Nigeria: #EndSARS Protests - a Balance Sheet Analysis

28 October 2020
opinion

While we continue to lean more on the side of the citizens, as against the goverment, in human rights advocacy because of the awesome powers of the state, we need to be more discernful in our appreciation of issues. The ease at which conclusions are reached on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations can be catastrophic in many instances.

Introduction

Is it not a fair proposition to attempt a balance sheet analysis of the events of the past few days, as objectively as possible?

After all, a philosopher once said that it is easier for a man to burn down his own house than to remove the prejudice in his mind.

Nevertheless, we owe an obligation to provide leadership by exercising forthrightness and scientific reasoning in our dealings.

Nigeria needs to cultivate its diminishing tribe of patriots and opinion leaders.

There is, at a present, a huge challenge in Nigeria to communicate Human Rights Law as an academic discipline, due to the activities of pretenders and the prevailing atmosphere that encourages quackery and grandstanding.

#EndSARS

1. In the context of the #EndSARS protests, four main parties can be identified:

(a) the organisers and active participants in the protests;

(b) the State (government actors, including the security services);

(c) the rest of the population; and

(d) the international community/foreign interests.

2. Naturally, group (a) and (b) above would need to compete/struggle to win over group (c).

Group (d) comprises of foreign governments; governmental and non-govermental international institutions/organisations; and the international media group. Group (d) largely seeks to leverage on the situation to advance their own interests in the country.

Whatever action(s) group (a) or ( b) takes or manifests in the public sphere has legal implications, including criminal liabilities, at both domestic and international judicial forums.

3. For the first time, Nigeria experienced a well coordinated protest across the country, even though this was predominantly in the southern parts (which appeared nonpartisan and non-violent).

4. The protests were spearheaded by young women and men, who mobilised the public to pressure government to agree to undertake much overdue police reforms, considering the long years of the experience of police brutality and eggregious human rights violations in Nigeria.

5. The protests enjoyed national and international acclaim, as well as legitimacy, hence the outpouring of support and solidarity. It also generated an empowering force of the civil society on how to engage government productively in addressing systemic institutional decay in many facets of our national life.

6. There is no denying the fact that there is deep rot in policing and the law enforcement system in Nigeria, generally. Accountability is depressingly weak and poor, as there is no effective oversight mechanism.

7. The eligibility criteria and recruitment process of the Nigeria Police do not inspire sufficient public confidence.

8. At the point that the government agreed in principle to implement the five-point demand of #Endsars protesters, there ought to have been a re-appraisal of its strategies by the organisers, to refocus on how government would commit itself, in concrete terms, to the timelines and periodic review of the implementation framework.

9. I think some of our senior lawyers, public analysts and social media influencers failed to provide intellectual direction and guidance to the protest movement when they began to articulate a one-sided obligation of the State to respect the right to peaceful protest, without a corresponding advice to the protesters on the need for them to abide by the constitutional principles and international standards regulating peaceful protests, including respect for the rights of other citizens and other members of public, who might wish to go about their lawful businesses without necessarily participating in the protest.

10. Therefore, any protest conducted or organised outside the framework of the Constitution and international law does not qualify to be categorised as peaceful.

11. These criteria are well spelt out in human rights jurisprudence.

12. Any group of persons which prevents fellow citizens from pursing their livelihoods has stepped out of the guarantees afforded it by law. For example, Lagos State is the sixth largest economy in Africa (even though a sub-national government).

Everyday, hundreds of thousands of people enter Lagos with goods worth billions of naira.

13. The extended protests and the ill advised blockades prevented this class of citizens from exercising their rights to legitimate economic pursuits. Some citizens/persons with urgent medical attention and other pressing needs were also denied their rights to freedom of movement and freedom of association.

14. The interruption of local and international flights is also an economic sabotage and deeply regrettable.

15. Also, mllions of poor Lagosians who depend on daily earnings to feed their families were denied their fundamental rights by the protesters, who blocked the roads, which led to the shutdown of economic activities.

16. It is ethically unjustifiable for a group of people who ensured the provision of food and drinks at protest grounds (with the steady inflow of funds from local and international sources) for themselves to deny hapless masses opportunities to provide the same for themselves and their families.

17. The blockades were (apparently) meant to push people to further agonies and to instigate a revolt against government. This was clearly outside the stated objectives of Endsars, and thus it appeared at that stage that a politically influenced opportunistic behaviour had set in.

18. No state will legislate itself out of existence; as its primary responsibility is to ensure law and order.

19. It is a depressing reality that some lawyers and activists do not carefully examine the standards expressed in International Human Rights Law on Peaceful Protest, and on the Use of Force, to enable them form a scientific view in their analyses of the responsibility of the state in dealing with conflict situations and/or managing protests.

20. It is also evident that the Nigerian security services are yet to develop a human rights compliant strategy for the effective dispersal of protesters, who might have crossed the red line.

21. The alleged shootings by soldiers at the Lekki protest ground will have to be investigated and evaluated to determine the proportionate use of force in the circumstance and their adherence to the rules of engagement.

22. The ensuing brigandage and massive destruction of properties, after the military engagement at Lekki, was largely ochestrated by conflict entrepreneurs and fake news merchants, who engaged in dangerous messaging to inflame passion and/or to set the stage for what appears to have been predetermined, coordinated attacks by forces of darkness on Lagos State in particular.

23. Since peaceful protesters do not carry identity cards or adorn any uniform, there are no distinguishing features between peaceful protesters and hoodlums. This makes law enforcement difficult in the circumstances.

24. In the coming days, the various Judicial Panels of Inquiry would determine whether or not there were:

a. proportionate use of force at Lekki protest post and at other protest grounds; and

b. whether acts amounting to genocide or massacre or extra-judicial killings/ arbitrary execution did actually take place at Lekki protest ground as alleged. It is hoped that those who witnessesed or posted the news of killings at Lekki would step forward and provide information to the panel.

25. The nation will be in position to have a coherent understanding and a consolidated perspective of the key issues involved.

26. While we continue to lean more on the side of the citizens, as against the goverment, in human rights advocacy because of the awesome powers of the state, we need to be more discernful in our appreciation of issues. The ease at which conclusions are reached on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations can be catastrophic in many instances.

Nigeria avoided a major descent into anarchy just a few days back when a major private television network broadcast news that the National Christian Centre was on fire. Thankfully, the leadership of Christian Association of Nigeria quickly dispelled the rumour. The news station also gave an update to correct the earlier impression.

27. The Nigerian state is work-in-progress, we need not to tear down the edifice because of our divergent political and other ideological views.

Abdul Wahab Oyedokun holds a doctoral degree in International Human Rights Law and works as an examination administrator.

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