AFRICA’s leading pro-democracy, policy advocacy and research organisation, the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), has admonished President Muhammadu Buhari to ensure the holistic reforms of the Nigeria Police Force, the nation’s leading law enforcement agency, before the expiration of his tenure of office, saying such would become an indelible legacy he would be bequeathing to Nigerians.
In a statement issued on the first anniversary of the EndSARS protest and signed by its Director, Idayat Hassan, CDD, while expressing displeasure over the poor response from the government to the development issues generated from the demonstration, said accountable and humane policing which formed the fulcrum of the protest, are part of the broader good governance and social justice deficits currently holding the country down.
It would be recalled that between October 7th and 22nd, 2020, a nationwide protest broke out against police brutality, particularly regarding the alleged atrocities of the now-disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), leading to the disbandment of the police intelligence unit, and the institution of panels of inquiries nationwide to investigate the matter and recommend sanction and appropriate compensation for the victims. Prior to the protest, SARS has been widely reported as one of the most notorious armed agencies of government engaged in extortion, torture, rape, and extrajudicial killing of innocent Nigerians, particularly the tech-savvy youths.
Field investigations revealed that about 80 people were killed, 57 civilians, 22 police officers, and three soldiers, in the ensuing mayhem. 137 Police Stations were burnt, 71 public warehouses and 248 private stores looted, and 1,137 inmates set free from Correctional Facilities in different parts of the country. In addition, out of the 1,596 suspects arrested in connection with the violence and widespread looting, more than 1,117 have been charged to court across the country, according to the Inspector-General of Police.
Part of the recommendations put forth to forestall a reoccurrence of such intense youth-led demonstration includes adequate compensation for victims of police brutality and their families, subjecting erring police officers to accountability, and ensuring the holistic reform of the Nigeria Police, through the upward review of their salary structure, construction of modern or the renovation of the existing police divisional commands, and provision of health insurance scheme for the personnel and their families, among others.
CDD expressed displeasure that despite the clear message that the protest sent, the government has not exhibited an iota of seriousness to address the trigger factors, which if continued to be ignored, can reignite a similar experience in no distant time.
The statement reads in part:
“Our record shows that out of the 36 states and the FCT, 29 states did set up the Panel of Inquiry to hear complaints against erring police officers, particularly personnel of the disbanded SARS. It is on record that 18 states have completed sittings, however, they did not submit the report of the panels. Ekiti is the only state that has completed the process, made its report public, and paid all compensations awarded to victims. Lagos State, though suspended its sitting indefinitely, has reportedly been visiting the families and relatives of only the police officers that were killed in the protest for payment of compensations.’’
“To us at CDD, this imbalance needs to be addressed especially now that the country is desperately in search of peace. From our over two decades of field experience, working to deepen democracy, good governance and regional cohesion, a recurring component central to achieving sustainable peace and development remains social justice. And this is what the EndSARS protest was about. We, therefore, implore the government to ensure this is served to all concerned,” the statement says.
Given the government’s kid-glove attention to the recommendations of the EndSARS protest, CDD is also calling for an Independent Panel of Inquiry to look at the over 750 petitions previously submitted against SARS (WWW.DATAPHYTE.COM), identify the rogue officers, recommend their prosecution, and other measures deemed necessary intended to further heal open wounds and facilitate closure for families and victims of the brutality.
“CDD is also worried that one year after, no single erring police officer or that of the Nigerian Army has been held accountable regarding the killing of peaceful and armless protesters during the protest, in spite of the panels of inquiry. Of more heart-breaking is the October 20 Lekki Toll Gate Experience, which is still largely being denied and shrouded in official denials. We, therefore, call for an Independent Panel of Inquiry to look into this, in the interest of justice and social cohesion,” the statement added.