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#EndSARS: Nigeria’s sign of a looming revolution

A peaceful protest signifies an expression of one’s fundamental human rights if threatened, abused or denied.

For years, Nigerians have had to endure unchecked barbarism among the now-disbanded police unit known as the Special Anti-Robbery Squad or SARS against the Nigerian populace, especially the youths.

The SARS unit was formed in late 1992 under the control of the former police commissioner, Simeon Danladi Midenda, after killing a Nigerian Army officer by policemen at a Lagos checkpoint. The initial cause for the formation of this particular police unit was to detain, investigate, and prosecute individuals involved in violent crimes such as kidnapping and armed robbery.

Over time, the unit began to grow more substantial in number and scale of operations. On several occasions, they closed in on internet fraudsters, rapists, suspected aiders and abettors of more violent crimes and cultists. While many of their operations were successful, several reports of intimidation, extortion, bribery and stealing by many SARS officials were reported over the years.

Sadly, a lot of young and innocent citizens became their soft target. Youngsters with dreadlocks, piercings, or tattoos, fanciful appearances, flashy cars, expensive phones or laptops, or those who they felt were just too young to be rich were their usual prey. Most of these individuals were brutally beaten, injured, or in many cases killed for not cooperating or yielding to their infamous demands.

Read Also: Has anything changed since #EndSARS protests hit Nigeria?

Following several disturbing reports of human rights abuses in various degrees perpetuated by the SARS unit of the Nigeria police, the government has made some efforts to checkmate the excesses of the unit. However, it seemed like each government attempt to restore order to the pro-criminal police unit made them stronger as they wreaked more havoc towards ordinary defenceless Nigerians.

This continued until 2020, and Nigerians could no longer take any further harassment from the SARS unit.

On some occasions, while the SARS operatives intimidated and murdered young Nigerians, some bold individuals resorted to jungle justice in retaliation, and many deaths on both sides have been witnessed. Others took to social media to campaign against the existence of the police unit. By October 2020, the need to enforce a total halt in the unit’s operation became too clear to ignore, and Nigerians brought out all they had to fight for what they believed was right.

The #EndSARS movement resurged, but this time, in a more desperate tone than in 2017. The killing of a man at Wetland Hotel in Ughelli, Delta State and another young protester in Ogbomosho, Oyo State, respectively, by police officers, sparked public outrage. Several protests across many states in the country began, and support from famous celebrities and other well-to-do individuals launched the nation into its most significant and widespread protest ever. Local and international news outlets aired the series of events, and Nigeria was kept in a global spotlight.

The event eventually turned sour after alleged government-backed thugs came to infiltrate the peaceful and organised protests. In a bid to counter the damaging activities of the imposters, officers of the Nigerian Army engaged the protesting youths, and several casualties, including deaths, were recorded. While several public and private properties were destroyed across the country during the infraction between government forces, peaceful protesters and hired thugs, the experience in Lagos State was the most significant. The Lekki tollgate, the epicentre of the Lagos mass protest, was burned, and many mass transit busses were also destroyed.

Normalcy was soon restored country-wide, but Nigerian youths are still unhappy with the government’s inability to see beyond the motive of a peaceful protest.

#EndSARS indeed is a call by the Nigerian populace to end criminal activities of the country’s police force. However, the movement is also a call by well-meaning citizens both at home and abroad for better governance and an end to public waste and fiscal recklessness of government. Nigerians yearn for better living conditions, better jobs, more affordable means of livelihood, and better security of lives and properties.

Nigerians are tired of high food prices, bad roads, lack of access to medical care and facilities, low wages, poor electricity, insurgency and terrorism, banditry, among other public vices. Citizens of Nigeria want to be treated equally regardless of their tribe or culture. People want to be valued by their elected leaders.

The #EndSARS slogan represents more than just a police reform to Nigerians; it is a code for much more. Citizens hoped that the government would understand and act appropriately. However, Nigerians got an overwhelming response from their leaders.

A year later, a memorial protest is ongoing, and current events across the country imitate similarities of the past. Before the planned date for the nationwide protest in honour of those who sacrificed their lives in the 2020 ‘EndSARS protest, the Lagos State police command had warned that it would not tolerate any protest in the state.

Disregarding the warning, protesters stormed Lekki tollgate to register their grievances over police brutality and killings of innocent lives across the country. An array of vehicles was displayed across the streets of Lagos in protest for a better Nigeria.

In a show of force, about 30 police trucks and armoured vehicles and armed personnel were stationed at the Lagos Lekki tollgate in wait for the protesters. True to their promise, some peaceful protesters have been reported arrested and detained. Among the detained is a journalist.

Arise News’s online video streaming shows a protester being maltreated and pepper-sprayed before being carried like an animal into the police van. According to some local media sources, reports of fired tear gas across some protesting sites are also recorded.

With these in the record, there is the threat of a looming revolution that may befall the Nigerian state. When youths are irked and pushed farther than they can forebear, it may take only a brazen act of offence against their “slave masters” to demand freedom.

The government should read the writing on the wall and take appropriate steps to forestall a forceful rejection of sustained oppression and oligarchy. Democracy which was long fought for, should be enjoyed and not endured by all.

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