Awka – A human rights group, Rule of Law and Accountability Advocacy Centre, RULAAC has said one year after the ENDSARS protest that rocked parts of the country, police abuses in Nigeria remain widespread with police officers engaging in the same patterns of abuse that sparked the protests.
The protests driven by youths, were against the spate of extrajudicial killings, torture, harassment and extortion by men of the defunct Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS of the Nigeria Police Force.
It was expected that the protests would propel the government to see the need to urgently initiate a comprehensive police reform programme to address the challenges and gaps that allowed the egregious misconducts that triggered the EndSARS protests.
The protests in some parts of the country, however snowballed into destruction of police formations and killing of police personnel, by some hoodlums who hid under the guise the protesters.
Speaking on the one year anniversary of the protests on Monday, the executive director of RULAAC, Okechukwu Nwanguma, recalled that barely one month before the commencement of the EndSARS protests across the country, President Muhammadu Buhari had signed into law the new Police Act 2020 which provides a framework to commence genuine and far reaching police reform.
According to him, the reforms range from compromised recruitment process, to poor training (including dilapidated training institutions and poor training curriculum), to inadequate funding and poor welfare conditions which make the police work force prone to corruption and violence.
He also recalled that the then Inspector General of Police, IGP and the federal government acceded to the 5-Point demands presented by the EndSARS protesters and affirmed that the demands were genuine concerns and will be addressed by the Government.
“The IGP in response to the demands, dissolved the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), reaffirmed the constitutional rights of Nigerians to peaceful assembly and protests; affirmed the sanctity of life of every Nigerian and the role of the Police in protecting this right.
“Many State governments set up judicial panels of inquiry, he revealed.
Nwanguma however noted that in spite of these acknowledgments, the federal government, at the same time resorted to vile tactics to suppress the peaceful protests before it eventually deployed naked force to brutally quell the protests by dispatching soldiers to open fire on the assembly of unarmed and peaceful protesters leading to loss of lives and injuries.
“Security agencies commenced crackdown on the leaders and presumed sponsors of the EndSARS protests, arrested and detained some of them, seized the travel documents of some others and froze the bank accounts of others,” he said.
Nwanguma also observed that government has moved from denials to partial admission and attempts to cover up the truth regarding what happened at the Lekki Toll Gate on October 20, 2020, noting that there is no accountability yet for the perpetrators of police abuse.
“There have been controversy and disputations over the actual number of persons killed by the military at the Lekki Toll Gate on October 20, 2020.
“This has played out at the Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry where the army, police, Lagos State government representatives, representatives of the EndSARS movement and the Chief Pathologist at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) gave testimonies and evidence.
“Different figures have been presented by different groups.
“One of the witnesses who testified at the Lagos State Judicial panel of inquiry said no less than 10 people were killed while several others were injured. But even if it was just one person killed, as Dele Giwa of blessed memory wrote, one life lost in cold blood is as gruesome as a million lives lost in a pogrom,” the rights activist noted.
Regretting that one year after the ENDSARS protests, police abuses still remain rife across the country, the RULAAC boss said the arrest and continued unlawful detention of Gloria Okorie by IRT and the refusal by the police to comply with Court orders to release her, was one of such instances.
He continued; “The indictment of the former head of the IGP Intelligence Response Team, DSP Abba Kyari by the FBI for abuse of power and for lending his police authority and position to aid and abet international fraud and benefitting from the proceeds of Crime are recent instances that illustrate how police abuse and the failure by police authorities and the government to stamp out impunity have continued one year after the EndSARS protests.
“The opportunity provided by EndSARS has been bungled.
“Police authorities are still issuing Illegal orders banning peaceful protests and assembly- which are constitutionality guaranteed human rights.”
The group commended the Lagos State Judicial panel for awarding monetary compensations to some of the victims of police brutality who brought complaints before it.
Acknowledging that no amount of money can compensate for the lives and dignity of human beings, it said it is a symbolic way of assuaging the pains and agony of victims and their families and also saying that the state does not tolerate human rights abuse.
In his opinion, Nigerians are waiting to see the Government implement the recommendations of the various State Judicial panels of inquiry with regard to bringing perpetrators to account.
“That’s one way the state will send a clear message that it will not condone human rights violations and will go all the way to stamp out impunity for police abuses,” it emphasized.
Nwanguma harped on the need for the Nigeria Police to commit itself to the professional standards characteristic of the police in a democracy.
“The police must be the protectors of human rights and the rule of law and not predators and law breakers,” he concluded.