Monday Column By Emmanuel Yawe
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The reaction of the Buhari administration to the anti Sars demonstrations shocked both his admirers and critics. Within a few days of the demonstration, the police high command moved fast – first stopping the dreaded police unit from carrying out its highly priced activity. Stop and search.
Then as we were wondering what prompted the police high command and the government that has scant regard for public complaints, the government engaged another speed gear and banned Sars. Prompt. Everybody was caught off balance.
While those who admire the governments’ stiff necked posture against those who criticize her policies especially on security issues, governments critics remained suspicious of the real intentions of government.
The Alliance on Surviving COVID-19 and Beyond, ASCAB a coalition of over 80 organisations, said that the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, was not sincere in his latest ban of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad. ASCAB in a statement by Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Femi Falana, said it was not the first time the police high command had issued such orders banning the squad.
“The police high-command have banned SARS several times. It has become a ritual. But SARS continues to operative under different names or structure. What we see is like removing sour wine and putting it in the same old, rusty bottles. Nothing remarkable has changed in the police command structure that aids all forms of repression and extra-judicial killings.
Falana noted further that;
“It will be recalled that following public outcry in 2018 against indiscriminate arrests and detention, extortion and extrajudicial killings as well as other the horrendous human rights abuse of perpetrated by the operatives of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad by setting up the Presidential Panel of Enquiry to investigate all complaints of human rights abuse.
“Some of the recommendations made included the dismissal of 37 police officers from the force and the prosecution of 24 others, investigation of 22 officers involved in the violation of human rights of innocent citizens, payment of compensation of various sums in 45 complaints and tender of public apologies in five complaints and compliance with court orders in five matters.
“Other recommendations were the setting up of State and local government police and renaming of SARS to Anti-Robbery Section (ARS) which should operate under the intelligence unit of the police.
Falana described the ban as a “policy somersault”, adding that it showed an ineffective leadership.
He said, “The police high command has banned SARS several times. It has become a ritual. But SARS continues to operate under different names or structure. What we see is like removing sour wine and putting it in the same old, rusty bottles. Nothing remarkable has changed in the police command structure that aids all forms of repression and extra-judicial killings.
While the government and its sympathizers were rejoicing and congratulating themselves in the fact that they had met the five demands of the protesters promptly, they did not expect what hit them next. From five, the demands of the protesters now ballooned to twenty three; beginning from end of Sars through political reforms to a stoppage of foreign medical treatment for public officers and civil servants. A new vista was opened in the relationship between government and its critics. While government felt it was responding responsibly and in timely fashion to demands from critics, the critics saw in that response by government as a capitulation; a window to press for more concessions. They refused to go off the streets and the stage was set for more protests and inevitable bloodshed.
There was a stalemate and a standoff. More government critics like former President Olusegun Obasanjo saw the opportunity to pummel the government. Obasanjo who during his years as an elected president sent armed troops on expeditions to Zaki Biam in Benue state and Odi in Bayelsa state to massacre unarmed and harmless civilians now mounted the pulpit to pontificate president Buhari on the ethos of civilized response to public anger. If only Obasanjo had set an enviable example in his days in power, maybe Buhari would have had a predecessor with an exemplary record to ape and mimic. There was none. All that was there was brute use of force by Obasanjo to deal with civil protests. If Buhari reacted violently to #EndSars, he is a good student of Obasanjo.
The #End sars campaign couldnt have come at a better time. The coronavirus pandemic had imposed a lock down on the country for months running. The youth were bored to death staying at home and doing nothing. Additionally, even when the lock down was relaxed by government, many of the youth found themselves in a limbo. The Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities had embarked on a marathon strike which has crippled all government run universities thus keeping a multitude of young men at home with abundant energies. Already in every home there is a long list of able bodied university graduates who are willing to work but do not have jobs. A movement like #EndSars offered the restless youth an opportunity to exercise their muscles, have some fun and even commit some small sins. All these were avoidable if the government had made sure that the fertile environment for violent social explosion was not created.
The violent social explosion has done a lot to expose the underbelly of the government. In the wake of the lock down government raked in billions of Naira worth of cash and foodstuffs to cushion the effects of the lock down on the poor. The generous donations came from government agencies and the private sector. With poverty and hunger lurking and ravaging the whole country, people have been asking where all those billions have gone to. Government efforts to distribute palliatives to the poor and disadvantaged seem half-hearted and deceitful. With the #EndSars, some rioters have broken into warehouses where the foodstuffs are being housed. Some are already in advanced stage of decomposition and decay. For what is the government keeping the foodstuffs when there is so much hunger in the land? Many people joined the rioters out of hunger. If the presidential task force on COVID 19 was alive to its responsibility, such hunger was quite avoidable.