LAGOS The agitation for Police reforms continued nationwide yesterday, with the #EndSARS protesters this time also calling for an end to the Special Weapons and Tactics unit, SWAT, whose creation was announced by Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, on Tuesday.
The IGP had said SWAT would immediately take the place of the now-disbanded SARS to tackle violent crimes in the country, but the #EndSARS protesters would have none of this, contending that the new unit was SARS in another form.
I could swear the Police already had a SWAT team. Google to make sure and found this tweet from September 2019, one of the protesters tweeted yesterday.
Another protester also sent tweets of a SWAT personnel sitting with a machine gun at the entrance of Rivers State collation centre in Port Harcourt on February 26, 2019, backed by pictures.
The Police, however, countered this argument with what they described as five facts about the new tactical team ‘SWAT. They are:
No personnel of the defunct SARS will be selected to be part of the Tactical team
Operations of the new Tactical team will be strictly intelligence-driven
Members of the new Tactical team will by no means embark on routine patrols
Members of the new Tactical team are barred from indiscriminate and unlawful search of phones, laptops, and other smart devices.
Operatives of the new Tactical team must be free of any pending disciplinary matter, especially those touching on misuse of firearms and abuse of human rights.
The protests which entered the eighth day yesterday spanned Lagos, Abuja, Awka, Warri, Abeokuta and other parts of Nigeria where it had persisted.
This came on a day Amnesty International in its twitter handle, said no fewer than 10 #EndSARS protesters had been killed by the police since the protests started.
However, the thousands of protesters who defied yesterday’s downpour to join the nationwide protests in Alausa, Ikeja area of Lagos were taken aback as some hoodlums hijacked the process, attacking protesters and road users.
The incident occurred at about 4pm as the protesters marched in-between Alausa and Lagos/Ibadan Expressway.
The early morning downpour did not, however, dampen the spirit of the protesters, as they mobilized and countered the hoodlums, and apprehended four in the process.
It was gathered that before the protesters could comprehend what was happening, the hoodlums had succeeded in snatching cash, smart phones and other personal effects. Protesters ran helter-skelter.
Recovering from the shock of the attack, the protesters regrouped and gave the hoodlums a hot chase.
While some of the hoodlums were able to escape, four were not so lucky as they were apprehended and handed over to the Police.
Narrating his experience, one of the protesters, Abdulahi Kazeem, said the attack came at a time they least expected it.
He said: “We had all relaxed since the Police were monitoring the protests, alas! The Policemen stood aloof and watched the scenario. If we had not launched a counter-attack, many of us would have landed in the hospital.”
According to him, the hoodlums came with matchets, cutlasses and broken bottles to attack them, thereby disrupting the peaceful protests.
The protests, which started at about 10:00am, was more of a carnival. Protesters at Lagos State House of Assembly, Alausa, Ikeja, rendered the National Anthem to kick-start the business of the day, as they were entertained by some Disck Jokeys (DJs).
While the protest was on, some Nigerians reached out to the protesters in cash and kind. National Coordinator of Education Right Campaign, Hassan Taiwo Soweto, said the protests won’t be called off until their demands were met.
“We are tired of fake promises by the government and we shall ensure the promises made during these protests are kept,” he said;
Similarly, protests were held in VGC, Lekki and Sangotedo, as major roads in the axis were blocked by the protesters who were supported by popular musicians, artistes and songwriters in the state.
As at 11am, the gridlock caused by the protest had stretched from the Admiralty Way to Abraham Adesanya, Lekki Phase 1 and environs.
Also, the alternative route witnessed influx of vehicular activities due to blockage of the major roads and shut-down of the toll gate on Lekki-Epe expressway and Lekki-Ikoyi bridge.
Notable rights activists, such as Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, SAN, threw their weights behind the protesters.
In a chat with Vanguard, Adegboruwa said: “The very first thing government must concede to Nigerians is the right to peaceful protests. Never again should we live in a country where citizens cannot assemble freely to express themselves. Sections 39 and 40 of the Constitution are very clear on this.
“Once there is a particular policy that the people are not satisfied with, then they must be allowed the right to free speech without the usual govt response of police harassment and the bogus charges in court.
“Once the rights to freedom of expression and association are gained, we don’t need to keep waiting on any particular organization or entity to organize peaceful civil disobedience, as is done in other climes.
Aluta continua, victoria ascerta.”
The protest spread to Agbara, along Badagry Expressway, Apple Junction, Festac, Amuwo Odofin Local Government Area, Ogba, Iyana Iworo, Iyana Ipaja, Berger, Ijegun, Igando, among others yesterday.
Similarly, in Abuja, some thugs also attacked protesters and vandalised vehicles in the process.
The thugs, who were armed with cutlasses, invaded the protest venue at Berger junction about an hour after the #EndSARS protesters had convened.
They harassed the protesters, including passers-by, destroying vehicles parked in the area.
At least five cars were destroyed, while an unconfirmed number of the protesters sustained injuries.
The protesters, however, regrouped within minutes and gave the hoodlums a hot chase, following which one of them was caught and beaten to near-death, with life-threatening injuries inflicted on his head and limbs.
One of the protesters alleged that the attackers were sponsored, saying “the police failed to stop us and now they are sponsoring thugs. This is just the beginning.”
Anjuguri Manzah, a spokesman of the FCT police command, did not immediately respond to enquiries regarding the incident.
The protesters said they were not only now kicking against SARS but also the SWAT team the IGP said would replace the disbanded unit.
In Warri, Delta State, hundreds of youths stormed the streets, demanding immediate disbandment of the Special Weapons and Tactics, unit of the Police, SWAT..
The protesters, who marched from Refinery Road through Warri-Sapele Road and other major roads in Uvwie and Warri South local government area, said there was no difference between the disbanded SARS and the newly formed SWAT.
The protesters carried placards with several inscriptions denouncing the newly formed SWAT and the disbanded SARS.
The protest was peaceful, though their action caused long vehicular traffic on several major routes in the oil rich city.
Some of the protesters who spoke to newsmen, said the protest was all about getting the Police to sit up, adding that there is urgent need for Police reform that will enhance efficiency of the institution as a law enforcement agency.
Felix Oghenerume, one of the protesters said: “This is about having a sane Police institution. We cannot do without the Police but the Police should be responsible.
“SARS, abused its role. And we fear SWAT is just another name for SARS. There is urgent need for Police reform,” he said
It would be recalled that an #EndSARS protest had held in Ughelli, headquarters of Ughelli North Local Government Area last week where a Policeman was allegedly killed and his rifle taken.
In Awka, Anambra State, the defunct Special Anti Robbery Squad, SARS, headquarters at Awkuzu in Oyi Local Government Area, regarded as the most notorious in terms of brutality, was under lock yesterday, even as #ENDSARS protesters paralyzed activities in Awka.
The protesters, who caused traffic gridlock in the Anambra State capital gave names of 12 persons who they claimed, were brutally murdered by Awkuzu SARS operatives within the past few months. They listed Onitsha, Oraifite, Ozubulu, among others, as places where they were killed.
Although the usual beehive of activities associated with Awkuzu SARS had disappeared, some of the operatives were seen sitting in front of the office.
It was gathered that those being detained before the dissolution of SARS were yet to be freed, just as several confiscated vehicles were still seen around the office.
One of the people whose relations were in detention at the time of the dissolution, said nobody had briefed them on what to do, adding that he rushed to the place soon after the announcement of the dissolution, but said there was nobody to attend to him.
Meanwhile, as youths continue to sustain the #EndSARS protest across the country, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State, has held that the protest was a reflection of leadership failure.
Okowa, who stated this while addressing #EndSARS protesters in Asaba, said the youths had every right to organise themselves to protest whatever they felt was wrong in the society.
Insisting that there would not have been need for the protests if Nigerian leaders were accountable to the people, the governor announced the establishment of a five-man Police Complaints Committee with two representatives of the youths as members.
Okowa said: “I want to appreciate all of you for ensuring that we are conducting a very peaceful protest, there can be nothing better than peace and that gives me a lot of feeling that our youths can be better organised.
“I’m glad you have gathered yourself nationwide to protest this injustice as regards #PoliceBrutality. I do know that through the social media we are able to organise ourselves but I can see a lot of maturity in your organization and I must commend you for that.
“On our part as leaders we do acknowledge the gap and that we have failed even as parents. Even in my very own home when my children spoke concerning this protest I realised that they were as pained as you and that is the same pain that every Nigeria youth is going through.
“As leaders, this protest has also brought to the fore that we have failed ourselves. Your voice have been heard loud and clear, SARS has been banned but I assure you we are not keeping quiet.
“When I commended the IGP for disbanding SARS, I did acknowledged that it was not enough, there is need for further reform and re-orientation of the entire Police Force.
“The issues of adequate remuneration, training and discipline of the Police Force must be looked into critically in the reform process. It is about reformation of the entire police and it is about ensuring that our nation is peaceful.
“We do realize that the police have a role to play in ensuring Democratic governance but they must be played in such a manner that is in favour of civil defence, but unfortunately some of them have put the name of the Police Force in bad light.
“I plead that you organize yourselves better in the best interest of our nation Nigeria where youths will be able to go out without being harassed or exploited by the security agencies.
“I appeal to you to counsel others to remain peaceful and be law-abiding even as you go about your daily activities.
“Having made your voices heard and having made our elders to realise that we have failed as leaders, please give us some time to work things out with key stakeholders.”
He assured that government at all levels would engage the Police authorities and other stakeholders to meet their demands.
Speaking earlier on behalf of the protesters, Mr Emmanuel Udezua told the governor to prevail on all stakeholders to end #PoliceBrutality, lamenting that Nigerian youths were in pains.
Udezua said: “on behalf of the youths of Delta we have come to express our anger and grievances at the incessant molestation of youths by the police nationwide.
“We want a better Delta and better a Nigeria where youths can go about their normal activities without the brutality of the police. Stop the exploitation and the oppression of youths. Use your power everywhere you can to end this for us.’’