Nigeria: Endsars Protests – One Year After

Most of the issues raised by the protesters are yet to be addressed

At a period when we expect a more collaborative form of engagement to prevent another breakdown of law and order, the war of words between the Lagos State Police Command and some organisers of last year’s youth-led EndSARS protest is unnecessary. At issue is a planned memorial event to mark the one-year anniversary of the shooting at Lekki Tollgate which triggered the violence in Lagos and across the country, including the loss of 23 police personnel and the destruction of more than 200 of their stations. The number of protesters reportedly killed and other innocent civilians is still left to conjectures, but several lives were lost.

While the total value of property destroyed in Lagos has not been ascertained, it must be in hundreds of billions of Naira. Twenty parastatals, according to Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu’s Special Adviser, Parastatals Monitoring Office, Afolabi Ayantayo, “were affected in varying degrees”. In as much as we do not advocate a repeat of that tragedy, the authorities must understand that there are certain inalienable rights of citizenship that no government can abridge.

More troubling is that the issues of remedies, redress and compensations for the injustice and humiliation suffered by victims of the police brutality that led to the protests are yet to be addressed. On the specific matter of police reform on which the original protest was premised, the federal government gave certain undertakings. Beyond mere pronouncements, nothing concrete has been done to address those issues. Meanwhile, following the dissolution of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) that provoked the protests, victims and relations of victims appeared before the judicial commissions in many states to demand justice.

Overall, the panels received about 2,500 petitions across the country. As expected, the petitions ranged from gross violations of human rights including indiscriminate arrests, illegal detentions, extortion, sexual and gender-based violence to torture and extra-judicial killings. Some of the testimonies at the hearing bear the hallmark of horrors and treatment best reserved for the medieval era. Testifying before the Lagos State Panel of Inquiry headed by Justice Doris Okuwobi , one of the witnesses, Okoye Agu, recounted how he was tortured in 2014 and had two of his teeth extracted by the disbanded SARS. A woman narrated how all her three sons were killed by SARS operatives. That policemen involved in such egregious acts like torture, extra-judicial killings and other abuses were never held to account is why there is still much anger in the streets.

As we have stated in the past, the challenges hampering the police from effectively discharging their constitutional responsibility to the public will continue to inhibit the force until they are addressed. Key of all the considerations is the proper vetting of prospective recruits, including their psychological state of mind to prevent the enlistment of criminals. Besides, the over centralised structure of the police is one of the reasons why policing is ineffective. There is an urgent need to review this structural weakness. But over and above all is the issue of welfare.

The country needs ethical police that respect and protect civil rights. This requires proper training and adequate funding as well as improving the living condition of their personnel. The unfortunate events of last October should therefore be a wake-up call for those in authority to address the various issues that were so clearly articulated by the protesters.

While we call on the Lagos State Police Command to handle whatever programme the EndSARS protesters organise today with professionalism and sensitivity, we also hope that reports from the states and the much-awaited federal government reform will help produce a more citizen-friendly police that is fit for a democratic society.

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