Opinion

EndSARS protests, riots and thereafter

By GAMBO DORI gambodori@dailytrust.com

dailytrust.com

Last year about now, we were enmeshed in the EndSARS protests in our major cities chocked by rampaging mobs attacking uniformed personnel and destroying government properties as well as looting defenceless markets and malls.

On the part of the protesters, one would have expected their leaders to come out as soon as the government had shown the will to give consideration to their demands. There was no need to continue a protest whose demands had largely been accepted, unless there were other issues that were not made public. In this case there is a good case to believe that at some stage the tardiness by government had given the nihilists and anarchists within the cadre of the protesters a window to wrought their kind of havoc on the civic community.


The whole matter began seemingly as a spontaneous protest by youths against police brutality, especially by the dreaded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).

The protests broke out in Lagos, Abuja and quickly spread to other cities, taking the form of a carnival complete with long procession of vehicles tagging along coordinated dancing youths. Soon, the processions started causing traffic havoc and inevitably trouble broke out with affected citizens, who had nothing to do with the demonstrations. By then government had been stultified and befuddled, the police thoroughly intimidated, pulling off their uniforms and going into hiding, leaving the city spaces largely unprotected. Of course bedlam set in.
It is a pity that SARS, which came into being in the early 1980s with the best of intentions of stemming the rising tides of armed robbery in the land, degenerated in recent years to an outfit of intimidation and extortion. Their modus operandi in the last few years earned them nothing but opprobrium by whomever that had the misfortune to come across them. Whenever one was a robbery victim, the police establishment would refer one to that unit because as the name connoted, they dealt with issues surrounding robberies. In the last few years many victims would only have narratives of extortion at the hands of SARS operatives.
Someone I know was a victim of car snatching by armed robbers recently and was appropriately referred to SARS. He was shocked to find that though they were so well-kitted with good and current equipment to aid detection, they lack funds for movement and other expenditure. He had to pay for every movement and any miscellaneous expenses that arose. In the course of that investigation there were many movements, some of them obviously contrived for the financial benefits of the operatives. Nevertheless, they were able to trace his phone, which was snatched during the robbery, and make many arrests. Nonetheless, as his personal expenses escalated, he became so exasperated that he gave up and decided to quietly write off the matter.
I guess government must have been aware of the mountains of complaints on SARS, but was so slow-footed to act until they were faced with these protestations. But it speaks well of the candour of the government to have quickly accepted the demands of the protesters. In any case the Police Act 2020 signed into law by the President would have given the government good bargaining chips with the protesters. What galls me, and many other perceptive observers of the events, was why the government did not seize on that to call the leaders of the protest to a roundtable to share the information and gain their support. It is pointless arguing that the leaders of protest are unknown. Funds and material have moved freely for the protesters. Ghosts don’t move funds through banks!

On the part of the protesters, one would have expected their leaders to come out as soon as the government had shown the will to give consideration to their demands. There was no need to continue a protest whose demands had largely been accepted, unless there were other issues that were not made public. In this case there is a good case to believe that at some stage the tardiness by government had given the nihilists and anarchists within the cadre of the protesters a window to wrought their kind of havoc on the civic community. The mindless looting and destruction that trailed the protest in Lagos, Benin, Jos and other centres are truly regrettable. It was even more regrettable because the country had just emerged from the lockdown of COVID-19 pandemic that had eaten deeply into the finances of most families. The after-effects of this protest were just another tragic addition of woes.
Now, one year after, it looks like the protest was entirely pointless having missed opportunities to meet the yawning needs of our police force. The leaders of the protest were just content to funnel funds into a protest and lie back grinning when everything turned awry. If one wants to be uncharitable, one would say that was exactly what the protest leaders were looking for, and unfortunately, government fell for it, hook, line and sinker. All the same, a year after, the anarchists among the protesters have succeeded to a large extent to make many areas of the Nigerian space unpoliced and sadly unprotected. In many parts of Lagos and in many of our other urban spaces, the police would rather walk around safely in mufti than in their proud uniforms.
To worsen matters we are still expecting the dividends from the Police Act 2020. The government is still dragging its feet to give us a properly funded, motivated and well-equipped police force ready to face the challenges of these times. Even the low hanging fruits the public expected to pluck from the recruitment of fresh 10,000 personnel into the force was bogged down by recriminations between the police hierarchy and the highbrows in the Police Service Commission. Now that the matter has been resolved by the new IGP, we pray to see more police men in the streets.

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