AS MASS protests against police violence continued across several cities in Nigeria for the eighth straight day last Friday, the Nigerian army issued a warning to those it described as ‘subversive elements and trouble makers’ and pledged loyalty to President Mohammadu Buhari saying it is ready to support the civil authority to maintain law and order.
It came as the government’s security committee in Abuja announced a ban on all ‘End SARS’ street demonstrations in the Nigerian capital, claiming they violate Covid-19 safety protocols and endanger the lives of citizens.
Protesters marched to the gates of Nigeria’s parliament after the army said it was ready to step in and restore order.
The mass demonstrations began with a call to ban the notorious police unit, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) which has been accused of torture, extortion, murder, and extra-judicial killings. A new unit, Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) has been hastily launched.
The demonstrations, organised under the name #EndSARS, have since mushroomed into broader protests against alleged police brutality and corrupt governance.
Last Saturday, the governor of Nigeria’s Osun state escaped an ‘assassination attempt’ when an unknown group armed with guns and machetes attacked the peaceful anti-police brutality protesters in the state capital Osogbo.
After marching and singing with the protesters, Governor Adegboyega Oyetola – who is from the same party as President Buhari, the All Progressives Congress – was addressing them when shots were fired.
Oyetola was not hurt but some of his aides were wounded.
The determined but peaceful demonstrations against the SARS police unit have been going on throughout Nigeria for over two weeks now, and similar attacks on them have been launched in the capital Abuja and the country’s largest city, Lagos.
It is not clear who is behind them.
However, the government has promised to disband the SARS (Special Anti Robbery Squad) but this has not satisfied the protesters, who have now broadened their demands, calling for an end to decades of corruption and mismanagement in Africa’s biggest oil producer, which has left many young Nigerians with bleak economic prospects.
Thousands of mostly young people have taken to the streets of cities across the country.
The protests have also been backed by global celebrities such as Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, US rapper Kanye West, footballers Mesut Ozil and Marcus Rashford as well as Nigerian superstars Davido and Wizkid.
The hashtag #EndBadGovernance has now been shared by almost 1.8 million twitter users, while #BetterNigeria and #FixNigeriaNow are also being widely used.
The Creative Industry Group (CIG) has appealed to relevant authorities to respond to Nigerians clamouring for an end to the excesses in some of the activities of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
Felix Duke, the President of CIG, in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Lagos said such a response would go a long way to calm the ongoing protests in the country.
Duke declared full support for the ongoing nationwide protest by youths as the reasons behind the protest were legitimate and in the interest of all.
‘People can no longer condone the excesses of SARS. Youths are angry; that is the brain behind the ongoing peaceful protest. However, something urgent needs to be done to avert escalation.
‘Personally, I am supporting the protest and subscribing to the #EndSARS campaign, so that we can breathe a sigh of relief in the country because we can’t continue to suffer in silence,’ he said.
Duke also stressed that the oppression and brutality by SARS is becoming unbearable, so the ongoing protest is a welcome development in the right direction and should be seen as such.
He said: ‘My son fell victim to this heartless group called SARS on his way to an errand I sent him on in my Jeep. He was arrested. His phone was seized, switched off and he was detained for hours.
‘This was in spite of identifying himself and explaining to them that the Jeep was his father’s and that he was on an errand; their excesses are improper, unacceptable and must be eradicated.’
The CIG President added that the ‘EndSARS’ campaign has become necessary as youth are no longer enjoying the freedom of movement as contained in the Nigeria Constitution under human rights freedom.
NAN also reported that Inspector-General of Police (IGP) Mohammed Adamu had on October 11, 2020, announced that a new setup known as the Special Weapon and Tactics Team (SWAT) had been set up to take over from the disbanded SARS.
Meanwhile, Femi Adesina, Presidential Spokesman, said in a statement that the Presidential Panel on the reform of SARS had accepted the five-point demand of the ‘EndSARS’ protesters.
However, the Alliance for Survival of Covid-19 and Beyond – a coalition of labour and civil society groups led by a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Femi Falana – has warned President Buhari against deploying soldiers to disperse the #EndSARS protesters from the streets.
The human rights activist in a statement on behalf of ASCAB on Sunday in Abuja, also vowed to drag the Chief of Army Staff, Lt Gen Tukur Buratai, to the International Criminal Court in The Hague if any of the #EndSARs protesters are killed by any soldiers.
The group specifically urged the Federal Government to withdraw plans to use soldiers to quell the protests that have rocked major cities across Nigeria.
ASCAB Chairman Falana warned: ‘Buhari should not invite soldiers to resolve a purely democratic issue that calls for dialogue and constructive engagement.’
ASCAB noted that protests have common features across the world as seen in Hong Kong, United States, France, South Africa, Belarus and even in Sudan.
It added that in no instance were soldiers deployed to suppress the protesters.
‘Nigeria wants to set another ugly precedent in world history,’ the group said.
It reminded the Federal Government that its ‘Operation Crocodile Smile’ had been declared illegal by a Nigerian Court with competent jurisdiction following legal actions filed by Falana.
And efforts by the Chief of Army Staff to challenge the order by applying to the Court of Appeal had met a brick wall.
ASCAB recalled that the Federal High Court in July this year, granted a perpetual injunction restraining the Army from such an exercise.
The group said it was already monitoring and compiling lists of all extra-judicial killings associated with the protests and that Buratai or any soldier involved in any killings would be held personally responsible at the international court.
ASCAB said peaceful protests remained the only way Nigerians are entitled under the Nigerian constitution to register their grievances against a system that suffocates them.
The statement further read: ‘The plan to deploy soldiers is dangerous. It will push Nigeria over the red line of global reckoning.
‘Sending soldiers after school children and leaders of tomorrow shows what future we anticipate for the teeming population of young men and women who have taken to the streets to protest against a system that buries their dreams and shatters their potential and aspirations.’
Nigerian authorities said on Saturday that soldiers will be deployed this week to bring an end to the days of demonstrations against police brutality.
‘We urge President Mohammadu Buhari not to use soldiers to quell a peaceful, civil protest.
‘The protesters have been lawful. The few cases of violence were associated with armed thugs disrupting the protests coupled with the shooting of protesters by security operatives.’
The Military has dismissed insinuations the Army Special Operation, Exercise Crocodile Smile VI set for launch today (October 20) is meant to stifle the #EndSARS protest.
There were reports the government plans to use the annual military exercise (Crocodile Smile VI) as a pretext to deploy soldiers to quell the ongoing protest.
But the Acting Director Army Public Relations, Colonel Sagir Musa, in a statement, claimed the Nigerian Army (NA) has ‘nothing to do with the ongoing protest and the Nigerian Army has never been involved in the ongoing protest in any form whatsoever.’
He said the Army has acted professionally since the civil protest started over two weeks ago.
‘The attention of the NA has been drawn to some social media stuff wrongfully condemning the Army and its leadership over the announcement of Exercise Crocodile Smile VI particularly the Cyber Warfare Component of the Exercise.
This year’s Exercise Crocodile Smile is scheduled to commence from the 20th of October to the 31st of December 2020 and has no relationship with any lawful protest under any guise whatsoever.
‘For the record, Exercise Crocodile Smile is a yearly exercise in the NA Calendar/Forecast of Events which is traditionally held from October to December of each year.
‘Thus, to now insinuate that it is an exercise meant to stifle the ongoing ENDSARS protest is to say the least highly misinformed.
‘Exercise Crocodile Smile VI has nothing to do with the ongoing protest and the NA has never been involved in the ongoing protest in any form whatsoever. So far, the army has acted professionally since the civil protest started over two weeks ago.
‘The Army hereby enjoins all law abiding Nigerians to go about their lawful activities unhindered as the Exercise has nothing to do with the ENDSARS protest, but is a yearly event set out to train NA officers and soldiers in its efforts to ensure the safety and security of Nigeria and her citizens.’