The #EndSARS protest in Nigeria which started out as a clamour for the scrapping of a notorious Police unit, Special Anti – Robbery Squad (SARS) for the acts of brutality meted on innocent Nigerians by officers of the Squad, turned out to be an effective means through which young Nigerians expressed a myriad of grievances to the Nigerian government. When the government announced the disbandment of SARS, more Nigerians took to the streets to join in the protests, partly due to past betrayal by the same government which failed to implement initial orders it had made with respect to SARS. Moreso, the #EndSARS protest became a popular vehicle to drive change in various sectors, with Nigerians demanding for better governance and decent living standards.
Amidst the nationwide #EndSARS protest, the Nigerian Army Command, in a statement issued by its spokesperson, Col. Sagir Musa, on October 15, 2020, threatened to deal decisively with “subversive elements” – a term used in reference to the #EndSARS demonstrators, and which was also used by the Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari in his address to Nigerians on October 22, 2020. President Buhari in his nationwide broadcast to Nigerians, warned the #EndSARS protesters to “resist the temptation of being used by some subversive elements to cause chaos with the aim of truncating our nascent democracy”.
SOCIAL ACTION notes with sadness the deliberate use of the term “subversive” by the Federal Government in relation to young Nigerians whose #EndSARS street marches and sit-ins have been widely acclaimed to be peaceful and well-organised across the country. We deem it highly condemnable for the government to regard peaceful protesters as subversives, as such a perception is capable of reinforcing the mistrust between the government and the citizens. In a democratic system of government where citizens have a constitutionally-guaranteed right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, such citizens and their supporters must never be treated as subversive elements when there is no evidence suggesting that the genuine, peaceful protesters had any intention to subvert or undermine the government in power. Government must avoid the use of words or actions that threaten the freedom of the citizens to make legitimate demands of the government and hold the government accountable. Government ought to encourage these young, patriotic Nigerians to engage in socio-political dialogues that could effectuate more citizens’ participation in governance.
We strongly condemn the use of excessive force by some security operatives on peaceful protesters, in an attempt to quell the peaceful protests in several states across the country. This has led to the death of several persons, with some sustaining gunshot wounds; a situation that could have been averted with more proactive and suitable measures. Adherence to democratic norms is a responsibility of both the government and the governed. The rule of law allows all citizens of Nigeria to engage in political dialogue in order to demand for broader reforms in the governance of the country through extensive civic engagements. Members of the society must be allowed the freedom to communicate their grievances to the government and influence public processes. The government has the responsibility of ensuring that those issues of concern are addressed without delay, to prevent an escalation into violence.
We therefore urge the government to pay heed to the calls for reforms in the country. The peaceful clamour for police reforms, as well as electoral reforms, constitutional review, restructuring, resource control, the passage of the PIB into law, and other legitimate demands of the people, must never be misconstrued by the government or any segment of the society as an attempt to subvert the government or truncate the present political system. Government at all levels must be seen to be receptive to the yearnings of the citizenry, in fairness and equity. Nation building is a collective task of all Nigerians, irrespective of tribe, religion or political affiliation. The government and security agencies must not discourage citizens from channelling their energy for meaningful change through political processes, in order to engineer a roadmap towards achieving a better nation.
Finally, we urge the government to expedite action in meeting the five-point demand of the #EndSARS protesters. The demands include: the immediate release of all arrested protesters; justice for all deceased victims of Police brutality and appropriate compensation for their families; the setting up of an independent body to oversee the investigation and prosecution of all reports of Police misconduct; psychological evaluation and retraining of all disbanded SARS officers before they can be redeployed; and an increase in Police salary to ensure Police officers are adequately compensated for protecting lives and property of citizens.