The battle-cry to end the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS)’ reign of terror came to a near-halt last weekend when the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu announced their disbandment and redeployed them to other units within the policing system.
The #ENDSARS campaigners and Nigerians alike had a sense of relief, albeit, temporarily, that for once, government had listened and acquiesced to citizens’ demands.
While we savoured the moment with the hope that the victory would resolve and engender the resolution of other thorny issues that are not citizen-friendly, the police or any other institutions in the country, it soon turned out that the youth are unrelenting and are demanding for more far-reaching reforms in the police and other sectors of our national life.
When the IGP announced the dissolution in what he said is in “the finest spirit of democratic, citizen-centred and community policing”, he added that the “officers and men of SARS are being redeployed with immediate effect”, meaning that while the institution is no more, without a reorientation, or any form of training or retraining and special counselling, the officers and men remain within the system, implying that the rank and file that constituted the SARS team are still around and could join forces with regular policemen, and remain lethal by transferring their aggression on innocent people.
So the question is what has changed, besides perspective and nomenclature. It is therefore not surprising that the youth in the vanguard of #ENDSARS are undeterred in their calls for holistic transformation of government-citizen engagement.
Going forward, when the uniforms are changed and the attitude remains will be the time for the real value reorientation in the Nigerian police.
Thankfully, as the protests intensify, the president has accepted to implement the recommendations that his committee in line with the protesters demanded such as the release of those arrested in the course of the protest, prosecution of killer-cops, psychological evaluation, training and retraining of members of the disbanded SARS amongst others.
SARS were just a miniscule arm of a rotten system that the police and the Nigerian state have become, and until the IGP announces more measures capable of total cleansing, I’m afraid more protests might be in the offing, and sustaining the current momentum without derailing is the litmus test of the youth’s resilience to go beyond their briefs, but I hope it does not get that bad before the situation is contained by wise counselling on all sides.
In the recent history of citizens’ collective action against the state, only two enjoyed a little measure of “success” like #ENDSARS campaign, the other two being #OccupyNigeria protest of 2012 and #BringBackOurGirls campaign of 2014 as the later enjoyed global attention even.
No doubt, #ENDSARS protest also drew international attention and condemnation of the federal government.
International football stars like Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford and Arsenal forward, Mesut Ozil and celebrities like Davido had since lent their voices in support of the protest. The campaign was massive, almost to the point of embarrassment for government, yet the youth are not swayed by government yielding to their first demand of ending SARS and have continued to pour onto the streets to demonstrate.
The demonstration is one of a few moments that Nigerians have approached with unanimity of purpose and recorded success, and without being divided by our usual fault-lines of religion, region and other primordial sentiments, even as the protest is beginning to take a life its own and assuming a new dimension, comparable only to the fuel subsidy or OccupyNigeria protest and BBOG.
Although the vibrant and vociferous politicians contributed in no small measure to the reach of those protests that culminated in the defeat of the PDP government of Goodluck Jonathan, it is worthy of note that unity of purpose, speaking and acting in unison is all that Nigerians need to make a desired change in the system; and rein in against the ills that plague the nation.
While the ongoing actions is synonymous with those two mentioned above in the sense of a citizen action against an agency of government, and indeed government as a whole, it is markedly different because while BBOG and fuel subsidy removal protests had political undertone, ( the opposition was the driving force behind them), #ENDSARS is spontaneous, and rose from the bitterness against an arm of the police that had become notorious for its brutality against the people they were created and paid to protect, even as it was being used for other dirty jobs such as landlords against recalcitrant tenants and the rich and powerful against the poor and harmless. Therefore, there are legitimate scepticisms about their absorption into the police, who in themselves are as dangerous as SARS such that there is virtually no Nigerian that had no sad tales about the Nigerian police.
Policing problem in Nigeria is systemic and deep-rooted, but since the journey of a thousand miles begins with a step, it is hoped that the total reform envisaged by Nigerians would have begun with the SARS protests and signalled a new dawn for Nigerians to take actions when necessary.
But how about mass action against kidnapping and banditry? How about massive protest against politicians who live large at the detriment of those who elect them? Or a demand for restructuring of a skewed federation not working for anyone, such as the money-guzzling bicameral legislature, unified police, or feeding bottle-federating units.
Indeed, we need a collective action against the 36 state governors for diverting their states’ allocations to personal security votes even as security and welfare of the people degenerate and criminals hold sway. Where do we start citizens’ action against corruption in all facets of our national lives from? From top to bottom, from one institution to the other and everywhere corruption has stultified our progress as a nation. Don’t we need citizens’ collective mass action against our leaders? Hopefully, the #ENDSARS will be the beginning of new consciousness among Nigerians to begin to make demands of their government and leaders.
As the youth all over the world play a kind of questioning role in our rapidly changing and fractured world, the #ENDSARS as organised by the Nigerian youth, is just a part of that historical process.