On the latest episode of the I Said What I Said podcast, Jola Ayeye and Feyikemi Abudu are joined by Falz. Following an opening half-hour of comic relief, the trio engage in a lively conversation made evident by the plain-stated title of the episode: “The #ENDSARS and Nigerian Police brutality episode” For about 90 minutes, they discuss the ongoing wave of protests aimed at railing against the constant, grave mistreatment of Nigerian citizens by the Nigerian police force, especially personified by the notorious and now dissolved Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
In a free-flowing discussion that finds the intersection between impassioned and clear, Jola, Feyikemi and Falz delve into the circumstances behind the intensified agitation against police brutality, the response from the Nigerian government and the police itself, as well as ideal solutions which will indicate that reforms are well and truly underway. For those who are familiar, this discussion is a nuanced collection of several facets of the conversations around police brutality. For the unaware, I’d like to imagine that the episode was an encompassing and educative insight into this particularly toxic situation Nigerians at home and in the diaspora are fighting to change.
In what is perhaps the most riveting part of the episode, a young lady anonymously shared the story of her wrenching ordeal with SARS. In the final twenty or so minutes, she recounts being waylaid by SARS operatives in Ibadan, which was swiftly followed by her abduction and transportation to the SARS headquarters in Abuja—a near 10-hour journey by road. In her heartbreaking story, she described the atrocious tactics the operatives employed in a bid to exploit her, from trumped up charges to illegally gaining access to her social media accounts, as well as the horrendous living conditions she had to endure for several months.
This is one of the very many stories that have surfaced over the past two weeks, more evidence that the police reforms we are clamouring for needs to start taking effect immediately. Last week, the Inspector General of Police, Muhammed Adamu, officially announced the dissolution of the Special Anti-Robbery Force, following up an initial statement from the previous week banning the unit from several activities. Upon declaration, Nigerians were quick to scoff at the “audio” disbandment of SARS, citing previous, similarly veiled announcements from the past three years.
#EndSARS has been a rallying cry for the young people of Nigerians since around 2017, with signed petitions and sporadic peaceful protests taking place every once in a while since then. Each time these agitations happen, the government and the police either disband SARS or promise reforms, neither of which has happened every single time. It’s fair to say that they’ve earned the scepticism of every concerned Nigerian still yelling “End SARS” on the streets, even after a dissolution has been announced—for the third time in four years. We’ve been here before, but this time around, it’s clear that affirmative, tangible actions are the only way to satisfy this ongoing wave of agitation.
On cue, after the announced dissolution of SARS, digital cards carrying the exact demands of Nigerian youth were disseminated to avoid any form of ambiguity. While it is more or less a condensed version of the list of demands, the items on the #5for5 cards serves as a great starting point to ensure the government and police understand the precise nature of what is being asked. There have been a few dissenting voices questioning the validity of the continued protests, due to the “dissolution of SARS”, but the overwhelming majority have remained resolute in their activism, since there has been little show of enthusiasm in the government’s dedication to implement these demands, while the police continue to pay lip service to talks of a reform.
— #EndSARS (@oyinlolu_a) October 15, 2020
In the roughly ten days since #EndSARS protests started, the police have replied peaceful campaigners with a show of force, injuring hundreds and killing over a dozen people so far. In the cases of Jimoh Isiaq, the 20-year old protester killed in Ogbomoso, and Ikechukwu Iloahamuzo, a bystander killed at the Surulere protests, the police commands in Oyo state and Lagos state, respectively, initially denied firing the live rounds that killed these men, before the governors of both states went on to confirm what many already suspected and even witnessed via social media. From Ojahbee to Treasure Nduka and much more, hundreds of protesters have been indiscriminately arrested and severely tortured by the police, while initially being denied bail until there’s intervention from prominent political figures.
All of this indicates that the Nigerian Police Force is still averse to transparency, accountability and calls to end the unjust use of undue force, all of which are central triggers to the ongoing protests. Amidst these reports of police brutality, the IGP announced the formation of Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT), a unit which in summary, has been created to take over the duties assigned to SARS. Immediately, Nigerians began to deride this “new” unit, excavating previous reports of SWAT’s not-so-novel existence in the country, and the hashtag ‘EndSWAT’ swung into popularity within a moment’s notice.
— Kiki Mordi (@kikimordi) October 14, 2020
To many young Nigerians, the announcement of a “new” unit while there’s still uncertainty as to the complete overhauling of a previous, notoriously feared unit is very sinister. SARS was initially formed in order to respond to serious criminal activities like armed robbery and kidnapping, but it quickly morphed into a terror squad, tormenting, assaulting and even killing the very citizens it was created to protect. While SWAT is meant to come in and fulfil those same righteous intentions, there are concerns that they might transform into a new version of SARS, and it speaks to the sheer level of distrust the Nigerian Police elicits from Nigerians.
Due to the gory reputation it has garnered, SARS has been the focal point of these protests. However, an equally immediate and potential effect is that this is also a means of reckoning for the Nigerian Police Force, an institution who have become a burden to many Nigerians. For decades, the force has adopted “Police is your friend” as an unofficial slogan, but it’s become popular ironically, because very few people actually see the police as their “friend”.
Part of this stems from the abuse of power that has become the norm, from seeking petty bribes on the roads (the twenty naira note was once synonymous with regular police extortion) to demanding money before carrying out any investigation after a crime is reported. The other part stems from the general cloud of ineptitude the entire policing system seems to have fallen under, mainly because the institution has refused to evolve. It’s not difficult to see how both these sides feed off each other to create a system that grossly fails to serve and protect Nigerians.
— Ebuka Obi-Uchendu (@Ebuka) October 18, 2020
One of my favourite police-related quotes is by the great American-British detective fiction writer, Raymond Chandler: “Police business is a hell of a problem…It asks for the highest type of men and there’s nothing in it to attract the highest type of men”. Part of the #5for5 demands includes increase in police salaries, which has proven to be divisive: on one side, there are people who believe better compensation will ensure that police officers will carry out their duties judiciously; on the other side, it’s the idea higher salaries won’t change behaviours since the abuse of power seems deeply ingrained. Regardless of where you stand this argument, the one thing we can agree on is Nigerians deserve a police force that we’re afraid of.
This is the reason #EndSARS protests are still on going, because lip service has always been paid to reforming the Nigerian police. So far, the government has said it’s fully accepted the #5for5 demands and prominent political figures like the Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, have called for an end to the protests “to allow government time to implement the demands” however, those calls have fallen on deaf ears. As they say, actions speak louder than words, and the actions of the government and the police haven’t tallied with their promises.
Today I received the Report of the Presidential Panel on the Reform of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). We constituted the Panel as a result of public outcry and various media reports on allegations of human rights violations perpetrated by officers and men of SARS.
— Muhammadu Buhari (@MBuhari) June 3, 2019
So far, peaceful protesters are being terrorised by police and alleged state-sponsored thugs, and no arrests have been officially made for prosecution, even with the wealth of evidence flooding social media. Families of the victims of police brutality have yet to be attended to wholesomely, with the Lagos state government claiming to have set up a N200 million trust fund being the only tangible development at the moment. The Nigerian police has already started training for SWAT operatives, while keeping relatively quiet on calls to ensure the prosecution of high ranking officers, like former commander of the infamous Akwuzu SARS unit, James Nwafor, for alleged roles in atrocious human rights crimes.
It is very understandable that the demands for police reforms will not happen overnight, however, the youth are looking for a tangible sign of good faith that shows the government and police are willing to go the nine yards being asked of them. Without showing a level of readiness, young Nigerians have clearly determined to continue applying pressure through as many channels as possible.
For the past week and counting, there has been a permanent sit-in at the Lekki-Victoria Island tollgate, as well as holding up traffic at other tollgates on the Island in Lagos. According to Punch, the Lagos State government has lost at least N234million due to the closure of these tollgates, a significant amount that will no doubt impact the state’s coffers. On the very first day of the sit-in, Lagos State governor Jide Sanwo-Olu visited the protest grounds to address protests, after three days of protests at the state capital, Alausa, which called on him to address the outcry of Nigerian youths. His appearance at the Lekki-Victoria Island tollgate protests confirmed the importance of this chosen site.
"We hear promises but we need to see actions taken" – Anita Natacha Akide, former BBNaija housemate on what it would take for the #SARSMUSTEND protests. #SunriseDaily#CTVLivetweets pic.twitter.com/WGXgKtOoxp
— Channels Television (@channelstv) October 14, 2020
Across the country, protests are being situated in strategic places, stunting the flow of traffic and inevitably impacting economic activities. Abuja protesters have taken to the airport road in Lugbe several times already, and they’ve gathered at the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) building since last night. Despite being terrorised by armed thugs in the wee hours of today, they’ve already regrouped, restricting traffic in and out of the CBN building. Peaceful protests in Abuja have been subject to constant violent attacks by the police and thugs, but campaigners have refused to stop demonstrating out of fear, emblematic of the defiance that has come to define protests all over Nigeria.
From Egypt to London to Houston to New York to several cities in Canada, Nigerians in the diaspora have also joined in the protests, increasing global awareness around the #EndSARS agitations. Even online, #EndSARS has remained a global trending topic. All these efforts are culminating into the multi-faceted approach in ensuring we cross the finish line of ending police brutality in Nigeria, no matter how long it takes.
At the moment, there are no official statistics of the number of people who have suffered abuse at the hands of the SARS and the Nigerian police by extension, but there’s a general understanding amongst Nigerian youths that police brutality happening to anyone, at any time, should be deemed as one time too many. #EndSARS is symbolic of the good and just fight to ensure Nigerians can move around freely within the country, without the fear of being harassed, sometimes viciously, by the men and women whose duty it is to serve and protect them. Till we start to march towards that ideal, it will always be a good day to protest against police brutality and advocate loudly for #EndSARS.
We are making good trouble. We are fighting a just fight.
Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.
— Jola (@Jollz) October 16, 2020
Dennis is a staff writer at the NATIVE. Please share any useful resources for the #EndSARS protests with me @dennisadepeter