CIVIL society groups across Nigeria have stepped up their attacks on the government for sponsoring squads of hoodlums to attack demonstrators and protestors on the streets demanding the dissolution of the police Special Anti-Robbery Squad (Sars).
Over the last fortnight, there have been widespread demonstrations across Nigeria and in the diaspora to protest the recent brutal killings of Sars forces. Last weekend, Sars operatives killed a young boy identified as Joshua Ambrose in cold blood in Delta State but unfortunately for them, videographer Prince Nicholas Makolomi, recorded the whole incident live.
His video, which fuelled anger across Nigeria, sparking off a series of nationwide protests, with celebrities joining in with an online campaign across social media. So fierce has been the public mood that the inspector-general of police Mohammed Adamu has been forced to announce the dissolution of the Sars unit.
With the protests gathering steam by the day despite the announcement of a dissolution, it appears that the government has become desperate and has been hiring gangs of hoodlums to attack protesters. In Lagos and Abuja in particular, organised groups of thugs have been attacking protesters.
Yesterday, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and civil rights groups strongly condemned the hoodlums’ attacks, alleging that they were the handiwork of government. Despite the disbanding of the squad, #EndSARS campaigners presented five demands to the federal government, which they said they had accepted.
Campaigners’ demands include the release of all persons arrested by the disbanded police unit and justice for victims of police brutality, the setting up an independent body to oversee the investigation and prosecution of all reports of police misconduct within 10 days, psychological evaluation of all disbanded Sars officers before they can be redeployed and an increase police salary so that they can be adequately compensated for protecting lives and property of citizens. However, the protests took a fresh dimension yesterday when hoodlums bearing cutlasses and sticks attacked protesters in Lagos and Abuja.
Condemning the attacks, the pan-Yoruba group, Afenifere, stated that they reflected the divisive nature of the regime of President Muhammadu Buhari. Afenifere spokesman Yinka Odumakin, said: “It is a reflection of the we and them divisiveness of this government. We can only hope it would hand over a united Nigeria in 2023.
“A government that would mobilise on ethnic lines against protests against police brutality is a threat against the unity of the country and will run the country towards implosion. The regime cannot unite Nigerians on anything and when they unite themselves on a common issue, it finds a way to split them based on fault lines.”
Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, added: “Generally, the lesson from this spontaneous protest is for the government to accept the constitutional right of citizens to freedom of expression, association and assembly, as guaranteed by sections 39 and 40 of the constitution. The people, who are in power now, the leaders of the All Progressives Congress, fully exercised these rights when they were in the opposition in holding peaceful protests.
“So far since this #EndSARS peaceful protests started, it has been clear that the purpose of the protesters is to make a point. In Benin, you see them protecting policemen, in Lagos, you see them feeding people, so, it is the government and sympathisers of those who are in power that are trying to infiltrate the protesters to give the semblance of violence and I think that will be counter-productive.
“I verily believe that what happened in Abuja with hoodlums attacking the protesters should be laid at the foot of the government. Having seen that the youth have been peaceful, it should be the responsibility of government to grant them police protection.”
Cynthia Mbamalu, the director of programmes at Yiaga Africa, lamented that criminally minded- Nigerians had decided to empower the pro-government protesters to disrupt the peaceful #EndSARS protests. Also, Dr Chima Amadi, the chairman board of trustees of the Centre for Transparency and Accountability, said the attackers were unemployed youths whose frustrations were weaponised by hawkish elements within and outside of government.
Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, the executive director of the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre and the chairman of Amnesty International Nigeria, added: “It’s not about northerners and southerners. It is about some elements that are deliberately trying to create or further continue to divert attention from an issue that even the government acknowledges is bad.
“It is not about northerners because I’m from Kano and I am one of the leading voices who strongly opposed Sars and its brutal behaviour against Nigerians and I have spoken widely in both local and international media like Aljazeera, BBC, Radio France, Radio Germany and several national media condemning and calling for accountability and investigations for all those Sars members involved in human rights violations, extortion and misconduct.”
Dr Raps Nduka, the publicity secretary of the NBA, said: “It is quite sad that such a thing would happen. I believe that protests should be based on principles. In as much as we have different ways of reacting to things, the bottom line is the need to understand the reason for the calls for Sars to end.
“The problem is that there is no accountability. That is why things have got to an extent that the youth can no longer take it and that is why they are protesting.
“We had a press conference yesterday, and one of the things we demanded was an audit of what has been going on at the Sars unit. In as much as some people would have a different approach, this style of staging a counter-protest against others agitating for a change should not be encouraged.”