October 27 2020 | Radio Biafra
The right of association with fellow citizens to protest or have peaceful assembly is acceptable to a functioning democracy. But it is also unfortunate that the Nigerian government and its police can violate this right through the use of mass arrests, illegal use of force, criminalization of protests, hiring of thugs and amongst other means to thwart free public expression.
The Nigerian government, the army and the police have also been implicated by different International Organizations on human rights abuses which include the use of lethal force against peaceful protesters. They are being dehumanised and harassed by those who should protect them.
On Thursday 8th of October 2020, the nationwide protests started with the call on the Nigerian government to permanently close down a vindictive and life-taking police unit called Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). In reaction to these protests, the police have tortured, shot tear gas/water cannons, and live bullets at the peaceful, innocent protesters, killing at least twenty people and wounding many others. They have also hired armed thugs to disrupt the protests by attacking the protesters.
These thuggery activities have resulted in wounding many and setting cars ablaze in Abuja, the capital city of Nigeria. The Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) was a Nigerian Police Force unit under the Force Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department, which was created in late 1992 to deal with crimes associated with robbery, motor vehicle theft, kidnapping, cattle rustling and crimes involving firearms.
This may sound equable on paper but the certainty is not the same. Instead of protecting Nigerians from armed robbers, kidnappers and the likes, SARS has gone on to become the horror Nigerians desperately needed protection from. A police unit that ought to be the “go-to place for safety” for Nigerian youths, has turned out to become the despot whose terror far exceeds the activities of any common criminal. A day has never passed without hearing the numerous atrocities of SARS in Nigeria.
There have been countless evidences showing SARS men harassing, attacking, detaining, extorting, threatening to kill and killing innocent civilians. As affected Nigerians fight to put an end to the menace that SARS police has become, let us also not forget those that have fallen victims of police brutality in the country.
The unit has allegedly been involved in committing widespread human rights abuses, including extra-judicial killings, tortures, arbitrary arrests, unlawful detentions and extortions. Many Nigerians feel that the unit has deliberately profiled and targeted young people especially those with tattoos, dreadlocks and visible possessions such as phones and laptops. Over the years, Nigerian authorities have repeatedly promised to reform SARS and ensure accountability for abuses by its officers but to no avail.
Due to much atrocities of SARS and on the 14th of August, 2018, the then Acting President of Nigeria, Professor Yemi Osinbajo had ordered with immediate effect, the “Overhaul” of the controversial police unit (SARS), following reports of human rights violations. The Acting President in his capacity had ordered the then Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Kpotun Idris to reform SARS as well as carry out an independent inquiry after insistent complaints and reports that concern human rights violations. After the order, the IGP announced that the unit would be renamed to Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (FSARS), a New Head appointed with the provision of human rights desk officers equally in place to evaluate reports but was totally futile. It was as if the atrocities gained momentum.
Due to the ongoing nationwide protests, the Federal Government decided to rename the FSARS to SWAT, with the protests still continuing. The demand is that this police unit should be totally overhauled or better still, banned. But the Nigerian government in its usual insincerity, resorted to using force and decisively crude means in dispelling the protesters.
The Nigerian police officers have arrested dozens of protesters, refusing some of them access to their families and lawyers, and only released them following the intervention of senior government officials, including State Governors and the Senate President. There have been reports of the police damaging and confiscating the cameras of protesters and journalists. The right to peaceful protest is guaranteed by the Nigerian Constitution and International Human Rights Law. Unnecessary use of force to disperse protesters is completely unlawful. The protesters deserve nothing less than protection and their demands wholesomely met by the authorities, not victimizing and killing them.
Source: The Biafra Herald
Chibuike John Nebeokike
For: Radio Biafra Media