Democracy and human rights are recognized as inextricably connected, but the Muhammadu Buhari-led government has always de-emphasized that link. The #EndSars protest and the atrocious breaches of human rights before, during, and after the period of the protests across the country provides sobering evidence that this government is increasingly fueling human rights violations.
The momentous #EndSARS protests which began in the early weeks of October on the heels of public protests against the extortions, brutality, extrajudicial killings later translated to the call for good governance. The various abuses of human rights perpetrated by the Nigerian Police had all accusing fingers pointing the direction of the defunct Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). Nigerian Youths who participated in the protest drew up 5 essential demands, which are: disbanding the SARS unit, releasing activists from jail, prosecuting poor police conduct, evaluating and retraining police officers, and the review of their emolument and working conditions. Sadly, rather than considering the demands and undertaking comprehensive reforms, the notorious SARS unit was rebranded to Special Weapons and Tactics Team (SWAT) with the same personnel and mentality. Expectedly, the police continued to clamp down on protesters even after the protest, showing that no change whatsoever has taken place, in the form of retraining or prosecuting badly-behaved police officers.
Member of CRC adding voice to the call for good governance
The needless denials and political rhetoric from the government after the protest and recorded number of deaths before and after the protest shows that the government has not learned from the #EndSars saga and is not ready to take responsibility. The judicial panels set up across the country have yielded a little result that is not commensurate with the loss recorded, no record of any guilty police officer arrest and prosecuted.
Nigerian youth are coming together this October to commemorate 20-10-2020, a month that birthed the nationwide protest against police brutality and all forms of human rights abuses, and the date of the #LekkiMassacre. But this has not come without the police issuing out warnings to intending protesters to desist from converging, threatening to employ force in suppressing the planned protest. This is harassment and intimidation which does not have any place in any democratic society. The right thing to do is for the police to provide protection for the peaceful protesters, according to the Police Act 2020, so that the protests are not hijacked by mischief-makers and hoodlums. It is also heart-wrenching that it is coming from those that, by all accounts, are meant to protect the protesters
The notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS)
The repressive and draconian style of this government is pushing the country to the precipice, coupled with extreme and growing political instability. This government should take responsibility and display capacity to respond to rights violations than having the biggest role in breaching human rights in Nigeria.
The hallowed place and importance of human rights are elaborately clear in the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria as amended, and we strongly believe that the very nucleus of democracy is being able to freely express one’s views. To participate in the decisions that affect the people, and this fundamental right paves way for the achievement of other human rights. Contrary to this, the current human rights situation in Nigeria is disturbing, with ceaseless and wanton violation of human rights on a grand scale. These among many include, arbitrary arrests and detention, torture, mysterious disappearances, amongst other cruel, callous and degrading treatment, allegedly at the behest of the agencies of government.
The Federal government must prioritize the protection of human rights in the context of freedom of speech, peaceful protests and constructive criticism. No serious government should be reminded of its mandate to protect the lives and property of citizens, but this government has failed in that mandate. The government should improve security measures to ensure the protection of lives, not a mindless attack on citizens.
We will continue to demand justice for #EndSars victims and other victims of human right violation orchestrated by this government. The need to dispense justice to victims and their families should be amplified. Setting up panels and paying monetary compensations to victims of police brutality is good but not enough. Arrests should be made, and prosecutions should follow adequately. This should be the bare minimum defense of human rights under this government or any other subsequent regimes in Nigeria.