By Felix Oboagwina, Lagos & Rotimi Fadeyi, Abuja
There is tension across the country as the #EndSARS protests against police brutality enter a fresh and unpredictable week. The disbandment of the notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) by Inspector General of Police Mohammed Adamu had failed to pacify the protesters; neither could the Federal Government’s acceptance of the angry demonstrators’ five-point demand. Already, deaths and injuries have been reported, even as armed thugs assaulted protesters. Also, the convoy of the Oyo State Governor Seyi Makinde was attacked by furious protesters at the weekend.
Last week, the Nigerian military issued a veiled warning to the protesters, saying it would not sit by and watch people undermine the nation’s government, even as it affirmed its unflinching commitment to the President Muhammadu Buhari administration. There are concerns therefore that the military could roll out the tanks this week, if the protests continue, with looming bloody confrontations.
“I can’t imagine soldiers being sent to stop protests. Soldiers are trained to fight external aggression and we are dealing with peaceful protesters. It is wrong to give the impression that Nigeria is at war with her citizens. We must do everything to promote and defend democratic culture,” warned the Aare Onakakanfo of Yorubaland, Chief Gani Adams.
He nevertheless added: “The protests have been largely peaceful, although the resort to violence by a section of the protesters is condemnable. It is uncalled for. Violence seeks vengeance and creates wounds which scars never heal. Violence diminishes critical thinking, undermines democracy and destroys any noble intention of the protesters. It also questions the quality of those behind the protests. On the other hand, adoption of a violent response by the state should never be considered an option.”
Similarly, a coalition of labour and civil society groups warned that Chief of Army Staff, Lt Gen Tukur Buratai or any of his men risk facing the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague if the military opens fire on the protesters. The group urged the Federal Government to withdraw plans to use soldiers to quell the protests. In a statement signed by its Chairman, Mr Femi Falana (SAN), the Alliance for Survival of COVID-19 and Beyond (ASCAB) asked President Muhammadu Buhari not to invite soldiers to resolve a purely democratic issue that calls for dialogue and constructive engagement. ASCAB said protests have common features across the world as seen in Hong Kong, United States, (US), France, South Africa, Belarus and even in Sudan adding that in no instance have soldiers been deployed to suppress the protesters.
“Nigeria wants to set another ugly precedence in world history,” the group said.
“The plan to deploy soldiers is dangerous. It will push Nigeria into the red light district of global reckoning. Sending soldiers after school children and leaders of tomorrow shows what future we anticipate for the teeming population of young men and women who have taken to the streets to protest against a system that buries their dreams and shatter their potentials and aspirations,” ASCAB said.
Minister of Information Lai Mohammed on Sunday said the protest has been hijacked by hoodlums and people with ulterior motive to destabilise the country and bring down the Muhammadu Buhari administration.
Speaking during a Radio Nigeria programme monitored in Abuja, he said: “When you look at the demands of the #EndSARS and the decisions of the Federal Government, it is clear that there is no single demand of the group that has not been met. Therefore, one will begin to ask if there is any ulterior motive because what we have witnessed in the last few days is that they have moved their demands from five to seven.
“As soon as the government approved one demand another one will follow. From the five demands which were initially tabled and have been addressed, they are now including petrol price, national assembly salaries and allowances, electricity tariff among others. Then you begin to ask yourself what exactly is the motive of the protests and who are those behind them.”
This came as Buhari on Sunday met Senate President, Ahmed Lawan and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila at the Presidential Villa over the spate of protests,. Speaking after the meeting, Lawan said government had listened to the demands of the protesting youths, appealing that the protests should stop to allow government to take action and come up with solutions.
Lawan said, “It is very critical at this point to mention this. Since the protests have taken place and the issues have been accepted, the time has come for the protests to stop because government needs to have sufficient time and a conducive environment to implement the demands of the protesters.
“We also need to have our economy to continue to go on. When you try to stop people from engaging in their lawful activities, closing roads to markets and other economy places, such will distract the country’s economy and that is not the best way to go. If the issues have not been accepted, then there would have been genuine reasons to continue with the protests but since the issues have been accepted, we should give government time to implement the issues.”
He added: “Where legislative intervention will be required, we are ready to move in and deal with such expeditiously to ensure that we do not waste any time, so that we address the concerns of our youths. Where the executive role is expected, we are sure that the executive will also expedite action and we will be watching to ensure that such demands are properly met.
“I am seizing this opportunity to appeal to our youths who are protesting that the protests have already yielded the desired results. First of all, they said ‘end SARS.’ That was the beginning and SARS was scrapped, not by the IGP. SARS was scrapped by the President himself. The President made a presidential statement. And that was the first time a President will say end SARS and SARS has ended.”
In other reactions on the protests, President of the Igbo Youth Congress (IYC) Comrade Bright Ezeocha urged organisers to expand agitations towards restructuring the Nigeria Police Force, while war veteran and former Chief of Army Staff, General Alani Akinrinade, said leaders of the action should seize the moment to negotiate national restructuring.
Akinrinade told Daily Times in a phone interview: “With #endSARS, we are taking one subject at a time and this cannot even solve the problems. Why don’t we use the opportunity now to expand the problem and see if we can even have an expanded solution that will be more lasting? As long as this country remains the way it is, it is never going to work.”
According to the retired General, although police authorities announced they had had scrapped the controversial Special AntiRobbery Squad, the real solution lay in tackling the problem from the root by adopting a total restructuring programme for the country.
Similarly in an interview with Daily Times, the IYC President urged organisers to commit Federal authorities towards a complete overhaul of the policing institution.
“The earlier they end this endSARS issue and think about restructuring the police system itself, the better. Call them SARS or SWAT, they will still be the same men manning that unit. Remember that we moved from State-SARS to Federal-SARS and nothing changed. The name is not the issue but the orientation and the character of the men manning the operation is what matters,” Ezeocha said.
“They must have the rule of engagement and they must respect the Human Rights of the citizens of this nation.” He said that the United States SWAT never mounted roadblocks on the streets, but relied on intelligence gathering to tackle crime and criminality.
“Overseas, you do not have police stopping people and looking into their phones or driving people into the bush to strip them of their belongings as our police do in the name of SARS,” Ezeocha said.
“But we must be careful not to throw away the baby with the bathwater. The fraudsters who have been hard hit by SARS operations would take advantage of the legitimate agitations against police brutality to nail the coffin on these law enforcers so that they will have an easy operation. So what we need is restructuring the police and weeding out the bad eggs among them and let the good ones continue their good works they are doing.”