Since Nigeria became a democratic Nation in 1999, the 2020 ”End SARS” protest is the first of its kind.
It started like a joke, with a gathering of few but it’s now the second week of sustained nationwide street protest against the Special Anti robbery Squad (SARS) for police brutality and other human rights abuses.
The Nigerian youths spearheaded the protests, however, they are not only ones clamouring for SARS to be scrapped. Many Nigerians have been dissatisfied with their brutality and excesses. They are demanding for a total reformation of governance, using the #EndSARS as the code for the protest.
For 60 years of independence, Nigerians have been patient with whatever kind of governance they receive and they have been described as the “most patient citizens”.
But after tolerating years of bad governance, with increased insecurity, killings and insurgency by Armed Bandits, Boko Haram and harsh policies, they have used the #EndSARS as a channel to vent their anger.
Through the protests, they have clearly stated their demands hence the protest slang ”Sorosoke”, insisting firmly that their demands for a better Police Structure and good governance are met.
President Mohammadu Buhari and the Inspector General of Police (IGP) in their response to the demands of the youths, quickly reformed the Special Anti robbery Squad (SARS) and changed its name to Special Weapon and Tactics (SWAT), and also agreed to their demands, but the protesters were still not contented with the reformation.
Historically, the ring of the Nigerian Police Force was created in 1984 according Police archives, and was recreated in 1992 to curb growing armed robberies during a faceoff between the Nigerian Army and the Police which forced policemen off the streets of Lagos for two weeks.
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The police however later returned but it did not end the operations of SARS. By 2009, the formation had become larger in squad and with the extended scope in Anti-fraud. Asides being a terror to criminals, it was reported to also become monstrous, and largely incontrollable. According to media reports, SARS was violently harassing, extorting and even killing members of the public especially the youths at the slighted provocation making them civilian-unfriendly and drawing the attention of national and international rights groups.
In 2018, the first EndSARS campaign drew attention. By 2019, SARS had been disbanded, reformed and decentralized for at least four times but the notoriety worsened.
Various sources indicate that at least 18 persons were killed by SARS in the first quarter of 2020 alone asides hundreds that were reportedly harassed, faced extortion, or were even tortured to give up to ATM withdrawals.
On October 8, some youths felt that they have had enough and took their protest to Lagos government house. The EndSARS protest has since spread over Nigeria and the international scene as a movement, with everyone within and in diaspora asking for major reforms in Police and governance.
But after the protests heated up attracting millions of Nigerians across the states of the federation, the peaceful protest began to face challenges as it was interrupted by military personnel and hoodlums in places like Abuja, Jos, Lagos and some other cities in other to render the protest futile.
What started as peaceful protests turned violent and on Tuesday the 20th of October 2020, the attack worsened with reports that the Nigerian army opened fire at the protesters at Lekki toll gate resulting to deaths and injuries.
This made the Lagos state Governor to impose a 24- hour curfew. Similarly, thugs attacked the central city of Jos (terminus market ), destroying properties which led to the declaration of 24hours curfew in Jos North and South Local Government Areas of Plateau State. The thugs also launched an attack in Kano and Edo states and a curfew was imposed in Edo as well.
While the attacks and killings continued on Wednesday the 21st of October in some parts of the country despite the curfew, it is condemnable that lives and properties worth Billions of Naira has been lost.
What looked like a genuine cause that would have given Nigerians their rights to a better livelihood, free from high electricity tariffs, exorbitant fuel pump price, bad roads, insecurity, and insurgency has now ended up with violence and deaths.
The fact remains that Nigerians are angry about decades of bad governance. They are retaliating, destroying some government owned properties in Lagos and in some other cities in the country and have vowed never to retreat for it is a sacrifice they are making for a better tomorrow.
But violence has never been the answer to any agitation. Peaceful avenues should be sought to address the situation. Already many Civil Society Organisations have Nigerians called on the United Nations (UN) to step into the situation.
Amidst all these Protests although the Nigerian President has not yet addressed the nation, but doing so at this point in time would be the best strategy to calm nerves of aggrieved Nigerians.
This is because the #EndSARS agitations is now a challenge that is threatening national security.
For peace to reign, the government should improve the lives of Nigerian youths by creating juicy job opportunities and improve on making the livelihood of Nigerians better with people friendly policies, especially at a time when Nigerians are recovering from a crumbling economy, as a result of COVID-19 Pandemic.