Nigeria: #EndSARS - It's Time to Untangle Multi-Sectoral 'Gang-Up' Shielding the Police, Group Says

#EndSARS protesters at the State House in Alausa, Ikeja (file photo).
20 October 2020

For decades, the Nigeria Police Force have been shielded from justice and the ongoing #EndSARS movement offers an opportunity untangle the multi-sectoral 'gang-up,' an advocacy group, Access to Justice, has said.

In a statement issued in Lagos, the group said until the #EndSARS campaign began, no space was left for Nigerian people to hold the police accountable for its acts of brutality and culture of impunity.

"Internal processes of police accountability were mostly shambolic, pretending to be there, but giving abusers in their system basically a free pass. Every now and then, the police would pass off the impression that they were intolerant of abuses, but that was mostly a whitewash of the reality," the group said in a statement signed by Joseph Otteh and Deji Ajare, its convener and project director respectively.

"The Judiciary's power to make the police accountable has also been largely stifled. Judgments against police lawlessness and abuse are met by the charge that those judgments are unenforceable given that the Attorney General of the Federation has not consented to their enforcement. The Federal Attorney General, who ought to defend the rights of the Nigerian people and the rule of law, persistently declines to give consent to enforce judgements against the Police Force.

"Even the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) plays a major part too. It defends abusive institutions by litigating against judgment creditors when they seek access to banking accounts of those institutions, alongside looking the other way when banks collude with the Police to disguise their accounts and make it inaccessible to judgment creditors.

"In sum, until now, no one has been able to call the police force to account and curtail the excesses (and brigandage) of many members of the force. There has been, as it were, a huge multilateral, multi-sectoral "gang-up" by several actors to shield the police from justice and accountability, to deny the rights of victims of police abuse and injustice and to foster the culture of impunity as it steadily grew within the police force.

"Now, the Buhari government has a far greater scope of work to do in unhinging all the points of this interlocking chain of support for and complicity in police abuses. Government must offer a robust, deep, and credible plan for police reform, including strengthening the independence of the police force, well beyond the diplomacy of a few morsels of bread and sweeteners it is putting on the table."

The protests, a movement seeking large-scale reform of the police, have continued to spread across the country despite efforts by hoodlums to violently suppress them.

The violence unleashed by the hoodlums has, however, led to some states, such as Lagos, imposing a 24-hour curfew.

On Tuesday, the police announced it is deploying anti-riot officers across the country.

In its statement, Access to Justice noted that external processes of accountability in the police were also lacking.

"The Police Service Commission, which has constitutional responsibility for the discipline of members of the police force long abandoned that mandate, which perhaps was its most important - and chose instead softer pastures to cultivate - recruitment, promotions, election-monitoring and postings of senior police personnel. Why these matters were prioritized over disciplinary oversight of the police is a great cause for concern and makes a case for the overhaul of the Commission," the group said.

"Although the Commission's inertness and ineffectiveness is not captured by the headlights of the current campaign, the Police Service Commission is just as complicit in the brutality and impunity of the police force as the perpetrators themselves.

"Without an engaged, primed and dependable Police Service Commission on the frontline of the fight, impunity will continue to flourish within the police whether it be among its regular officers or within its specialized units, and whether it be SARS or SWAT."

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