By Emmanuel Onwubiko
I had barely gone to bed yesterday after my usual Sunday activities when around the wee hours of 2am, my phones rang continuously and frantically for 4 minutes, 6 seconds.
At first, I was actually thinking that an emergency may have occurred to warrant this unexpected calls in an unwelcome period of the night.
Although on some occasions, some top Generals have had the reason to put calls across to me about same time especially when on two occasions yours faithfully experienced security breaches in my place of residence which elicited empathy from some of my friends in the military.
However, these calls Yesterday were not the same with those other friendly calls because of its persistence and irritating frequency.
I must also state that twenty four hours earlier, I got similar early morning phone call from a top politician of the All Progressives Congress(APC) who asked if I can step up and intervene to call the organisers of the #ENDSARS PROTESTS for a negotiation on winding down the street protests, but my answer to him was that I’m aware that the protesters are actually their own leaders as there is no central control and command structure for the current protests all across Nigeria.
Well, I picked up the call on the third attempt and the voice on the other side was that of a serving office holder in the current administration who sought to know if I can give them some intelligence on the plans of the planners of the #ENDSARS PROTESTS but I quickly dismissed him with a negative response even as I told him that the ball is in the court of President Muhammadu Buhari on how to end the agitations constructively to the satisfaction of everyone including the victims of the accumulated periods of gross and grave human rights violations committed against thousands of Nigerians by operatives of the Special Anti Robbery Squad now comically renamed SWAT- SPECIAL WEAPON TACTICAL TEAM(SWAT). I equally reminded him that the United Nations Special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions had paid two visits in the last five years and had toured DETENTION centres in Nigeria and turned out comprehensive reports on the state of those facilities but the Federal Government of President Muhammadu Buhari did not reckon with those wide-ranging recommendations on how to sanitize the poor policing standards and end the use of torture and extralegal execution of the citizens as the policing tactics. In the course of this reflection, I will relay all the contents of the last visit by the UN special envoy as aforementioned.
But suffice it to say that the major puzzle that every one in Nigeria is battling to resolve is how can these coordinated peaceful marches by the youths be brought to s constructive end.
For me, the answer lies in the ability of the Federal government to deal decisively with the nitty gritty of the fundamental factors that instigated the protests in the first instance. The administration of Muhammadu Buhari has however chosen divide-and-rule tactics to end the peaceful protests just as officials of the Federal government have gone to the devilish extent of hiring armed thugs to attack the protesters or to break into prisons to free prisoners as has just happened in Benin City Nigeria. Government of President Muhammadu Buhari has also resorted to the old tactics of playing on religious and ethnic sentiments to try yo pain the protesters as persons who want to remove the President who is Fulani from Katsina state in the North West of Nigeria. This is the bane of politics in Nigeria as adumbrated in the book by Arend Lijphart titled ‘Democracy in Plural Societies- A Comparative exploration”.
His words: “ A great many of the developing countries – particularly those in Asia and Africa, but also some south American countries, such as Guyana, Surinam, and Trinidad- are beset by political problems arising from the deep divisions between segments of their populations and the absence of a unifying consensus. The theoretical literature on political development, nation –building, and democratization in a new states treats this fact in a curiously ambivalent fashion.”
The distinguished scholar continued thus: “On the one hand, many writers implicitly refuse to acknowledge its importance. Walker Connor even charges that most of the leading theoreticians of nation building “have tended to sight, if not totally ignore, problems associated with the ethnic diversity”. on the other hand, the authors who do treat the question seriously tend to attach overriding importance to it. For instance, it constitutes the very first of Lucian W. Pye’s famous syndrome of seventeen features that jointly characterize the non – western political process. Pye’s states that the political sphere is not clearly differentiated from the sphere of social and personal relations in non-western societies”.
He says: “The fundamental framework of non- western politics is a communal one, and all political behaviour is strongly coloured by considerations of communal identification.” Such communal attachments are what Clifford Geertz calls “primordial” loyalties, which may be base on language, religion custom, region, race or assumed blood ties. The subcultures of the European convocational democracies, which are religious and ideological in nature and on which, in two of the countries, linguistic divisions are superimposed, may also be regarded as primordial groups – if one is willing to view ideology as a religion. All of these societies, western and non western, will be referred to here as a plural societies. And the definition of this term, supplied earlier in this chapter, closely approximates the meaning of which J.S. Furnivall’s conceptual frameworks are fully compatible, because Furnivall explicitly include culture differences as one of the characteristics of the plural society: “Each group holds by its own religion, its own culture and language, its own ideas and ways”.
“He defines a plural society as one in which such “different section of the community (live) side by side, but separately, within the same political unit.” This concept is somewhat narrower than Geertz’s because it does not include regional differentiation. Furnivall’s plural society is one of geographical mixture. But mutual social avoidance: “It is in the strictest sense a medley (of peoples), for they mix but do not combine. The border definition will be followed here because it fits the purposes of this study’s broad comparative exploration best, despite the frequent criticism that the concept of plural society is too broad and encompasses too much”.
Be that as it may, it is important to also locate the blame for the inability of the government to negotiate an end to the peaceful protests on the longstanding insincerity of officials of government and the failure to implement outcomes of investigations that governments over the years have funded towards reforming the policing institution.
A social media commentator James Ibor had asked, WHERE ARE THESE REPORTS? WHAT ACTIONS WERE TAKEN ON THEM? They include: Report of the Presidential Committee on the Reform of the Police (2006); Report of the Presidential Committee on the Reform of the Nigeria Police force, led by Alhaji M.D. Yusuf (2008); Report of the Sheik Ahmed Lemu Committee with regard to post-2011 election violence (2011);Report of the Parry Osayande Committee on Police Reform (2012);Report of the Presidential Committee on Dialogue and Peaceful Resolution and Security Challenges in the North with regard to Boko Haram, led by Alhaji Tanimu Turaki (2015). In addition on the part of Civil Society, NOPRIN and CLEEN Foundation in 2012 organised a CSO PANEL ON POLICE REFORMS IN NIGERIA. The panel which was made up of CSO Leaders from across the country. Part of the activities of the panel, was zonal hearings on police brutality across the six geo-political zones. It was a twelve (12) weeks assignment at the end of which we put together a report with recommendations and submitted to the Federal government “.
Let us look at the end of visit statement of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions on her visit to Nigeria, Agnes Callamard, United Nations Special Rapporteur for Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, 2 September 2019.
The report is as follows: “I conducted an official country visit to Nigeria from 19 August to 3 September 2019. I warmly thank the Federal Government of Nigeria for their invitation to visit the country, and the officials I met for their availability and support.
I also thank the United Nations (UN) Office in Nigeria and the UN country team. Their logistical and substantive support during my visit was invaluable.
The principal goals of my visit were to examine situations of violations of the right to life by State and non-State actors; the Federal State security strategy and the responses at Federal and State level to allegations of arbitrary deprivation of life. I considered violations allegedly committed by State security agencies and by non-State actors, particularly in the North East, Middle Belt and South of the country, as well as actions taken by the State to hold perpetrators accountable for their crimes. I also examined specifically the killings of women and members of the LGBTQI community, and, as part of my gender-sensitive approach to my mandate; I included a focus on Nigeria’s criminalization of abortion.
During the twelve days of my mission, I held meetings with the Permanent Representatives of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to the United Nations Office in Geneva and in New York, the Deputy Permanent Representative of Nigeria to the African Union, representatives of the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, the Department of Security Services, the National Commission for Refugees and IDPs., the National Security Advisor, the Director of Legal Services of the Federal Ministry of Defence, and the Commander of Operation Safe Haven, the National Human Rights Commission, and representatives of the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA). I also held meetings with authorities at the State level, including the Security Adviser for the Governor of Benue State, the Commissioner for Defence, and the Commissioner for Police and the Director of State Security Services of Benue State; the Attorney General of Plateau; and the Governor of Rivers State.
I met with members of the diplomatic community, international, regional and national human rights organizations; with women and men working for human rights at the grassroots level; with community and religious; media workers, including journalists; activists; LGBTQI individuals; internally displaced women and men; and with victims of human rights violations and abuse, including survivors, eye witnesses and family members whose relatives have been brutally killed.
These preliminary findings have been presented today to the authorities as part of the end of mission debriefing. The official final report will be presented to the Human Rights Council in June 2020. I am looking forward to engage and work with the Government and all relevant stakeholders to receive more information and clarification on these preliminary observations.
The overall situation that I encountered in Nigeria gives rise to extreme concern. By many measures, the Federal authorities and the international partners are presiding over an injustice pressure cooker. Some of the specific contexts I examined are simmering.
The warning signs are flashing bright red: increased numbers of attacks and killings over the last five years with a few notable exceptions; increased criminality and spreading insecurity; widespread failure by the federal authorities to investigate and hold perpetrators to account, even for mass killings; a lack of public trust and confidence in the judicial institutions and State institutions more generally; high levels of resentment and grievances within and between communities; toxic ethno-religious narratives and “extremist” ideologies – characterised by dehumanization of the “others” and denial of the legitimacy of the others’ claims; a generalised break down of the rule of law, with particularly acute consequences for the most vulnerable and impoverished populations of Nigeria.
Over the course of its tumultuous history, Nigeria has confronted many challenges and much conflict, including military rule and mass killings. It has also experienced economic boom and considerable economic growth, particularly in the 1990s thanks to its oil resources. Perhaps it is this history that leads (some) commentators, analysts and even officials themselves to downplay or ignore the warning signs or to assume that no matter their gravity that these will be overcome.
However, the absence today of accountability functionality is on such a scale that pretending this is anything short of a crisis is a major mistake. It is a tragedy for the people of Nigeria. Unchecked, its ripple effects will spread throughout the sub-region if not the continent, given the country’s central economic, political and cultural leadership role.”
These observations by the United Nations were never implemented by President Muhammadu Buhari and exactly a year after, millions of youths angered by the mass killings of youth illegally by SARS are on the streets calling for an end to police brutality but the government has still not heeded and respond to these broad-based issues. The administration is making use of divide-and-rule tactics to scatter the Peaceful protests.
This writer recalls a Statement By The Pro Democracy and Leading Civil Rights Advocacy Group; Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) on The Entire Anti Special Anti-Robbery Squad Fiasco, The Police Constant Harassment of The Media, Calling for A Surgical Overhaul of The Police Through Constitutional Reforms In Addition to Setting Up Judicial Commission of Inquiry into The Extrajudicial Killings by Police And To Audit All Detention Centers Run By Police.
HURIWA said it is shocked that despite the fact that even the President Muhammadu Buhari, Senate President Ahmed Lawan and virtually the entire leaderships of the different levers of government have continued to applaud the Police following the widely reported public notice on the dissolution by the IGP of SARS, It is clear that the crimes against humanity for which a lot of the SARS operatives were accused of committing, are being replicated many hours after the celebrated DISBANDMENT OF SARS.
The Prominent Civil Rights Advocacy group HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) argued that the Special Anti-Robbery Squad; a unit in the Nigerian Police, was established in 1992 with the mandate of combating armed robbery and other related crimes. But it quickly garnered notoriety for brutal violations of human rights, which includes arbitrary arrests and detention, sexual harassment, barefaced extortions, torture and extrajudicial killings.
Since 2017, many Nigerians on social media had begun trending a Twitter hashtag #EndSARS calling for the disbandment of the unit. Last week, young people began demonstrations against police brutality, which have swept Nigeria, demanding justice for victims and intensifying the clamour for reform and accountability.
Mobilised through social media, the youth-led rallies in several parts of the country initially targeted the federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a notorious police unit long accused of harassment, extortion and extrajudicial killings, have also been challenging growing anger among the youth over unemployment, corruption and economic mismanagement.
Authorities on had Sunday last week announced the scrapping of SARS and the redeployment of its officers to other police units, which fell short of expectations for many protesters, who have since pledged to continue fighting for accountability, an end to police violence and a complete overhaul of the security apparatus.
Worrisome is that in the midst of the clamour, these protesters have been met with violence and excessive use of force. As such, we are skeptical of the authorities’ pledge to end police atrocities because the past claims of reforming SARS have turned out to be empty words.
That the police are still using excessive force on peaceful protesters, which has led to injuries and deaths in Lagos, Ughelli, Abuja and Ogbomosho, throws through the window claims of any commitment to ending violations of human rights by Nigeria police. This is of utmost concern to us as civil rights advocacy group.
Beyond the Anti SARS Fiasco, there have been cases of police constant harassment of the media of which the latest being the arrest of a publisher in Abuja on the directive of minister of state for budgets.
In all democratic societies, all over the world, the media has a role to play. That role is to inform the populace of facts. In addition to providing current events, the news media have a distinct role in a democracy to oversee the actions of the traditional branches of government and thereby prevent abuses of power by those branches
Evidently, lack of surgical overhaul of the police through a constitutional reform, which it does not look like the current national assembly members can do even with over a billion naira budgeted for their routine and ritual of constitution amendments has far reaching implications.
This is because, the one thing we all agree is that Nigeria is in desperate need of police reform. Not just SARS reform, but police reform. Nobody in their right senses believes that the Nigeria police is their friend.
They are to be avoided at all costs, lest their trigger happy fingers create more chaos than they are worth. At the same time, how can we continue to live in a society where nobody is held accountable, and there is no law and order?
The Rights group said as an important arm in governance and social control, attention has to be focused on the police. Corruption, inadequate funding, poor governance, and public attitude to the police force, under-staffing, and inadequate training have been identified by scholars and policymakers as major problems of the Nigerian Police.
The Nigerian Police Force has not been able to contribute effectively and efficiently to the maintenance of national security of Nigeria because of indiscipline. There is lot of laxity, insolence and disrespect among men and officers of the Nigerian Police.
Corruption, inadequate funding, poor training, and interference of governments in Police duties, understaffing and poor training are results of circumvention of standards. Rules and orders stipulated by the Nigeria Police Acts and provisions by the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria are not adhered to. This results in their dismal performance.
We, the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) do recognize the objectives and goals of the ongoing nationwide protests, which is to address the excesses of the now banned Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigerian Police Force.
While we commiserate with all the innocent victims of alleged SARS brutality and the families of those who have suffered fatalities in the hands of this notorious police department, we wish to state that with the current outcry by the Nigerian youths against police brutality in the country, the need for the complete overhaul of the very foundational structure of the Nigerian Police Force informed by genuine commitment, political will and constitutional reform cannot be overemphasized.
In line with the demonstrators whose demands now appear to have widened to include calls for reforms across the country’s entire police system and the call for an independent body to investigate police abuse, according to a list of demands widely shared on social media, we are recommending for the naming of Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the extrajudicial killings by police and to audit all detention centres run by police and all security forces.
No doubt, many pundits have acknowledged that the Nigerian Police Force is faced with numerous frustrations such as opaque recruitment processes, inadequate training, poor remunerations, poor working conditions and benefits, and a non-existent development incentive, which according to them informs the attitude of the police towards the citizenry and the output of policing in the country; yet, there is no justification whatsoever to the spate of brutality the Nigerian police is leashing on the same citizenry they have sworn to serve and to protect.
Currently the sorrow of Nigerians, justifiably so, against their own very police service men and women, is so overwhelming that a surgical reform needs to come in fast. Hence, we are by this statement calling for a holistic reform that strengthens and sustains police-citizens relations, revamps community confidence in the police such as constitutional reform, especially on the sections that govern the establishment of the Nigerian Police Force.
Observably, the present Section 214 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), which governs the establishment of the Nigerian Police Force is no longer fit for the purpose. The Nigerian Police requires an enforceable legislation, which will be in line with international human rights laws, and explicitly specify its functions and powers.
*EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO IS THE NATIONAL COORDINATOR; HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) and blogs @www. email@example.com; www.huriwanigeria.com, www.thenigerianinsidernews.com.