About two weeks ago, some Nigerian youths took to the streets of Lagos and Abuja to protest the spate of extra judicial killings by a unit of the Nigeria Police Force.
The Police Special Anti-robbery Squad, SARS for short, had gained notoriety for the ease with which its operatives killed young ones at the slightest provocation and sometimes, without provocation at all.
The unit, which has now been disbanded as a fall out of the protest, had been known to kill youths for carrying expensive phones or in their estimation, wearing expensive clothes.
And so it was that on October 8, the youths took to the streets to say “enough is enough.”
They demanded the scrapping of SARS. At first, the general thinking in government quarters was that the “lazy youths” were at it again and would soon lose focus.
But they quickly proved such thinkers wrong. As the days passed by, more youths joined the protest and it grew in size and spread.
The movement, yes that’s what it has become, which began in Lagos and the Federal Capital Territory, has spread to 30 states of the federation and beyond the shores of the country.
The Inspector-General of Police quickly announced the scrapping of SARS and in the same breath, the establishment of Special Weapons Tactical Team (SWAT).
The youths said, ‘who does that?’ They insisted on a total reform of the police force and a renaming of a disgraced unit.
In fact, they have handed down five key demands which they insist government must meet before they leave the streets
Tagged 5for5, the demands are;
*Immediate release of all arrested protesters
*Justice for all deceased victims of police brutality and appropriate compensation for their families
*Setting up of an independent body to oversee the investigation and prosecution of all reports of Police misconduct (within 10 days)
*In line with the new Police Act, psychological evaluation and retraining (to be confirmed by an independent body) of all disbanded SARS officers before they can be deployed
*Increase police salary so that they are adequately compensated for protecting lives and property of citizens.
The federal government speaking through different functionaries said it has accepted the demands and would implement them.
It urged the protesters to vacate the streets and give it time to work on the demands, this is as it has scrapped SARS and directed state governments set up Human Rights Committees to look into extra judicial killings by the police in their respective states, among other.
After, nearly two weeks of sustained peaceful protests, should the protesters pack up and go home? Has the government demonstrated enough good faith to encourage the youths to sheath their sword?
Mr. Buchi Njere, a Public Relations Consultant ssys: “First, endSARS movement is a response to the many years of irresponsible governance in Nigeria. It’s a spontaneous rejection of what Nigeria has become.
“I wonder If any other group or groups could have done this other than the youth. Have they made their point, yes. Loud and clear. But the government response has been the old way. Hasty and cosmetic offers that only they believe.
“Maybe the youth should remain on the streets for now. I have not seen any sincerity on the part of the government.
I believe negotiations are ongoing. When the government shows sincerity the world will see.”
The lack of sincerity on the part of government resonates with Mr. Razaq Adewale Kasum, US based Nigerian businessman.
He said: “I believe the involvement of the youths in the ways the government is running the country is overdue.
“Having said that the protest is a right move in the right direction but the reaction of the government is deceptive, not only to the protesters but to the Nigerians.
From SARS to SWAT, who is the government deceiving.?
“If the government did not want to lay off the police officers serving in SARS, it should just draft them into the main police force. After all, we do not have enough personnel in the NPF.
“While l support the idea of the protesters negotiating with the government, the government must be sincere with the protesters how they handle the matter.
“I learnt that the action of the protesters is causing hardship to the ordinary members of the public, the protesters must be told that even thought they claimed to be fighting the government on behalf of the public, they must quickly work something out before the public turns it back against them.
“This is not to say that they should call off the protest off abruptly, but something must be done quickly.”
Something must indeed be done quickly as the highly organised and coordinated protesters, though without visible or known leaders are gaining more strength and support by the day.
Some of the older generation realising how they have failed the youth have lent and are still lending support to the protesting youth.
They are saying, ‘what we could not do we will support you to achieve.” And so the protesters have lacked nothing since they took to the streets. Their physical and spiritual needs are adequately met from day to day as they require.
There are over abundance of medical and legal personnel offering their services.
Mr. Joe Ehizode, a Canadian based Sports journalist, says the protesters should hold their ground because the government has not shown seriousness in responding to their demands.
His words: “The government has not provided any table that youths will meet them. Is there any? None that I can see. The problem is that the government erroneously think this is a Southern problem. Isorite! We will see. There is a parable that that says if you are fighting with a taller person do not aim at the head because that is difficult. Hit the stomach and the head will fall.
“The youth will crumble the South and I can bet that Abuja will fall. The government should come down from their horses and be humble . If they show humility, the youth will work with them. Some of governors have been doing that but, the federal has remained intransigent.
“Untill the federal government recognizes the fact that there is a legitimate protest in progress. That is when the protest group will internally evolve to get their leaders to negotiate with government. Right now, the government at the federal level is not ready and the protest group have no leaders.”
Mr. Tompra Abarowei, a Media Consultant is also convinced that for now, the protesters need to sustain the tempo on the streets given the government’s penchant for failing to keep promises.
“For the past couple days now, Nigerian youths have taken to the streets in major cities in the country to express their frustration with the way and manner police men molest and sometimes kill young boys and girls. These policemen, mostly from anti-crime unit called Special Anti Robbery Squad, SARS, have maimed people for no just cause.
“The present campaign to end SARS has taken the federal government by surprise. Even the international community is taking a keen interest in the situation. The sheer intelligent way the youths have organised the unarmed protest is unnerving to the extent that when the youths made their first five point demands the federal and state governments quickly accepted them.
“The protesters demand include the total reform of the police system as is currently constituted beginning with the scrapping of the SARS unit, the arrest and subsequent prosecution of all officers involved in extra judicial killings and numerous human right abuses, payment of compensation to victims and families of victims who suffered under these unwholesome acts by the police and many more.
“The government on their part said they have accepted these demands and will implement them in phases. The government proceeded to drop charges preferred on arrested protesters and instituted panel of enquiry in each state to identify policemen who have committed acts of human right violation and extra judicial killings with a view to prosecuting them. The federal government has also said it is putting in place the machinery to reform the police.
“The obvious question now should protesters stop further action and go back home? The leadership of the National Assembly and some social commentators have pleaded for the youths to suspend the protest. Given the President’s refusal to address the youths on live television and government’s notoriety of failing to keep promises, I am of the opinion that the youths keep on the pressure until the identities of the rouge policemen are published.
“Meanwhile the protesters should start putting the house together by identifying and choosing negotiators amongst themselves in readiness for negotiations immediately their minimal demands are met.”
Mr. Chinedu Ajoku, a businessman, sums up the protests thus: “I see these protests as a great opportunity for the President to write his name in Gold by leaving a legacy of positive change in Nigeria.
“This protest provides our president a good justification for implementing the much needed structural, economic, political and social change for the country. It’s a rare opportunity and he will have little or no opposition from the hardliners. It will be done in response to the demands of the Nigerian youth.
“Those claiming that the protest is about regime change are enemies of the President. They do not want him to carry out the changes for which he was massively voted into power in 2015.
“The President has nothing to lose. He is serving his second and final term as a president and he has just three years left!!”
As the saying goes, he who has ears, let him hear. Buhari, the ball is in your court.