An update on the Nigerian Government’s response to #EndSARS protests

It’s been a month since President Muhammudu Buhari’s address to the nation where swift action against all SARS-related abuses was promised to the Nigerian people but yet, not much has been done to arraign defaulting officers and compensate survivors and their families. At every single turn, the government’s response has been to emphasise the importance of the work being done by the judicial panels set up across various Nigerian states, however, nothing immediate has been put in place.

In addition, they have continued to give us reason to distrust them, as the lives of Nigerian citizens, particularly those who were vocal and involved in the End SARS protests continue to be threatened. Two weeks ago, news filtered through that the State Security Service prevented a young female lawyer who had organised pro bono legal aid during the protests, Modupe Odele from flying out of the country.  According to the People’s Gazette, Moe was said to be under investigation and her passport was held by the SSS for over five days with no mention of the charges being levelled against her. But her plight which she has been very vocal about on Twitter and has gained her even further backlash, is just one of the strings of occurrences that have happened this month in the aftermath of the End SARS protests typifying just how skewed the vision of democracy is within our country.

The Central Bank of Nigeria freezes accounts of End SARS protesters

For most of the past few weeks, the government has employed a number of strategies to punish or restrict those who played key roles in the nationwide protests against police brutality and bad governance. During the protests, a number of young protesters and journalists complained about their bank accounts being restricted because they received funding from the Feminist Coalition or the End SARS Response unit. Although at the time, the CBN denied involvement in these banking issues, documents detailing the freezing order have now been released to the public.

Over the weekend, news of further restrictions on the bank accounts of private individuals involved in the protests has now being circulated across our various timelines. The Central Bank of Nigeria was reportedly ordered to freeze the accounts of 20 protesters including Gatefield Impact Nigeria and Rinu Oduala, one of the youth representatives on the Lagos state judicial panel, People’s Gazette reports. The banks that were ordered to freeze bank accounts of the #EndSARS champions included Access BankFidelityFirst BankGTBZenith and UBA. The freezing order is also said to be made in the interim for a period of 90 days, with a suit date adjourned for the 4th of February 2021.

End SARS protesters continue to be detained

Alongside this, a number of young Nigerians who participated in the protests continue to be detained across the country. Here in Lagos where protests have been quelled for over three weeks, following the horrific and brutal killings at the Lekki toll gate, there have been reports that protesters continue to be harassed and intimidated by law enforcement. On November 7, a musician and youth empowerment activist, Eromosele Adene began sending distressing tweets about his immediate fear of intimidation by the Nigerian police. According to sources, Eromosele’s home was broken into by armed officers and he was subsequently taken to the Commissioner of Police’s office where he was detained without access to legal representation. He was reportedly moved to Panti and then to Area F in Ikeja because of space constraints and has been accused of subversion and inciting the public to undermine constituted authority.

In the last week, Eromosele’s case had its fair share of ups and downs. Earlier in the week, the police went under oath claiming that he was not transferred to Abuja where his lawyers actually confirmed he was last week. Then, there were claims that Eromosele was arrested on the protest grounds despite video evidence of his sister confirming his arrest at their family home. Since then, Eromosele has remained in police custody for ten days with his bail set at one million naira and had his case adjourned in the Yaba Magistrate court where he was to be arraigned, with the judge citing the heavy media presence as the reason for the adjournment. Journalists were also barred from entry despite the case being a public hearing. However, with continued efforts from his team of lawyers, Eromosele has now been granted bail although the conditions of his bail are particularly strict despite any formal charge against him yet.

And in Abuja, where protests resumed last week due to the government’s lack of commitment to address the End SARS demands, four young men and a citizen journalist, Tosin Adeniji who took part in the protests in front of the National Assembly have been arrested and remain in police custody. They were subsequently arraigned at the Wuse Zone 2 magistrate court on charges of criminal conspiracy, unlawful assembly, inciting public disturbance, and public nuisance. The #AbujaSix, as they are now known, were at first denied bail and remanded in Suleja custodial centre until January 2021. However, last week, the six people being detained in prison, including Tosin Adeniji, were released on bail with a further court hearing scheduled for January 25.

Panic at the Afrikan Shrine

Yesterday, Seun Kuti posted a signed letter from the Commissioner of Police in Lagos State asking him to desist from holding a movement of the people meeting on the lessons learnt from the #EndSARS protests. The meeting was scheduled to hold today at the New Afrikan Shrine but the letter from the police force claims that the singer and activist is “hereby warned to suspend such gathering as any infraction that may emerge from this gathering will be tagged a deliberate action to sabotage the transition and restoration of the peace in Lagos State by the Lagos State Government and the Nigeria Police Force,” the letter read.

Refusing to be intimidated for exercising his legal right to assembly, Seun Kuti carried on with his plans to host a meeting stating that it was time to start our political resistance to the tyranny of this oppressive regime. However, today, news has reached us that police are now restricting movement in and out of the Shrine with their vans stationed around the venue to ensure compliance with the Commissioner’s order. It is yet to be ascertained if the situation has escalated further but we are currently monitoring the situation and this post will be updated with developments.

 

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A post shared by Seun Kuti (@bigbirdkuti)

Strange new laws and regulations

On top of all this, there has been no prominent arrest and persecution of any of the SARS officers who have been widely accused of police brutality. Alleged murdered such as James Nwafor and Abiodun Bolarinwa still walk free, yet a number of young Nigerians who fought and demanded for a better future for themselves and the generation after them, have been harassed, arrested, or have had their lives infringed upon in some way or the other. In fact, we learnt recently that Attorney-General Abubakar Malami has exonerated 33 ex-members of the SARS unit as there was no substantive proof against them, People’s Gazette reports.

Alongside this, it seems that the demands for nationwide police reform have also fallen on deaf ears as the Inspector General of Police, Muhammed Adamu has reportedly ordered for the police to respond with force when they feel their lives are being threatened. According to Sahara Reporters, the IGP warned that the Nigeria Police Force would not allow any form of protests in the country and has ordered the deployment of legitimate force to prevent attacks on private/public assets from any violent person(s) or group(s) operating under any guise. This announcement came after it was reported that the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) would begin to bear firearms to curtail the excesses of road users in Nigeria. The Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on FRSC, Akinfolarin Mayowa said that the implementation had become necessary to ensure laws were obeyed and to allow the FRSC function effectively.

But for many young Nigerians, these decisions taken by those in law enforcement are remiss. Nigerians have been crying out against police brutality where their lives are threatened or harassed simply for daring to exist, and the difference between life and death is simply whether you’re able to give into exorbitant bribes. Incentivising the police force further by approving commands for the use of force and firearms does nothing to address the demands of the End SARS protesters but does everything to continue to subjugate and harass them further. The government and the armed forces continue to respond with more brutality, and there is a sense that none of our demands have been honoured or will be in the near future. When you then think about the fact that conversations surrounding the censoring of social media have re-entered the chat, it’s not looking good and #EndSARS is far from over.

SWAT has begun training

On October 14th, the Nigerian Police Force announced the formation of the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT), a newly formed intelligence-driven team that would carry out the gaps in the system left by the now-defunct SARS unit. For many young Nigerians, the announcement of a “new” unit while there was still uncertainty as to the complete disbandment and prosecution of the SARS unit was incredibly worrying. Shortly after this, footage surfaced online on the training of the new unit and it did little to assuage the worry and fear of many Nigerians who found the training less than satisfactory. It is yet to be concluded when members of the new unit will be discharged into public spaces, but there’s a general sense that the menace is not yet defeated and that’s many are calling for #EndSWAT before it even begins.

DJ Switch has been granted asylum in Canada

As the lives of many End SARS protesters continue to be threatened across the county, many people have been worried about the safety of DJ Switch who had been instrumental in disseminating the events of October 20th exactly as it had happened. The national tragedy that has been vehemently denied by our state government until it was recently affirmed by the Nigerian Army who is said to have been deployed to the Lekki toll gate. Recently, the Army has conflated their earlier statement, claiming during the Lagos judicial panel that there was no shooting at the toll gate.

According to Salisu Bello, the commanding officer of the 65 Battalion of the Nigerian Army, no civilians were killed at the Lekki toll gate as the Army only tried to quell the crowd which had grown dangerous. When persuasion did not work, members of the 65 Battalion only shot blank ammunition upwards to scare off the protestors rather than fire at them. Bello claimed the armed officers even attempted to share water to the crowd, according to the Cable. The insistence on rewriting the story of that night has now caused many Nigerians to fear for the safety of DJ Switch who has adamantly stuck to the correct story, despite the many denials from those we witnessed on Instagram Live.

It has now been reported that the DJ has been granted asylum in Canada where she is currently residing to escape threats on her life. According to Sahara Reporters, she has been persistently being threatened for her account of the night of the 20th of October and had to move across various homes in Lagos to ensure her safety before making her way out of the country. She is also said to have told the Canadian Parliament the events of that night and how the army was acting on orders from above. If the news of her asylum status is true, we are happy at the very least that she has escaped death. Many young Nigerians like Pelumi Onifade, a young journalist in Lagos, who was vocal about the protests have wound up either detained or brutally killed.

Currently, as the judicial panels continue to hold across various Nigerian states, the trust in the government to do right by the Nigerian people continues to wean by the second. For many Nigerians, life over the past month has felt like sitting at the extremes of optimism and despair, however, with each new response from the government, our faith continues to diminish. The changes that must be taken in the aftermath of the protests are crucial to our development as a nation, but the tactics employed so far have done little to advance our cause and ensure a safer and better Nigeria for future generations. The goal cannot be for less police violence, we must continue demanding for no more police violence at all, and for a government that works in the interest of her people.

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Tami is available here @tamimak_


ICYMI: The Nigerian government seems more focused on every other thing than End SARS

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