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EndSARS Anniversary: Police brutality, harassment not yet over

The EndSARS campaign that started October 5 and climaxed October 20, 2020, with an alleged massacre of Nigerian youths at Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos, marks its first anniversary today.

The EndSARS protest drew worldwide attention to Nigeria as youths took to the streets to challenge police brutality and the disbandment of the country’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) unit.

Although the SARS was dismantled, however, a year after, it seems the protest and the people injured and killed were in vain as youths still complain of police brutality and harassment.

“The EndSARS protest was a protest to end police brutality meted out by SARS officials but one year down the line there is still police brutality,” Thompson Ayomide, one of the protesters, says.

According to Ayomide, although the protest did not really achieve its aim, but it brought to consciousness the fact that there is power in unity and when pushed to the wall the Nigerian masses can and will always rise up to their oppressors.

Similarly, Akinseloyin Emmanuel, a digital marketer who has experienced police harassment several times, says there have been reforms from the top but no significant changes, as Nigerians still experience police brutality and harassment daily across the country.

Read Also: Without jobs, protests like #EndSARS can reoccur – Analysts

“One thing I must commend is the resilience of the Soro Soke generation; it is a long journey to freedom. We will get there someday,” he states.

Unlike Ayomide, who would not protest this year, Akinseloyin would honour the brave men and women who got killed and injured, saying, “Their sacrifice would never be in vain.”

Security values are considered important by a large majority of young people, regardless of age, gender, education, socio-economic class or location.

A recent Next Generation survey by the British Council shows that 59 percent of young Nigerians consider security an important value, the largest percentage of any value.

The report states that security values relate to goals such as safety, good health, and a sense of belonging. This means that the majority of young Nigerians are likely to make choices, and judge positively policies and actions that serve their basic physiological and safety needs by, for example, helping them to achieve financial security, avoid violence and conflict, and stay healthy.

“Police brutality has not stopped. Just few weeks I was still unlawful stopped, but I managed the situation well before it escalated,” a digital marketing specialist who wishes to only be identified as Jibola, says.

Confidence MacHarry, resident security expert at SBM Intelligence, told BusinessDay that SARS was disbanded but police brutality had continued with other units. “However, the sheer scale of abuse by police officers pale in comparison to the abuse perpetrated by the military and other security agencies such as the Nigerian Customs Service. This is to say, the more things change, the more they remain the same,” according to MacHarry.

In 1992, the Nigerian government created a new police unit to tackle the epidemic of armed robbery in the country, but it soon went rogue and became its own armed-robbery operation. Its crimes began to exceed extortion at gunpoint.

According to Amnesty International documents, there were at least 82 cases of torture, ill treatment and extra-judicial execution by SARS between January 2017 and May 2020. The victims of the police unit, set up to fight violent crimes, are predominantly male between the ages of 18 and 35, from low-income backgrounds and vulnerable groups.

Before the protest, there had been calls to EndSARS but they were ignored by the government until the youth used online platforms to raise awareness and coordinate the protests, which gained international attention, thereby forcing the government to act.

“Many youths are living in frustration and disappointment over the situations they found themselves in. They were treated badly, some were killed, while others were victimised as a result of things they know nothing about,” Elizabeth Ohaka, a school administrator, says.

She adds, “I know some of them were doing clean businesses online, which the police felt was something else; though some were guilty of the offenses but the process of ascertaining justice by the police was questionable.”

Ifeanyi Ogu, an education consultant, notes that the ruling government is not sincere with the citizenry, especially the youths, and for that he supports the EndSARS protest.

“They promised to do something about the root cause of the 2020 protest, yet nothing is being done except to change the name of SARS. As I speak with you, police brutality is still on, just that the authorities have succeeded in censoring the media,” he says.

On the way forward, Ogu says the government at all levels should ensure there are close- circuit television (CCTV) in all the streets and highways of the urban areas at least for a start. This, according to him, will help fish out the evil men in the police force and this will also go a long way in pacifying the society.

The Nigerian government can get the harvester drone America used in picking out Qasem Soleimani, the former Iran defence minister, who was assassinated on January 3, 2020 by the US army, he says.

“The government is not ready to address the issue; rather they are busy building railways to Niger Republic. Nigeria has the money to buy the drone, they will not invest in that because they are benefitting from evil incidents,” he states.

Ohaka, in proffering solutions to curbing the ugly incident, points out that there were two sets of youths involved that mother of all protest; youths with focus and the street urchins that were used by the politicians.

“Both classes of youths need to be engaged. There has to be an end to this; the youths need to be properly engaged. Already, the situation in the country is so alarming. It is depressing to say the least,” he says.

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