From Us, the message is simple #EndSars.
This issue brief provides a background on why Nigerians are protesting and also highlights some burning issues from the protest so far.
Issue-Brief | Nelson Obike
SARS and Inter-citizen Relations
The glaring disconnect and crass display of abuse of position in the operations and interactions between the purportedly dissolved Special Anti- Robbery Squad (SARS) and the general public are well documented besides being an almost recurring index of failure of governance and administration at almost all levels in many governmental circles.
In addition to this, the public outcry and condemnation of the unit's often brazen and unwarranted use of force in routine policing procedures like stop and search, questioning, and citizen engagement have now become a rather unsavory order of the day for all and sundry particularly persons within the younger demography of the Nigerian public.
This gloomy and distasteful image being cast on the unit and by extension the Nigerian police force has left many extorted, a few dead, and a lot more brutalized; as a sad and rather unpleasant accompaniment of the operational shortfalls of the unit are highlighted and examined below.
Victim profiling, as is widely known, is one of the common reasons for uninformed and unprofessional police work albeit being a regular feature of policing in many climes. In Nigeria, the situation is not any different and has worsened to a rather unbearable degree; the SARS unit in the guise of discharging its policing activities continually engaged in wrongly profiling, unduly labeling, and unfairly presuming hordes of new generation Nigerian youths as persons with criminal involvement in Cybercrime and other associated crimes.
Possession of high-end devices, being draped in good clothing, and looking a certain way are boxes that many youths tick and notoriously so because officers of the unit consistently excuse their actions on the grounds that appearance or possession of any of these features automatically puts the individual in danger of harassment, unlawful arrest, extortion and in some cases detention. The profiling of citizens within a given age category or being in possession of certain items have left many individuals as vulnerable and almost inevitable targets of bare-faced displays of brutal and grotesque acts by the unit.
Casualty numbers of recorded recollections of experiences from victims, and third parties all present a rather grotesque and unseemly picture of what the notorious SARS unit has come to represent in the larger society. Unfortunately, the outcry, complaints, and demonstrations on many levels have done little in changing outcomes and perceptions on the part of the policing community as officers in the unit and other police divisions/units continuously engage in the unprofessional and unwarranted profiling of victims whilst resorting to needless use of force in routine police work regardless.
Abuse of rights and unsanctioned policing methods
Abusive, oppressive, and cruel have become some of the most apposite ways of describing the unit’s activities around the country. The tendency to violate and disregard civil rights along with the lack of an existing or visible mechanism for due and prompt reprimand for erring officers has left many young Nigerians, who are mostly at the receiving end, abused and victimized by men of the unit.
The abrasive and frequent resort to the use of force has become a regular incident as far as the operations of the unit go. Arrests, detention, and in some cases physical assault of harmless citizens has become a constant practice amongst officers of the unit while in extreme instances individuals have been shot at and killed at point-blank range. Sadly, the regularity with which these incidents have occurred has become a matter of grave concern for victims and the larger society who have become targets
SARS and Institutional Responses
In response to the deluge of criticism and condemnation by the public, the unit has at best undergone mild yet insignificant changes. Governmental proclamations and directives have done too little to dissuade errant officers from unprofessional and abusive tendencies while victims' statistics have continued to rise steadily over the years.
The critical mass of officers constituting the unit are still very much on the payroll of the police force while the professional re-evaluation of officers, the review of operational guidelines and methodology, and due prosecution and sanctioning of named and identified officers are steps that are yet to be taken and are at best mentioned in passing on official press releases and communications from administrative quarters of the police force.
In the preceding year, the unit was federalised thus placing the operational prerogative of the unit in the office of the IGP thus making the unit directly under the control and administration of the IGP; in addition to this, oral commitments were made towards the retraining of existing officers of the unit and the dismissal and prosecution of erring officers.
In retrospect, these moves may have been well-intentioned but have yielded far from desirable outcomes as the unit’s reign of terror has become an ignoble signpost of society’s many ills in Nigeria. The declaration and supposed commitment to reformative action on the part of government has been matched with rather ineffectual steps towards reforms as citizen’s complaints and bitter recollections of police brutality have continued unabated and have grown at a rather alarming rate. Victim statistics have increased, incident numbers have grown and public confidence in the force remains non-existent.
#ENDSARS protest and the burning issues
The inactivity and the deafening silence of traditional local media
In the aftermath of the #EndSARS protest, local media has shown a somewhat inexplicable silence in its reportage and coverage of ongoing protests especially for traditional television stations and flagship news channels. This in itself has attracted criticism and backlash from protesters on and off the protest ground with the social media space becoming a very vocal and engaging outlet for protesters and other persons sympathetic to the common cause.
The protest has gathered momentum and garnered interest from within and outside the shores of the country; however, this is not in any way associated with the efforts of local media in broadcasting and covering events on the protest grounds as well as events surrounding the protest. Social media channels have become the most active and efficient means for galvanizing citizen engagement as well as disseminating information in real-time regarding emerging developments regarding the protests and responses by government authorities.
Perhaps the catch in all this is the undeniable and far-reaching impacts of social media to activism and extensive citizen engagement across borders and climes. This is evident in the solidarity, moral support, and virtual engagement across timelines and dialogue over social networking platforms. The relative passiveness and unresponsive pose of local media outlets have become a common point of reference and one of the many unpleasant reactions from the fourth estate of the realm which has always been the cornerstone of the drive for social justice and political reforms in pre-democratic Nigeria and even in democratic times
A Youth-led, Organic and Acephalous Protest
The sustained pressure and persistence of the protesters under the #EndSARS demonstration show a rather unprecedented and momentous highlight of the current mass movement for widespread and exhaustive reforms of the police reforms. In addition, the participation of influencers and key members of the creative industry has given momentum and impetus to the demonstrations both in terms of virtual followership and enhancement of the morale of protesters on and off the protest grounds.
Furthermore, the corresponding response and efforts of protesters in other states of the federation have further reemphasized the national nature of both the protest and the cause. This has particularly been of significance in intensifying the pressure on governmental actors as well as holding a common and united front across all states of the federation as well.
Though national in participation and impact, a noticeable yet important oversight as far as the protests are concerned was the initial lack of a detailed outline of demands, especially before the IGP's ineffective announcement of the dissolve and redeployment of the unit on 11 October, including the apparent absence of individuals or groups to whom the protest may be associated. This may be attributable to the scale and organic nature of the protest along with its spontaneity and relativity but the usefulness and value of a detailed action plan, a comprehensive outline of demands, and of course publicly approved individuals or group who are to represent the interests of protesters in subsequent fora are important matters that should be addressed in anticipation of further interactions and engagement with the government. However, post the IGPs announcement, the demands of the #EndSars protest have been publicly articulated into five (5);
- Immediate release of all arrested protesters
- Justice for all deceased victims of police brutality and appropriate compensation for their families
- Setting up an independent body to oversee the investigation and prosecution of all reports of police misconduct
- Psychological evaluation & retraining of all disbanded SARS Officials before they can be redeployed
- Increased remuneration for the Nigerian Police Force
So far, none of the demands have been fulfilled, hence the protest continues with #SARSMUSTEND.
This issue brief was provided by
Nelson Obike | Research Analyst, Security & Human Rights | email@example.com
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