#ENDSARS: After bowing to pressure, has Government done enough?

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By Moses Adeniyi

What gradually began as a social media campaign spearheaded mainly by Nigerian youths across the Federation, has culminated to the end of the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigeria Police Force.

While speculations were posited on the possibilities of the Government ignoring the call which took a rising crescendo, the continuous acrimony however, and the hell bent protests by Nigerian youths, supported by celebrities, did not give luxury to the Government at this time to have its way by shying away from the popular campaign.

The Federal Government on Sunday bowed to the pressure of protests which was gradually degenerating towards the wall of a mass revolutionary movement, as the  Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, on Sunday announced the disbandment of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigeria Police Force.

According to the IGP, the operatives will be redeployed to other  formations and commands, within the Police Force. The IGP who made the announcement in a live broadcast on Sunday afternoon said: “The Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad of the Nigeria Police Force otherwise known as SARS is hereby dissolved in all the 36 State Police Commands and the Federal Capital Territory.”

Moreover, a follow-up statement by the Force Public Relations Officer, DCP, Frank Mba, titled, ‘IGP Dissolves The Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS)’  read: “In the finest spirit of democratic, citizen-centred and community policing, the Inspector-General of Police, IGP M.A Adamu, NPM, mni has today, 11th October, 2020, dissolved the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) across the 36 State Police Commands and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) where they hitherto existed.

“The IGP, while noting that the dissolution of SARS is in response to the yearnings of the Nigerian people, observes that by this dissolution, all officers and men of the now defunct Special Anti-robbery Squad are being redeployed with immediate effect.

“The IGP notes that the Force is not oblivious of the ever present need to combat armed robbery, kidnapping and other violent crimes in the country which was before now the core mandate of the erstwhile Squad.

“He assures that a new policing arrangement to address anticipated policing gaps the dissolution of SARS would cause has been evolved and shall be announced in due course.

“Meanwhile, as part of measures to prevent a re-occurrence of events that gave rise to the dissolution of SARS, a Citizens’ and Strategic Stakeholders’ Forum is being formed to regularly interface with Police leadership at all levels.”

Evolution of #ENDSARS movement as sprouting wide fire

The movement-like protest which lasted for days moved from outcry on social media to open street protest which took violent turn in some States, were clashes between Protesters and Policemen were recorded.

The resistance of irate youths in some areas across the Federation led to  showdowns with Police operatives which resulted into further brutalities, spurring bellicose demonstrations by angered protesters.

In the ancient city of Ogbomosho, Oyo State,  #ENDSARS protesters angered by Police brutality on protesters, took a violent attack by setting a Police station (Owode) ablaze over the killing of a man, Jimoh Isiaka, and other forms of brutalities against protesters by Police operatives.

Since the killing on Saturday,  demonstrations took a more belligerent form, with sporadic gunshots into the air by Police operatives, while  protesters and residents took to their heels for safety of dear life.

Similar violent response from Police operatives were recorded in Abuja on Sunday as Nigerian Police officers attached to the Unity Fountain, Abuja, took a blast on protesters, firing water cannons and tear gas to disperse the protesters campaigning for the disbandment of SARS in the country.

Similar experience had also rocked Osun, Kwara, Enugu, Edo, Imo, among other States of the Federation. In  Ughelli, Delta State, a protester was reportedly killed by Police operatives,  while protesters in response equally saw to the killing of a Police officer.

On Friday, in an attempt to disperse  Protesters in Osogbo, the Osun State Capital, policemen reportedly shot indiscriminately, as Protesters staged resistance, attacking security operatives with stones and sachet water, a development that erupted intense gridlock in the state capital.

The #ENDSARS protest took grounds of support beyond the shores of Nigeria from Friday, as it assumed a top subject of interest trending on Twitter in the United States, the United Kingdom, South Africa, and Canada among other Countries of the world.

However, while Police operatives continue to brutalize protesters, the actions only seemed to have sparked and heightened the reinforcement on the campaign against SARS; officers of which have been reported widely to be brutal in their harassment and  intimidation of citizens.

Reports of their absurd rashness, which in several instances occasioned  brutality, death, and dehumanizing assaults on citizens have been rife, while a number of cases of rape and rape-to-death have been recorded.

The mass movement for a halt of the Police Force Operations took physical protests with mounting pressure since Thursday last week.

The development which lasted over the weekend, with hashtags as #ENDSARSNOW, #ENDSARS, #ENDPOLICEBRUTALITY, saw protesters taking to the streets and government institutions across States in the Federation to press home their demand.

The #ENDSARS movement was reignited barely two weeks ago, following reports of the shooting of a young man in front of a hotel in Ughelli, Delta State, while whisking away his Lexus Jeep.

Later denying the death of the young man, the Police Force following a protest  banned F-SARS and other special tactical squads from carrying out routine stop and search operations, a development that never pacified irate youths who are hell bent on an outright disband of the Operation.

The Minister of Youth and Sports Development, Sunday Dare, had in his expression of support for the protest questioned: “If we stigmatise our youth as criminals, paint them all with one brush as ‘yahoo boys’ within our borders, harass, attack and arrest them indiscriminately even before they get the chance to defend themselves – aren’t we as a country destroying their reputation and chances to succeed?”

Celebrities including Nigerian Super Eagles stars, as well as  Nigerian mothers in the South-West, had synonymously joined in the anti-SARS campaign.

Defying league of plea

Protesters in Lagos had since Thursday stormed the State’s Government House, blocking the entrance to the House of Assembly, with continuous campaign for an immediate end to SARS. Efforts made by lawmakers and other top executives of the State Governments, failed to pacify the hundreds of Protesters.

In response to the demands of the Protesters, the Lagos State Government had on Friday further pleaded with the protesters to allow the Inspector-General of Police to handle the matter, “having intervened and issued directives that address the major causes of the infractions that have pitched the people, especially youths, against SARS.”

A statement to the effect by the State’s Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Gbenga Omotoso, titled ‘#ENDSARS Protests: LASG Pleads For Patience’, read: “The Lagos State Government has noted the protests against the reported highhandedness of the men of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). We know how painful it is to be victims of police brutality. It is not good. The message of the protests is clear-such acts of brutality must stop. We agree.

“Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu is discussing the issue with the Police authorities and hopes that the matter will be resolved in the interest of our teeming youths and in the spirit of democracy.

“The government, therefore, seeks the patience and understanding of all those concerned. Steps are being taken to correct the wrongs that have been identified. Let us remain peaceful as the authorities are addressing the issue. The Lagos State Government will do everything possible to ensure that human rights of all Lagosians are protected at all times.

“The Inspector-General of Police should be allowed to handle the matter, having intervened and issued directives that address the major causes of the infractions that have pitched the people, especially youths, against SARS.

“Our appeal is predicated on the need to prevent hoodlums from hijacking the protests and disrupting our businesses and social lives, which are just picking up following the lethal effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. That, in the interest of peace and security of the State and the nation at large, should not be allowed to happen as it will defeat the purpose of the protests.  Two wrongs do not make a right.

“We commend the protesters for the peaceful way they have conducted themselves. The State Government will work with the relevant authorities to ensure that their grievances are dispassionately examined.”

Similarly, the State’s House of Assembly had earlier called for the prescription of SARS, following their flagrant violation of human rights, and dehumanizing maltreatment, meted against citizens across the Country.

Following an emergency plenary on Friday, a statement by Mr Tolani Abati,  the Chief Press Secretary to the Lagos State House of Assembly Speaker, Mudashiru Obasa, containing the resolution of House titled, ‘Proscribe F -SARS, Secure Protesters – Lagos Assembly issues seven Demands In support of # EndSARSNOW’ partly read: “Among the seven- point resolution passed after an extensive deliberation was also that the Senate and the House of Representatives should carry out a probe of the allegations against F-SARS including killing, maiming and dehumanising of Nigerians.

“SARS should be proscribed and a new security outfit which will be more efficient with clearly spelt out code of conduct and rule of engagements be established while sanction is imposed for misdemeanor.

“Mr President should ensure that culpable officials of SARS receive the punishment as prescribed by the National Assembly. Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Public Petitions liaise with the Commissioner of Police and Attorney General of the State to fashion out ways and means to address allegations of ruthlessness and extra judicial killings contained in the petition against SARS in the state .

“The Governor of Lagos State, Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu, should engage relevant institutions to protect lives and property in the state such that phones, laptops and other means of communication belonging to youths are not confiscated indiscriminately without warrant.”

The Lagos State Deputy Governor, Dr Obafemi Hamzat, in an attempt to pacify protesters who barricaded the State’s House of Assembly on Friday had said:  “The tenet of the police operation is to protect the citizens. Security operatives don’t have the right to trample on the rights of law-abiding citizens, because of their unfamiliar looks, or because they are carrying laptops or iPhones. It is wrong for any police officer to expressly accuse or pronounce someone, irrespective of age, guilty because they have dreads or ride luxury vehicles.”

Meanwhile on Saturday, #ENDSARS Protesters who defiled the rain, in their thousands ignored the plea as they took over major roads in Lagos, standing the ground that their demand is nothing else but an immediate end to SARS across the Federation.

The development on Saturday threw the  metropolitan city of Lagos into heavy gridlock, as commuters were stranded across the State, particularly with almost total gridlock in Alausa, Maryland, Ojota, Ketu, Mile 12, Ikeja, Egbeda, Ikotun, Berger, Lekki, to mention but a few.

Joining the league of plea, Osun State Governor, Gboyega Oyetola, had on Saturday,  appealed to residents of  the State to exercise restraints in the course of their protest against SARS, imploring them to keep away from vandalism of public properties, acquired by Tax payers’ money.

In a statement issued by the State’s Commissioner for Information and Civic Orientation, Mrs Funke Egbemode, on Saturday in Osogbo, Oyetola who urged  residents not to take laws into their hands said: “We appeal for calm and urge our citizens to continue to uphold the peaceful profile of the state by not taking laws into their hands.

“Let us not be tempted to attack public property and facilities, which took government and taxpayers many years of sacrifice and struggles to build.

“President Muhammadu Buhari has given directives to the Inspector-General of Police to bring to justice officers who might have been found culpable of infringing on the rights of citizens.

“We believe that the Nigerian Police Force has taken note of our agitations, and that the IGP will call his men to order, where necessary.

“Let us, therefore, not take our anger against a reckless few on the entire police force that is working day and night to ensure our safety.

“Our citizens can count on the efforts of the state government to continue to do everything possible to protect citizens from actual and potential threats.

“Let us not destroy our collective heritage, while trying to right the wrongs of others. Two wrongs don’t make a right.”

It would be recalled that Protesters had ignored the plea of President Muhammadu Buhari on Friday for patience to reform SARS.

President Buhari was quoted: “Our determination to reform the police should never be in doubt. I am being briefed regularly on the reform efforts ongoing to end police brutality and unethical conduct and ensure that the Police are fully accountable to the people.

“The IGP already has my firm instructions to conclusively address the concerns of Nigerians regarding these excesses, and ensure erring personnel is brought to justice. I appeal for patience and calm, even as Nigerians freely exercise their right to peacefully make their views known.”

Arguments on SARS Disbandment

While the #ENDSARS movement was initially targeted at ending SARS, with flagrant records of unlawful arrests, torture, rape, brutality and murder, the campaign has drifted to encompass the whole Police Force. However, analysts have questioned with reservations, the sincerity of the Government in truly ending SARS.

The argument had been premised on the ground that while the name “SARS” may be disbanded, its operations may be given the breath of life under a new disguise. Groups such as the Amnesty International have argued that the government had not gone far enough announcing the disbandment of SARS, making reference to the futility of previous unsuccessful attempts to ban the Force.

On this note therefore, observers have noted that beyond disbanding SARS as just one of the operating units of the Police Force, the need to sanitize the entire Police Force by reformation is the true way out of Police corruption, brutality, incivility and flagrant disregard of human rights.