Daily Trust

#EndSARS protests in con­text

- Nigeria Politics · Nigeria News · Police brutality · Crime · Politics · African Politics · Nigeria · Nigeria Police Force · All Progressives Congress (APC) · Bola Tinubu · Atiku Abubakar · People’s Democratic Party (Nigeria) · Kano · Kano · State Security Service

Now that the fed­eral gov­ern­ment has re­placed the Spe­cial Anti-Rob­bery Squad (SARS) with a US-styled Spe­cial Weapons and Tac­tics (SWAT) unit in a move to ad­dress the pro­test­ers’ de­mands against the par­tic­u­larly ex­ces­sive bru­tal­ity of the now-de­funct SARS, the grow­ing sus­pi­cions of some ul­te­rior sub­ver­sive mo­tives be­hind the protests must equally be ad­dressed.

Be­fore I ad­dress this point, how­ever, it’s im­por­tant to state the ob­vi­ous about the ram­pancy of bru­tal­ity among not only the po­lice but all se­cu­rity en­force­ment per­son­nel in Nige­ria. The po­lice are par­tic­u­larly no­to­ri­ous in this re­gard only be­cause they are closer to the peo­ple.

Po­lice bru­tal­ity in Nige­ria is ef­fec­tively le­gal­ized; it’s openly per­pe­trated in ar­guably all po­lice sta­tions in the coun­try. It never started with SARS, and won’t end with its mere dis­so­lu­tion ei­ther.

The av­er­age Nige­rian po­lice lacks the com­pe­tence to in­ter­ro­gate a se­ri­ous crime sus­pect with­out tor­tur­ing him. On the pre­text of in­ter­ro­ga­tion, po­lice in­ter­roga­tors tor­ture sus­pects, which some­times leads to their per­ma­nent dis­abil­ity and even death. In fact, some sus­pects un­der po­lice cus­tody are ex­tra­ju­di­cially ex­e­cuted.

This sit­u­a­tion per­sists against the back­drop of the deep-rooted cul­ture of im­punity in the land as well as the so­ci­etal in­ad­ver­tent com­plic­ity. In Nige­ria, an in­di­vid­ual, depend­ing on his real or per­ceived fi­nan­cial sta­tus or other priv­i­leges, can “hire” the po­lice to frame up, ar­rest, ex­tort or tor­ture any­body of less sta­tus. It isn’t un­com­mon to see an in­di­vid­ual brag­ging about his abil­ity to set­tle scores with another by un­leash­ing the po­lice on him.

Be­sides, many of the cases that in­volve po­lice bru­tal­ity against in­di­vid­u­als are purely civil cases e.g. com­mer­cial dis­putes, which the po­lice shouldn’t have got­ten in­volved in the first place.

Though there are de­cent and pro­fes­sional po­lice per­son­nel out there, the sheer ram­pancy of bru­tal­ity among their col­leagues over­shad­ows the pro­fes­sion­al­ism of those de­cent po­lice per­son­nel.

Po­lice bru­tal­ity in Nige­ria is sim­ply too deep-rooted to be up­rooted by the mere dis­so­lu­tion of SARS and re­plac­ing it with SWAT, un­less if by so do­ing the Nige­rian au­thor­i­ties are hint­ing that SARS bru­tal­ity was sanc­tioned, which ob­vi­ously wasn’t the case.

Check­ing po­lice bru­tal­ity, there­fore, can­not be achieved in iso­la­tion; it can only be achieved within the con­text of a com­pre­hen­sive re­form that fo­cuses pri­mar­ily on im­pos­ing strict pro­fes­sion­al­ism on the force per­son­nel.

While Nige­ri­ans have the right to de­mand and push for that, the on­go­ing EndSARS protests in some Nige­rian cities, which were started os­ten­si­bly to de­mand the dis­so­lu­tion of the no­to­ri­ous po­lice SARS unit, con­tinue to at­tract sus­pi­cions as they in­creas­ingly bear the hall­marks of a typ­i­cal po­lit­i­cal­ly­mo­ti­vated sub­ver­sive move­ment.

The sus­pi­cions have also in­creased with the in­sis­tence of the pro­test­ers to carry on even af­ter the fed­eral gov­ern­ment dis­solved the unit. Many ob­servers who had ini­tially dis­missed the sus­pi­cions have be­gun to equally sus­pect pos­si­ble ul­te­rior mo­tives be­hind the protests.

Be­sides, the more one dis­misses such sus­pi­cions, the more one sees com­pelling rea­sons to val­i­date it on ac­counts of the pro­test­ers’ per­sis­tently rais­ing de­mands, which have gone to the ex­tent of in­cit­ing a rev­o­lu­tion in the coun­try, and also the ob­vi­ous me­dia ex­ag­ger­a­tion of the protests amid tacit endorsemen­t by some pub­lic fig­ures who in­ter­est­ingly come from the South-West geopo­lit­i­cal zone.

In any case, whether the protests are orig­i­nally po­lit­i­cally-mo­ti­vated or not, there are grow­ing in­di­ca­tions of some des­per­ate elite try­ing to ride the wave and ma­nip­u­late the protests for their po­lit­i­cal in­ter­ests at any cost.

Many the­o­ries in this re­gard are flow­ing right, left, and cen­tre. In the light of the grow­ing pub­lic dis­con­tent with the rul­ing All Pro­gres­sives Congress (APC), Bola Tin­ubu’s am­bi­tion to be the next pres­i­dent of Nige­ria is be­ing se­ri­ously threat­ened by the grow­ing pos­si­bil­ity of Atiku Abubakar be­com­ing the PDP’s can­di­date and even­tu­ally win­ning the pres­i­dency.

It’s, there­fore, quite pos­si­ble that some in­ter­est groups hell­bent on avert­ing that sce­nario are cap­i­tal­iz­ing on north­ern Nige­rian es­tab­lish­ment’s char­ac­ter­is­tic pho­bia about Nige­ria’s dis­in­te­gra­tion to play the reval­u­a­tion card as a black­mail­ing tool to po­lit­i­cally black­mail the es­tab­lish­ment into some kind of con­ces­sion that would guar­an­tee the pres­i­dency for Tin­ubu at the ex­pense of Atiku.

Un­sur­pris­ingly also, those ag­i­tat­ing for sep­a­ra­tion in the South-East and re­source con­trol ag­i­ta­tors are rid­ing the wave to push for their re­spec­tive agen­das.

Mean­while, in north­ern Nige­ria, the prompt­ness with which the fed­eral gov­ern­ment bowed to the EndSARS pro­test­ers’ pres­sure and dis­solved the unit was rightly or wrongly in­ter­preted as an in­di­ca­tion of its par­tial­ity against the re­gion where many be­lieve it (i.e. fed­eral gov­ern­ment) is re­luc­tant to re­spond to pub­lic out­cry over the per­sis­tent in­sur­gency, ban­ditry and kid­nap­ping rav­aging the re­gion.

There­fore, some north­ern Nige­rian groups have equally called for protests to de­mand the end of in­se­cu­rity in the re­gion. As I write this piece (Thurs­day), I un­der­stand that a protest has al­ready be­gun in Kano though it’s not clear how far it will go.

How­ever, it’s ob­vi­ous that the call for protest in north­ern Nige­ria was prompted by sheer emo­tion in or­der to spite the fed­eral gov­ern­ment.

While it’s high time that civil so­ci­ety groups in the re­gion put max­i­mum pres­sure on the fed­eral gov­ern­ment (within the am­bit of the law) to ad­dress the per­sis­tent se­cu­rity con­cern in the re­gion, they must not al­low them­selves to be ma­nip­u­lated by some un­scrupu­lous groups and in­di­vid­u­als pur­su­ing sub­ver­sive agen­das dis­guised be­hind the fa­cade of le­git­i­mate de­mands.

The State Se­cu­rity Ser­vice (SSS) should han­dle this sit­u­a­tion with the ut­most se­ri­ous­ness be­fore it’s too late. Nige­ri­ans can­not af­ford a to­tal break­down of law and or­der in the coun­try; af­ter all, should it oc­cur, God for­bid, only the vul­ner­a­ble will bear the brunt while the elite es­cape with their fam­i­lies to safety in dif­fer­ent coun­tries around the world.

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