Ban on #EndSARS Protest in Abuja: Unconstitutional and Undemocratic

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As the protests against police brutality which erupted in several states across Nigeria last week, continues unabated, thousands of Nigerians have remained on the streets to protest against the high-handedness of the Police, which is symptomatic of bad governance in the country. The protesters are demanding for an immediate institutional reform of the Police and other government institutions, in order to address the systemic rot, corruption and wastage of resources that have been the hallmarks of the nation’s misgovernance for decades. In the light of these protests, the Federal Capital Territory Security Committee in Abuja, recently issued a ban on the #EndSARS protest in Abuja, for supposed violation of the COVID-19 protocols. This is arising from the concern that despite the dissolution of the Federal Special Anti – Robbery Squad, FSARS, by the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, the peaceful protests have continued in several parts of the country.We at SOCIAL ACTION, are of the view that the resolution by the FCT Authorities is an unconstitutional order which negates the principles of democracy. The prohibition of street demonstrations in Abuja violates the rights of citizens to peaceful assembly and association, as well as the rights to freedom of movement, freedom of expression and personal liberty, which are fundamental rights enshrined in Chapter IV of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999. Nigerian citizens cannot be arbitrarily denied of their right to protest for no just cause. It is common knowledge that the government has not taken seriously the enforcement of safety protocols regarding COVID-19, especially since the lockdown was lifted. It is therefore glaringly hypocritical for the government to state that the peaceful protests embarked upon by the Nigerian people should be terminated on account of their non-compliance with COVID-19 safety rules. Such a directive smacks of double standards and deceit. What the FCTA ought to do, is to encourage the protesters to remain peaceful and endeavour to make use of their facemasks to protect themselves while carrying out the protests. The protesters are within their rights to protest. Prohibiting a determined people from exercising their fundamental right to hold peaceful protests could amount to an invitation to anarchy.
Nigerians recently witnessed the gubernatorial elections in Edo and Ondo States which saw representatives of the Federal Government and other leaders of the country in attendance during the political campaigns held in those states shortly before the elections. They converged in public places, alongside thousands of their supporters and political party members, to conduct political rallies aimed at soliciting for votes for their preferred candidates in the elections. The ruling party, being the All Progressives Congress, APC, did not dissociate itself from those political gatherings, neither did the Federal Government object to the breach of the social distancing and use of face mask protocols, as observed during those political campaigns. How then, does the ruling party and the government in power, expect citizens residing in the federal capital of Nigeria to heed such a directive issued to them to stop the #EndSARS protest because of a breach of COVID-19 guidelines?
It must be noted that the #EndSARS protest is not a jamboree. It is a people’s movement for the redemption of Nigeria; a clarion call for the systematic overhaul of the nation’s security architecture and other institutional reforms. It is not against any religion, ethnic group or political party, but is a public expression of the grievances of the Nigerian people against the state of affairs in the country. The protest is therefore, highly necessary and indeed, justified. It is imperative for the government to stop Police brutality, as a starting point towards redeeming the system. Video footages showing several peaceful protesters in different parts of the country being beaten up with guns and sticks, dispersed with hot water cannons and shot at by police officers have been widely circulated. A committed government, after seeing the horrors meted on the masses by the Police, ought to immediately identify, arrest and prosecute erring officers in accordance with the law, rather than banning the peaceful protest of the victimised protesters. This will provide justice for the victims who were brutalised by the Police while they were on a street march protesting against Police brutality.
We call on the President Muhammadu Buhari – led government to show commitment in the handling of the security challenges in the country. The Nigerian Police should be restructured, as a decentralised policing system will allow the State governments to play more roles in ensuring the security of lives and properties of the people. There should be a framework in place to promote accountability in the management and utilisation of funds meant for the Police, in order to ensure improved welfare and the adequate training of all police officers. This will mitigate Police brutality and the mounting challenges of corruption, indiscipline, abuse of power, inadequate and poorly-motivated manpower, as well as lack of equipment and security infrastructure, currently bedeviling the Nigeria Police.

For further enquiries, kindly contact the Communications Team Lead, SOCIAL ACTION on: lillian[at]saction.org

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