#ENDSARS Protests and the Ethics of the Nigeria of Our Dream
The events of the last two weeks, involving citizens’ demand for accountability, symbolize an important epoch in Nigeria’s journey to nationhood and social justice. This process has been a long and enduring one, with several transitions from colonialism, through fledging civilian experimentation, military dictatorship up to the current democratic dispensation of the Fourth Republic. The Federal Government’s response of disbanding the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) unit of the Nigerian Police Force (NPF), in the event of the current digitally mobilized protests triggered by a tweet about the killing of a young man, allegedly by members of SARS at the Wetland Hotels in Ughelli Delta State, indicated the incumbent administration’s commitment to reforming the NPF.
While there have been diverse, if at times opposing, reactions to the current protests, there seems to be a consensus on the need for a reform of the country’s policing model. Recent events, including the passage of the Police Trust Fund (Establishment) Act 2019 and the Nigerian Police Force (Establishment) Act 2020, confirm that the process of reforming the NPF had already been set in motion by the present administration. As part of this process, the Board of Trustees of the Police Trust Fund was inaugurated in Abuja on May 18, 2020, by the Minister of Police Affairs, Mr Muhammad Dingyadi. It therefore defies logic that anyone would consider it improper for citizens to lend their voices to the need for police reforms by calling for the disbandment of SARS, a police unit that has been noted for perpetrating human rights abuses against innocent citizens.
We have observed, in the past two weeks, a patriotic model of mostly peaceful conduct during demonstrations by Nigerian youths across different states in the country. Unfortunately, the demonstrations have been hijacked by unscrupulous individuals, who have employed violence as means. From the waving of the Nigerian flag to singing the national anthem, even when confronted with guns by persons suspected to be uniformed state actors, the youths of our noble country gave a good account of themselves with unique civility even without defined leadership. One cannot but be proud of the display of humaneness by the youths, including fundraising – to assist some small business owners and secure prosthetic limbs for fellow Nigerians – as well as giving money, food and drinks to police officers on duty at different locations in the country. They also attended to the medical needs of injured demonstrators, and created a carnivalesque which produced positive energy in different gatherings. The solidarity shown by Nigerians, at home and in the Diaspora, to support medical care and shelter for stranded protesters is a testament to the legitimacy of the cause among Nigerians.
We also noticed with dismay, the incidents of violence that have collectively been considered as activities of unscrupulous individuals, whose identities must be uncovered speedily. We condemn these acts of violence in totality, and emphasize that this is the exact opposite of the objective of the cause, which is to call attention to wanton disregard for the sanctity of human life and the security of the rights and property of Nigerian citizens. We also condemn the reported arson attacks and other forms of violence targeted at police stations, prisons, banks, media houses, government institutions, the public transport systems and private residences. We join the call for better coordination and more civility among all parties and for the prevention of further acts of provocation and violence. We condemn the events leading up to the desecration of our national symbols and killing of unarmed civilians demonstrating at the Lekki Toll Gate on October 20, 2020.
We therefore call on the Nigerian Army to do right by the Nigerian people, and support the investigation into the shooting of unarmed Nigerians, in order to demonstrate its integrity. While we commend the commitment of the Lagos State Government to investigate the incidents and bring perpetrators to justice, we demand transparency and fairness through a public trial for all identified perpetrators.
The journey to genuine transformation and progress is a marathon that entails enshrining social justice by working together to diligently build a culture and institutions of accountability in the use of state power. We therefore stand on the right side of history by calling for an end to police brutality and other forms of human rights abuses in the country.