For about two weeks, Nigerian youths all over the world have taken to the streets and social media, in protest against police brutality.
These protests started as a demand for the disbandment of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a division of the Nigerian Police Force. At the surface, this call for the end of SARS may seem to be of recent; however, it has been a twitter fight as far back as 2017.
What makes this different is the unity among the Nigerian youths in demanding for a change in the state of the country and the visible action taken in this demand for change.In most countries, police brutality has been a weapon and a tool of racist wars.
The police use force to contain the rights of the minority but in Nigeria, and some other African countries, this is not the case. Police brutality is a show of force on the citizens and a sign of failed and failing governments and is deep rooted in structural violence and systemic issues present in the country.
These protests in Nigeria are a culmination of several structural and direct violence in the country. The country is plagued with bad governance, systemic corruption, lack of electricity and water, food scarcity, inflation of oil prices, unemployment, and abuse of power by the police. It is an equation for a failing or failed state.
A failed state is a government that is incapable of providing the basic functions and responsibilities of sovereign nation, such as military defense, law enforcement, justice, education, or economic stability. Common characteristics of failed states include ongoing civil violence, corruption, crime, poverty, illiteracy, and crumbling infrastructure. Nigeria fits into this definition with no struggle.
In Nigeria, police officers abuse their powers by extorting the citizens, especially the youths, unlawfully detaining and killing them. The divisions of SARS have killed innocent civilians and have not been held accountable in any law court.
The bad governance and structural problems present in the country also gives room for police brutality to thrive and one of the expressions of this is the atrocities committed by the SARS division.
SARS was set up in 1992 in response to insecurity and crimes in the Nigerian state, but soon, the police division became the problem it was created to solve, maybe worse. SARS has been charged with allegations of extrajudicial killings, kidnapping, extortion, and other human rights violation. Worse of all, the division lacks accountability, as other sectors of government in the country.
How has the government responded?
What started as a peaceful protest by Nigerian youths demanding for the SARS division to end quickly escalated to violence. In a country that is interested in the peace and safety of its citizens, it is only expected that the government give some actions in good faith for the people.
However, these demands have been met with violent responses by the state governments in some states, and federal government. The worse of these was the massacre of innocent and peaceful protesters at the Lekki toll gate between the late hours on the 20th of October and the early hours of the 21st October 2020.
What began as peaceful protest was escalated by the government and has become so violent that lives and properties have been lost. The Nigerian government finds it easy to respond to peaceful protests and demands for change with heavy handed military response.
This is often in a bid to promote a façade of peace but in actual sense, the instability in the country is merely covered up until an opening arises for a new protest to ensue. Structural violence, which is the cause of harm on citizens through societal issues such as poverty or unemployment, are resolved by fixing these problems of injustice such as unemployment, police reforms and good facilities in terms of education, health and transport.
What is mostly forgotten by political leaders is that when people have been oppressed for a long time and denied of basic rights and needs, there will be an eruption. And this is what is going on now.
What can be done at this point?
Aside from the #5for5 demands made by the youths, the government needs to act quickly in providing response to these demands and halt the killing of its citizens. What is asked for is that the right thing should be done rather than getting to the extremity of selfishness. Good governance in the country, job security, food security, electricity, basic amenities, are the desires of the citizens of the country. In real sense, these are the responsibilities of the government to the people that elected them to office.
Dr Tobi Achudume (Phd), an International and Security Expert with interest in conflict resolution writes from Paris in France