On the heels of the on-going nationwide protests, a coalition of civil society organizations yesterday called on the Federal Government to prevail on the Nigerian Army to suspend its planned 'Operation Crocodile Smile VI'.
This is even as another coalition of labour and civil society groups also cautioned the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Tukur Buratai against facing the International Criminal Court, ICC, should any #EndSARS protester be killed by the military.
The activists spoke on a day Osun State governor, Gboyega Oyetola, dismissed insinuations that his convoy was attacked by #EndSARS protesters, attributing the attack to those he described as thugs.
Still on the same issue, the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria, CBCN, argued yesterday that the dissolution of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS, by the Inspector-General of Police, IGP Mohammed Adamu, would not end police brutality in the country, noting that the development was a sign of a failing state.
Speaking against the backdrop of the protests in Abuja, the over 30 CSOs, including Centre for Democracy and Development, CDD, Enough is Enough and Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, CISLAC, condemned the military exercise as unacceptable, alleging it was designed to crush the civil protests.
The Army had said it would commence Exercise Crocodile Smile VI, which is usually conducted annually to checkmate the activities of criminals across the country during the ember months.
It noted that this time, the military operation which would run from October 20 to December 31, would carry out cyber warfare operations to counter negative propaganda by criminal gangs and groups in social media and across the cyberspace.
CSOs warn Army
But the CSOs unanimously warned that the Exercise Crocodile Smile VI would only serve to exacerbate the distrust of citizens and lack of confidence in the state and its institutions.
So, they urged the military to withdraw the operation and remain in their barracks to defend the territorial integrity of the country until the #EndSARS protests abated.
A co-convener who spoke on behalf of the coalition, Ezenwa Nwagwu, said: "In the last two weeks, the streets of Nigeria have been convulsing with protests and agitations. The clarion call as reflected in the multitude of young Nigerian voices is for an end to police brutality and all related abuses, which unaccountable policing has left in its wake.
"For the avoidance of doubt, these protests are legitimate, and young people who ignited the movement have a right to express their grievances using the weapon of protest.
"While #EndSARS is focused on the immediate concern of a brutish policing system, the protesters are also inherently voicing their anger against a governance system which has failed to reckon with them.
"#EndSARS is, therefore, an affirmation of citizen's readiness to resist bad governance in all its ramifications, beginning with inadequate government response over the prolonged trend of police brutality.
"The accumulated anger of citizens over decades of failure in the delivery of basic social services, endemic corruption, and impunity of political office holders has precipitated distrust of, and lack of confidence in the state and its institutions.
"These frustrations are visible in the pent-up anger, which has been boiling over in mass street protests in cities across the country.
"Collectively, we affirm the validity of the protests, and the grievances driving the organization and mobilization of popular anger. Police brutality in particular, and the brutality of security, armed forces, and law enforcement agents towards citizens, in general, is a fact and a reality that cannot be contradicted.
"In this respect, we strongly condemn the thinly-veiled threat issued by the Military High Command, wherein the unacceptable move is being made to crush the peaceful protests.
"Such a threat is ill-conceived in the face of legitimate citizens' protest and a threat to constitutionally guaranteed rights.
"We call on the military to immediately withdraw its ill-advised attempt to undermine the constitutional freedom of citizens to voice their displeasure about the state of the country.
"We reject in its entirety the move to draft in the military to quell the protests, even where there has been no violent conduct on the part of protesters.
'Let military remain in their barracks'
"The Military should remain in their barracks and at their duty posts, defending the territorial integrity of the country, and not deployed in a dangerous anti-people and anti-democratic operation to crush a people who are exercising their right to freedom of association, freedom of expression, and freedom of assembly.
"It is important we state here that the commencement of the Exercise Crocodile Smile VI is ill timed and will exacerbate the distrust of citizens.
"Equally, it is important to let the Nigerian authorities know that the entire world is watching its response to the legitimate demands of the youth.
"The world is watching the state-sponsored assault on the freedom of expression, and association of Nigerians in the forms of illegal bans on a protest by the governor of Rivers State [CO1] and the authorities in the Federal Capital Territory. These bans are patently unlawful and constitute an ominous prelude to what we suspect would be a harsh clampdown on citizens.
"The ongoing protests to end police brutality and compel sorely-needed reform of the police and policing, is thus a legitimate movement, raising legitimate concerns, making legitimate demands, and as such because the movement is exercising universally recognized and constitutionally guaranteed rights, the movement must be protected, and not repressed.
"We must reiterate here that the practice of dehumanizing citizens and stripping them of their dignity, which has become endemic in the security and defence sectors, is a manifestation of the institutional decay and systemic crisis of governance. This is a measure of the failure of political leadership by Nigeria's ruling class.
"So, what is expected of any responsible government, political leadership, and ruling class is to step back and reflect and undertake a radical overhaul and comprehensive root and branch reforms of the security and law enforcement agencies, as well as of the armed forces.
"So far, we can confirm at least 13 persons have been extra-judicially killed in the course of the peaceful protest (Oyo - 4; Edo - 2; Ondo - 1; Osun - 2; and Lagos - 4). In addition is the attack on peaceful assembly in eight states (Oyo, Lagos, Edo, Plateau, Anambra, FCT, Kano and Osun)."
CSOs list demands
So, the CSOs joined the youths in demanding: "Accountability for previous, current, and ongoing acts of the brutalization of citizens from the government and its agencies. Offending officers must be identified, investigated, prosecuted, and punished.
"That a mechanism is put in place to identify all previous and current victims of police brutality, to ensure that they get justice, including compensations.
"That all those arrested during the ongoing protest be released unconditionally.
"That the President constitutes and summons an emergency and inaugural meeting of the Nigeria Police Council [NPC] provided for in the 1999 CFRN [as amended], in Section 216, and whose composition and functions were clearly stated in Part III [Supplemental and interpretation], Sections 27 & 28 of the same constitution.
"That the government moves beyond cosmetic approaches in responding to the yearnings of protesting citizens. Building confidence would involve moving speedily to implement key first steps, including the expeditious public trial of police officers who have been accused with evidence and are found to have perpetrated crimes, including extra-judicial killings, against the Nigerian people.
"That an independent and multi-stakeholder committee, including the acknowledged representatives of the protesting youths among others, be constituted to oversee the implementation, and undertake monitoring and assessment of the implementation of the Police Act 2020 as the basis for undertaking the institutional and systemic reforms that are urgently needed.
"Finally, we reject the repression of ongoing protests."
'Nigerians must brace up'
The coalition commended the youths who have defied the odds to make their voices heard.
"This is just the beginning as we stand with the youths of Nigeria who have taken leadership to demand accountability and a better Nigeria. The struggle has just begun, and the people of this country must brace up to take their destinies into their hands."
Other organizations represented at the briefing are: Partners for Electoral Reform, Centre for Information, Technology and Development (CITAD), Yiaga Africa, Global Rights, Project Alert, Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC), Paradigm Initiative, Rule of Law and Accountability Centre (RULAAC), HEDA Resource Centre, African Centre for Media & Information Literacy (AFRICMIL), Community Life Project (CLP), Protest to Power, Social Action, Take Back Nigeria Movement (TBN), Right to Know, Lawyers Alert, Private and Public Development Centre, South Saharan Social Development Organisation, Partners West Africa- Nigeria, Centre LSD, Connected Development (CODE),Stakeholders Development Network (SDN), BUDGiT, CWCW Africa, Peering Advocacy and Advancement Centrer in Africa (PAACA), Invictus Africa, and Prisoners' Rehabilitation and Welfare Action (PRAWA).
ASCAB warns FG, Army boss
Similarly, another coalition of labour and civil society civil society bodies, under the aegis of Alliance for Survival of COVID-19 and Beyond, ASCAB, has warned the Chief of Army Staff, Lt Gen Tukur Buratai, or any of his men of the risk facing the International Criminal Court, ICC, in the Hague if any of the #ENDSARs protesters was killed.
The group urged the Federal Government to withdraw plans to use soldiers to quell the protests that have rocked major cities across Nigeria, noting that the protest which began five days ago, peaked at the weekend when some Northern cities joined the movement.
In a statement signed by its Chairman, Mr Femi Falana, SAN, the group asked President Muhammadu Buhari not to invite soldiers to resolve a purely democratic issue that called for dialogue and constructive engagement.
ASCAB said protests had common features across the world as seen in Hong Kong, the United States, France, South Africa, Belarus and even in Sudan, adding that in no instance has soldiers been deployed to suppress the protesters.
"Nigeria wants to set another ugly precedence in world history," the group said.
It reminded the Federal Government that Operation Crocodile Smile had been declared illegal by a court of competent jurisdiction, following legal actions filed by Mr Femi Falana.
It added that efforts by the Chief of Army Staff to challenge the order by approaching the Court of Appeal met a brickwall.
ASCAB recalled that the Federal High Court in July this year, granted a perpetual injunction restraining the Army from such an exercise in Femi Falana SAN v Chief of Army Staff (FHV/L/CS/1939/19
The coalition said every bullet that goes out of the barrel of the gun, was owned by the people of Nigeria, adding that it was a crime under international law to release these bullets with the hope of taking human life.
ASCAB said it was unfortunate that the Federal Government was sending a signal to the military that it had a role to play in a purely civil matter.
The group said it is already monitoring and compiling lists of all rights extra-judicial killings associated with the protests and that any the Nigerian Chief of Army Staff, Lt General Tukur Yusuf Buratai and the soldiers involved in any killings will be held responsible personally responsible at the international court.
ASCAB said peaceful protests are the only way Nigerians are entitled under the Nigerian constitution to register their grievances against a system that suffocates them.
"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.
"We urge President Muhammadu Buhari not to use soldiers to quell a peaceful, civil protest. The protesters have been lawful. The few cases of violence were associated with armed thugs disrupting the protests coupled with the shooting of protesters by security operatives."
'Crocodile Smile' not going after #EndSARS protesters, says Army
The Nigerian Army says "Operation Crocodile Smile" has nothing to do with #EndSARS protest.
In a statement, yesterday, Musa Sagir, Army spokesman, said it is wrong to say the exercise is targeted at protesters who are out in major cities across the country.
Sagir said the Army has been professional since the protest started "nearly two weeks ago."
The statement read: "The attention of the Nigerian Army (NA) has been drawn to some social media stuff wrongfully condemning the Army and its Leadership over the announcement of Exercise CROCODILE SMILE VI particularly the Cyber Warfare Component of the Exercise. This year's Exercise CROCODILE SMILE is scheduled to commence from the 20th of October to the 31st of December 2020 has no relationship with any lawful protest under any guise whatsoever.
"For the records, Exercise CROCODILE SMILE is a yearly exercise in the NA Calendar/Forecast of Events which traditionally holds from October to December of each year.
"Thus, to now insinuate that it is an exercise meant to stifle the ongoing ENDSARS protest is to say the least highly misinformed. Exercise CROCODILE SMILE VI has nothing to do with the ongoing protest and the NA has never been involved in the ongoing protest in any form whatsoever. So far, the army has acted professionally since the civil protest started over two weeks ago.
"The Army hereby enjoins all law abiding Nigerians to go about their lawful activities unhindered as the Exercise has nothing to do with ENDSARS protest, but a yearly event set out to train NA officers.
Thugs, not protesters, attacked me -- Osun gov
Also yesterday, Osun State governor, Mr. Adegboyega Oyetola, said his attackers at the #EndSARS protest on Saturday were hired political thugs and not youth protesting against police brutality in the state capital.
He also denied that his convoy killed two persons during the attack unleashed on his convoy, saying one the victims had been involved in an accident around 12:30pm, while the other one was said to have died at Ayepe area of the town.
Governor Oyetola in a statewide broadcast, said youths in the state had been protesting peacefully against police brutality before the process was hijacked by hoodlums and political thugs.
The statement read: "Yesterday evening (Saturday), political thugs and hoodlums made failed attempts on my life and those of my aides while identifying with our beloved youths who were engaging in legitimate protest against the alleged brutality of the now disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS.
"My entourage and I joined protesters from Alekuwodo area to Olaiya Junction chanting solidarity songs with them and encouraging them along the way. During the course of my address to the protesters to reiterate our cooperation and support, political thugs hijacked the exercise and hurled stones and dangerous weapons at us and vandalized several cars in my convoy.
"Preliminary investigation revealed that the commando style with which the assailants carried out their attack was deliberate and pre-planned. It was also evident that it was not the genuine protesters that carried out the violence.
"Preliminary investigation further revealed that no live bullet or cannister of teargas was fired at the rampaging political thugs. Therefore, no life was lost at the scene of the incident. I was properly evacuated to safety.
"Regrettably, two lives were reportedly lost yesterday. But none occcured during the attack on me. One of the said deaths which was caused by a lone motorcycle accident occurred around 12noon, long before I got to the protest ground.
"The second death was said to have occurred around Ayepe, about five kilometers away from Olaiya where we held the protest.
"We sympathise with the families of the diseased and pray to God to grant them the fortitude to bear the great losses.
"I have directed that the incidents be properly investigated with a view to ascertaining the causes of the deaths.
"By this week, we shall be setting up a Judicial Panel of Enquiry in line with the directive of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo to investigate all related cases of abuse and brutality by the disbanded SARS. This panel will also investigate yesterday's attack.
"What happened on Saturday is objectionable, unacceptable and a blight to the Omoluabi ethos that the State of Osun stands for.
"Attempt on the life of the governor cannot be planned by the youths who constituted over 60 per cent of the voters that elected us into office and had embarked on successful and peaceful road walks with us several times in the past.
"Osun youths who are the original #EndSARS protesters have travelled the long road of building a better Osun with us and we have been on the lane of delivering a better and prosperous Osun together. This assassination attempt could not have come from them.
"Our Administration had identified with the youths from Day One of the protest in the belief that protest is a legitimate right of the citizenry and a core component of democracy. On the day one of the protest, Senior Government Officials were at the Nelson Mandela Freedom Park to identify with and address the protesters.
"Rest assured that we are on top of the situation. We shall fish out the perpetrators of this dastardly act and bring them to justice. We shall not condone any act that will compromise the lives of our people and the hard-won ranking of our State as the most peaceful state in Nigeria. As a responsible government, we will do everything in our powers to protect the lives and property of our people."
SARS dissolution won't end police brutality -- Catholic bishops
Reacting to the ongoing protests yesterday, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Nigeria, CBCN, said the dissolution of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS by the Inspector-General of Police, IGP Mohammed Adamu, would not end police brutality in the country.
Likening the order disbanding SARS to treating symptoms of a disease when the root cause was known, the Bishops reiterated that restructuring Nigeria remained the best path to tow, given the various developments in the country.
CBCN President, Archbishop Augustine Obiora Akubeze, who stated this in an address to all Catholics in Nigeria, in view of the ongoing #EndSARS protests. said the Catholic Bishops aligned with the agitation for an end to police brutality and oppression.
Arguing that audacity and impunity of SARS agents was a manifestation of the failing state of Nigeria, Archbishop Akubeze said government must realize that there could be no peace without justice.
He said: "I send you greetings from the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) on this occasion of the widespread protest calling for an end to the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigeria Police Force.
"It is remarkable and quite commendable that this protest is being led by the youths of Nigeria who are tired of suffering from the brutality and injustices perpetrated by officers of the SARS and the Nigeria Police Force as a whole.
"There is hardly any Nigerian who has not directly or indirectly encountered the crude and inhuman manner the SARS officials deal with the citizens of this country. The youths are therefore simply calling for justice, not just for themselves, but for the entire nation so that Nigeria can have peace. Whereas the Federal Government keeps asking for peace and calm in the face of every crisis, the present agitation shows that our youths have run out of patience and are tired of the lip-service paid by the government of the day towards a just and peaceful society.
"We unequivocally add our voice to those of our youth and that of every well-meaning Nigerian to condemn the excesses and the horrible operations of this police unit and the bad omen they portend to our democracy.
"The Government of Nigeria must realise that anyone who desires peace, must work for and cherish justice since there can be no true peace where injustice is the order of the day as it is in Nigeria today.
"We need to also remind ourselves that peace is not the absence of war because wherever there is injustice, war has already been declared on the people. Thus, the cries of our children protesting against the brutality of the SARS that manifests in extra-judicial killings, unlawful arrests, profiling of youths as criminals, the invasion of their privacy by searching phones and laptops without any warrant or any just cause, and the incarceration of many of the youths in the SARS custody without trial, are all cries for justice.
"We the members of the CBCN have followed the protests with keen interest and call on the Federal Government of Nigeria once again to listen to the cry for justice so that peace can reign in our country.
"The protest seems to have a life of its own and it is spreading all over the country; this shows that most Nigerians are facing the same oppression and brutality inflicted by the SARS. We urge the Federal Government to fulfil its primary constitutional responsibility of securing life and property of every Nigerian and provide opportunities for our children to realise their God-given potentials.
"The EndSARS protest is a microcosm of the fundamental problems in Nigeria. The audacity and impunity with which the SARS officials have been operating all the while is a manifestation of the failing State of Nigeria. Various bodies and patriotic Nigerians have expressed the opinion that just ending the SARS will not solve the enormous problems of Nigeria, because it is futile treating symptoms of a disease when the root cause is known.
"A centralized Police Force in Nigeria is primarily responsible for the lack of grassroots accountability for the crimes perpetrated by the SARS and their likes.
"We reiterate that restructuring this country is a desirable path to be towed given the various developments in this nation. The knee jerk reaction of the administration by abolishing the SARS and setting up the Special Weapons and Tactics, SWAT, team portrays either the absence of an understanding of the entire problem or a lack of sincerity to address the problem.
The Nigerian Government must realise that what the youths, on behalf of Nigerians, clamour for under the code name #EndSARS is a total reform of the entire Police Force and not a change of name. They are asking for a system that will be hard on crimes and criminals in the society within the ambience of the law, while at the same time treating every human being, citizens and visitors alike, with respect and dignity."
Buhari, Lawan, Gbaja meet
Meanwhile, PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari and the leadership of the National Assembly, led by President of the Senate, Dr. Ahmad Lawan, and speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, yesterday met at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, over the ongoing nationwide #ENDSARS protest.
The meeting, it was gathered, was to review the ongoing #EndSARS protests across the country and determine the quickest way to implement the protesters' five-point demand.
Speaking to State House correspondents after the meeting, the Senate President said the parley with the President was to decide on an expeditious manner to implement the demands.
He said it was a trying moment for the government and thanked the President for exhibiting great democratic credentials.
Lawan, who pointed out that the youth had made their legitimate demands and that government has listened, said: "This is certainly a trying moment for our country and the leadership of this country. As the National Assembly, we believe we have critical and crucial roles in ensuring that the current situation of protests across the country is brought to an end.
"I want to thank Mr President for exhibiting his very deep democratic credentials. The protests have gone on for over 10 days, probably today is the 11th day across many states of the country.
"I think the protesters have expressed their legitimate rights, the government has listened and the essence of coming to meet Mr President is to review the situation and see the roles the two arms of government should play in ensuring that the five-point demands of the protesters are properly addressed.
"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.
"It is also 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 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 economic 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.
"Therefore, I am seizing this opportunity to appeal to our youths who are protesting that the protests have already yielded the desired results. First, 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. The other issues followed. They are being addressed, and that is why we are here. I believe the time has come for these protests to come to an end and allow government to address the issues in a very short time.
"I also believe that Nigerians have legitimate rights to go about their lawful businesses without let or hindrance. We cannot have that when the roads are blocked. We do not want a situation that will lead to a degeneration of law and order because if somebody is blocked and he feels he must have his way.
"So, we will ask that withdrawing from these protests at this time is the right thing to do. Meanwhile, give us the opportunity to deal with matters that we have agreed as a government to handle."
On his part, speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila said: " We have met with the President and I can assure you that there is no bigger democrat than Mr President. He gave us a listening ear, the same that he always gives Nigerians.
"He accepted absolutely everything that Nigerians asked for. I have heard the stories that we have heard end SARS like four times before. That is what people are saying.
"Like I said, you have never heard it from Mr President, but now, he has said so. So, let us tarry a little while. Let us sit back. We have got what we want, let us sit back and see what happens.
"If you like, you begin your protests again if nothing happens in two weeks. But let us not continue this thing and lose the plot. That is what I don't want. I don't want our youths to lose the plot. They have done so well in terms of expressing their grievances and it is important we don't get side-tracked.
"Of course, there are tangential issues that they have discussed after the EndSARS. We have spoken with Mr President and he is looking at everything. Some of these things are policy matters that are not going to happen overnight. You are not going to have electricity overnight; it is not going to happen tomorrow. Free road is not going to happen tomorrow.
"It is a process and the important thing is that the government has heard you loud and clear. It is a continuous engagement. We will be engaging our youths in matters of policy and communicate with Mr President as well on what needs to be done.
"So, again, let us not lose the plot, let us remain focused. Points have been made like never before in the history of Nigeria and that is kudos to the young men and women out there."
On the attack on the Osun State Governor, he said, "As far as Osun State is concerned, it is unfortunate what happened to the state governor. This is where I said we are beginning to lose the plot.
"Osun state governor is loved by everybody in the state. He came to address people and that was what he got. At that point, we begin to wonder what exactly do we want? Is there an unseen hand? I don't think there is an unseen hand. This is a movement. We should not allow people to infiltrate what otherwise is a good course.