The United Global Resolve for Peace (UGRFP) wishes to condemn in the strongest possible terms the unravelling killings, maiming and looting in major cities in Nigeria that have been the denouement of what started out as a peaceful protests against police brutality and a request for respect of human rights.
As a group, we are overwhelmed by our concerns for the breakdown in law and order nationwide, the seeming aloofness and unresponsiveness of security forces and the activities of hoodlums who have capitalised on the civic unrest to loot, desecrate and burn private and public properties.
We acknowledge that the reported killings at the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos two nights ago escalated what was already a tensed polity and hereby call for an investigation into the causality, culprits and casualty from that night.
We wish to reiterate our conviction that the right to peaceful protests is subsumed under the constitutional right to movement, assembly and association. Closely knit to these rights is the right to the dignity of the human person which is emphasised in several human rights charter that is legally binding on Nigeria as a signatory.
In light of the foregoing, we strongly condemn the use of disproportionate force by the authorities on peaceful protesters some of which are irrefutably captured in digital proof. In respecting people’s right to peaceful protest, the government have a duty beyond listening to their complaints to equally keeping protesters safe in the exercise of their right. This protection must necessarily shield protesters from the harmful impediment of hoodlums and thugs as were seen in Abuja, Lagos, Edo and Osun state where concerned attacks on protesters were left unchallenged by security agencies leading to the loss of lives and properties. Inaction on the part of government to check such thuggish intrusions only further deepen the protesters’ distrust for government and lends credibility to the suspicion that such thugs are pro-government sympathisers acting out the latter’s script.
The intent of government versus public interactions must always be the building of trust and not the deepening of distrust. The government of Nigeria have a responsibility to the public to restore faith in its processes through a more sincere and thorough approach to meeting the demands of the peaceful #EndSARS protesters.
While it is commendable that the Nigerian government made the decision to disband the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (F-SARS) whose notoriety and alleged violations of peoples rights, rape, extortion and outright murder led to calls for its dissolution, government’s failure to undertake other demands such as the immediate identification of killer cops for prosecution and compensation payment made to verifiable victims of fatal police brutality further deepened the people’s distrust for what many considered “half-measures” by the federal government.
UGRFP wishes to further note that despite best intentions, the setting up of a new tactical unit christened SWAT was a tad hasty as more efforts should have been channelled into addressing the root causes of police violence, while putting in place sufficient safeguards to prevent further abuse. This could have taken the form of dismissing cops with severe disciplinary issues, setting up an internal inquiry to identify others within the system for prosecution, massive training and psycho-social evaluations for the police all conducted transparently and thoroughly. Such a focus would have driven public trust and earned the police sufficient time to put its affairs in order so as to help it meet the other demands of the peaceful protesters.
We are, however, not unaware that the protests were hijacked subsequently by thugs and hoodlums. In one instance, protesters came under heavy attack by thugs and in another, hoodlums wrecked havoc on properties and livelihood. These actions stand condemned, and the authorities must respond professionally to restore peace and order across the country. All and any security response must necessarily be conducted according to the rules of engagement and eschew any further form of heavy-handedness and the excessive use of force. History has repeatedly proven that the resort to force to quell civil unrest is as unproductive as it is counter-productive. Further angst and aggression would simply be built, and the ensuing incendiary reactions would cost more lives and properties as exemplified by the current crisis in Nigeria.
The idealistic resonance behind the protests against police brutality must also be stated for what it is: the civilian public fully intend for the police to be answerable in words and actions to them. This need already has a statutory provision in the form of the Police Service Commission (PSC)- a civilian body with oversight functions over the police. Regrettably, the PSC have not been able to function fully and efficiently, and part of the resolution to birth a new and better policing system must accommodate the legal, structural and capacity strengthening of the PSC as a key player in that regard.
In the same vein, the Police Service Commission must be commended for reportedly dismissing thirty-seven (37) officers with overhanging disciplinary issues while currently investigating several others, all of this in spite of its current operational constraints. By strengthening the Police Service Commission, Nigeria would indeed be positioning itself for much needed gains in its policing system.
The United Global Resolve for Peace (UGRFP) wishes to appeal for calm from the public, particularly the understandably enraged young population who have suffered casualties in their numbers while demanding for a right to live free from police brutality. The grievances of the youths of Nigeria which includes, but is not restricted to, police brutality, while justified, must also continue to be demanded peaceably and with regards to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Nigeria.
It is our hope that the political leadership of the country from the executive to the legislative would commence a healing and reconciliatory process in the coming days, with concerted efforts made to address the demands of the protests and justice for the slain.
The United Global Resolve for Peace (UGRFP) remains committed to a Nigeria united in its diversity and differences, and unyielding in its aspirations for a better future while committed to the pursuit of peace in all its national endeavours. It is our hope that the events of the last few weeks would be taken advantage of to chart a new path to a truly democratic Nigeria where rights are sacrosanct and all men are equal under the law.