NO CLOSURE, A YEAR AFTER – ENDSARS PROTESTS

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IN THE ARENA

One year after the unprecedented #EndSARS protests against the crass impunity, extreme brutality and extra-judicial massacre perpetrated by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad forced the scrapping of the unit, genuine closure, and the youth’s demands are still illusory, .

From the 17th Century English thinker Thomas Hobbes to John Locke, Rousseau and Ibn Sinna, political philosophers have taught that men agree to be governed only because of a pre-existing social contract in which the state protects the people in exchange for their obedience. When a government fails in that elementary duty, it breaches that sacred civilisational trust.

The social contract theory was at the heart of the #EndSARS massive protests that swept the country a year ago when the Nigerian youths rebelled against the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (FSARS) established in 1992 and which over the years had become synonymous with crass impunity, extreme brutality and extra-judicial massacre. The protests morphed from social media campaigns into street demonstrations in October 2020.

Still vivid was the violent twist that characterised the #EndSARS protests, last October, in which many policemen and civilians were killed across the country, scores injured and several others left in life- threatening conditions by rampaging hoodlums that hijacked the peaceful protest. Some 205 police stations and formations, including other critical private and public infrastructure across Nigeria were damaged by hoodlums during the hijacked protest.

Today, a year after the massive #EndSARS protest, over 300 still in detention in Lagos, according to a civil society group, New Nigeria Network (NNN), and has urged the state government to take them to court.

According to Co-convener of NNN, Mr. Adesina Ogunlana, “information at our disposal does not indicate any arraignment at all of those already slated for trial at the High Court, courtesy of the legal advice of the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) Lagos State, acting on behalf of the Attorney-General of the state since 2020. For the other category slated for trial at the Magistrate Courts, there has been no significant progress in the ‘alleged prosecution’ which is more of window dressing.”

Meanwhile, many burnt police stations are yet to be fixed with policemen working like refugees. Policemen were killed in Lagos, Oyo, Anambra, Benue Abia Ogun and Ebonyi states. Lagos and Oyo states had the highest figure of slain policemen, with six each, followed by Anambra State Police Command with four, Abia and Ebonyi had two each while Ogun recorded one.

Fired by deep memories of hurt and lack of closure, the Nigerian youth made good their threat to hold memorial marches mid last week, commemorating those who died during the nationwide protests last year. They ignored warnings by the Nigeria Police that marches to mark the one year anniversary of the #EndSARS protest would not be condoned.

In Lagos State, the youths gathered at the Lekki tollgate to mark the #EndSARS anniversary. But the rally was marred by police brutality and clampdown on journalists covering the peaceful event. In Abuja, security operatives pushed back a procession to the National Assembly complex.

Perhaps nudged to life by the memorial rallies held in some states, the National Economic Council (NEC) directed state governors to forward final reports of the panels of inquiry into the protests to their Attorneys-General for prompt arraignment and prosecution of the indicted persons.

Minister of Information and Culture, Mr. Lai Mohammed, who revealed the decision of NEC in Abuja, during a media briefing, also accused those he labelled “champions of a massacre at the Lekki Toll Gate,” including Amnesty International and CNN, of holding on to “their unproven stand.” Mohammed explained that NEC had called on the leadership of the security agencies to ensure that persons recruited into arms-bearing security organs underwent psychiatric evaluation and drug test before enlistment.

The seriousness of the federal government’s new position and directives to state governors remains to be proven. This is because investigative panels set up to look into police brutality have so far been marred by prolonged adjournments, intimidation of witnesses by police lawyers and the failure of police officers to appear as witnesses, according to observer reports verified by AI. Panels have failed to sit in some states, and in others have gone on an indefinite break.

According to Osai Ojigho, human rights expert who is the Director of AI National Office in Nigeria, “what we observed at these panels is discouraging and clearly shows there is no real commitment to ensuring justice for victims of police violence across Nigeria. These panels raised hopes of getting justice but in some states, this is quickly vanishing.”

Further according to Amnesty, a year after peaceful #EndSARS protests ended in a brutal crackdown by Nigerian security forces in Abuja, Lagos and other parts of the country, no one has been brought to justice for the torture, violence, and killings of peaceful protesters, while reports of human rights violations by the police have continued.

Almost every person arrested during the protests described being beaten with the butt of a gun, whips and fists during their arrests. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), at least 12 journalists were attacked during the #EndSARS protests by security forces and unidentified perpetrators. Many of those detained interviewed by Amnesty said that they were tortured while in detention.

Sources revealed that the majority of the 29 states that set up the panels have concluded hearings. But curiously none has made their findings public – spawning speculations of a charade.

It would recalled that the five-point demands of the youth protesters included proscription of SARS, compensations for the families of those who died under police brutality, the release of arrested protesters and an increase in the salaries and allowances of police officers.

They also demanded that an independent body be set up to investigate allegations of police misconduct and to prosecute those indicted. They also called for the psychological evaluation of officers of the disbanded SARS before they are redeployed into other units.

Clearly, youths coming together in joint action have served as a major engine of social transformation throughout human history. At key moments, younger generations have repeatedly acted to challenge and influence the dismantling of systems of oppression, subordination and injustice.

Today, youth-led collective action is proving decisive in combating global challenges. From fighting for the environment, to protecting and expanding human rights to demanding economic justice, young folks are at the forefront of change. This demographic niche represents the future and their voice needs to be heard and not blocked.

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