracted more condemnation and further protests by citizens as it is only the emptying of an old wine into a new bottle. The protests took a new dimension as protesting youths traced the root of Police brutality to government corruption. They allege that successive corrupt governments that careless about the youths and the general welfare of the citizenry have mortgaged by their future. The youths, across Nigeria, have decided to protest until all their demands are met.
Amnesty International in its tweets on October 20, 2020 opines that “so far, Nigerian Police has killed at least 10 people since the start of protests against callous operations of SARS”. This tweet was made the same day, that soldiers disabled CCTV cameras at the Lekki Toll gate in Lagos and shot at peaceful protesters who were carrying the Nigerian flag and singing the National Anthem in honour of the country, while demanding for good governance. This twist represents one of the ugliest brutal blows on innocent citizens, who are peacefully expressing their democratic rights to ensure a better country for everyone, irrespective of class or status. The courageous youths who have been murdered in the course of the ongoing peaceful protests are heroes and martyrs of our time. It is highly condemnable and unacceptable that soldiers who are maintained with tax payers money could kill innocent youth-protesters whom they are meant to protect.
CEHRD is calling on the President of the Federal Government of Nigeria to:
- Personally address the Nigerian people to reinforce the commitment of his government to respect the rule of law, citizens’ rights and good governance
- Uphold the constitutional right of citizens to peaceful protest
- Dialogue with the youths with a view to meeting the demands of the genuine protesters/youths
- Protect citizens/protesters and cease any form of harassment or violation of their rights
- Immediately take steps to engender holistic reforms of the Nigeria Police Force, and bring all perpetrators of police brutality to justice, while victims of state brute force are compensated adequately.
- Reduce cost of governance and fight corruption in the system to the letter
- Ensure the equality of all Nigerians
- Create conducive environment for youth entrepreneurship and job creation, and promote fair distribution of the national wealth
- Ensure that all officers accused of human rights violations are brought to justice and implement the 2017 Anti-Torture Act.
CEHRD supports the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) bid to set up independent investigation panel on SARS.
CEHRD is also calling on the youths to:
- Develop a comprehensive list of demands with specified timelines
- Ensure their protests are entirely peaceful; resist attempts by hoodlums to hijack the peaceful protects.
- Roll out coordinated strategies to effectively and peacefully engage the government on their genuine demands.
- Propose realistic solutions to the authorities and hold them accountable.
- Engage with CSOs who can help them with effective mediation process and hence put an end to the crisis as soon as possible.
CEHRD condemns any form of Police brutality and bad governance. We call on the international community, particularly the UN and ECOWAS, to intervene without delay by prevailing on the Nigerian State to adopt civility in addressing the demands of the ongoing protests to forestall escalation.
Dr. David Vareba, Head, Human Rights and Governance