Nigeria: #EndSARS Protests in Context

16 October 2020

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 extra-judicially 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 politically-motivated 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 hell-bent 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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