The protests, with Lekki, Lagos as the epicenter, held for days in a peaceful and well coordinated manner before they were strangely infiltrated and hijacked by armed hoodlums and criminal elements that brought violence, arson and chaos with them.
The #EndSARS protests were an inevitable consequence of decades of government negligence of a primary function of the State – the protection of the lives and property of ordinary citizens, this time, from the persistent criminality of a unit of state power. Numerous cases of police brutality, extortion, abduction, expropriation of personal property, unlawful restriction of fundamental freedoms, illegal arrests and detentions, and extrajudicial murders, had been the experience of hundreds, nay thousands, of ordinary Nigerians, especially youths, for many years. These depredations of the police were facilitated by an inefficient and ineffective judicial system that was neither a protection for the ordinary citizen nor an effective remedial bulwark against abuse by the uniformed agents of state power. This parlous state of affairs further emboldened members of the infamous SARS unit as they rode roughshod over their hapless compatriots.
As Nigerians mark the one year anniversary of #EndSARS, it must be stated that the most recent posturing by the Federal Government though it’s Minister of Information and Orientation is rather unfortunate. It is clear that the Federal Government is still living in denial of the socio-political implications of the #EndSARS protest.
The attempt by the Lagos State Police Command to ban all forms of street protests, and only approving virtual and indoor events to mark the one year anniversary of #EndSARS, is a chilling reminder of some of the ills that the protests were meant to confront in the first place. The claim by the police of “conflicting interests between the pro and anti-EndSARS anniversary groups and threat to cause mayhem” is as untenable as it is a painful indication that the police is far from purging itself of its uncanny predilection for rights violations. Reports received of arrests of some peaceful protesters and assault of journalists during the commemoration of the first anniversary in some parts of the country bear out this fact.
The National Association of Seadogs (Pyrates Confraternity) restates its belief that the #EndSARS protests were an exercise of the fundamental rights of citizens to lawful assembly; a right that is duly enshrined in the constitution, and which has been repeatedly affirmed by the courts. We recall the sacrifices made by Nigerian youths in galvanizing support for key police reforms to end police brutality. We also remember those who have been victims of police brutality and state-sponsored terror, and all those who paid the ultimate price in the course of the protests. Like other well meaning and law-abiding citizens, we demand that justice be done in their cases.
In this regard, we commend the untiring efforts of all the civil society organisations that have diligently monitored the activities of the Judicial Panels of Inquiry into allegations of human rights violations against members of the Nigeria Police Force and other security agencies set up across the country. It is on record that only 28 states and the FCT set-up the various judicial panels. According to Yiaga Africa, seven states – Borno, Kano, Kebbi, Sokoto Jigawa, Yobe, Zamfara defied the resolution of the National Economic Council, mandating states to constitute judicial panels.The Minister of Information in his speech to mark the first anniversary of the #EndSARs protests stated that panels in 11 of the 28 states have submitted their final reports to the NEC.
We express our total disappointment at how shoddily a lot of the states’ judicial panels of inquiry have gone about their sworn duties. This is clearly unacceptable, and only goes to underscore the general contempt with which people in authority at different levels hold Nigerians. It reinforces the widely held opinion that the government did not seize the many learning opportunities from the events of the past one year. We, however, commend the states that, in line with NEC’s resolution, have set up Victims Compensation Funds and are paying compensations approved by the Judicial Panels.
- We demand that the reports of all the Judicial Panels of Inquiry be made public. States that are yet to comply must be made to do so in order for citizens to seek redress over sundry injustices they have suffered at the hands of the police and other law enforcement agencies.
- We insist on the full implementation of all recommendations, and in cases where applicable, internal discipline and prosecution of culpable officers. Any agent of the state found to have committed acts of illegality must be identified and sanctioned appropriately.
- We expect all citizens who have been victims of brutality from either the police or other law enforcement agents to receive adequate monetary compensation. The reforms of the Police Force must be revisited with vigour, and elements in the Force who have proven unworthy of the uniform should be shown the exit door. The Police must be reorganised, retrained, better funded, and made more accountable to the citizens.
The #EndSARS protests presented a glorious opportunity for fundamental reforms of the police and the judicial system. Failure to pursue this course with a patriotic sense of duty and responsibility will further entrench the rule of the jungle which has largely characterised the relationship between law enforcement agents and the citizens that they are paid to protect. The government must understand that justice needs to be served and timely too.Justice must not be delayed.