#ENDSARS and the Many Rivers To Cross, By Zainab Suleiman Okino

The battle-cry to end the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS)’ reign of terror came to a near-halt last weekend when the inspector general of Police, Mohammed Adamu announced the disbandment of the unit and redeployed its officers to other units within the policing system.

The #ENDSARS campaigners and Nigerians alike had a sense of relief, albeit, temporarily, that for once, government had listened and acquiesced to citizens’ demands.

While we savoured the moment with the hope that the victory would resolve and engender the resolution of other thorny issues that are not citizen-friendly within the police or any other institution in the country, it soon turned out that the youths are unrelenting and are demanding for more far-reaching reforms in the Police and other sectors of our national life.

When the IGP announced the dissolution, in what he said is in “the finest spirit of democratic, citizen-centred and community policing”, he added that the “officers and men of SARS are being redeployed with immediate effect”, meaning that while the institution is no more, without a reorientation, or any form of training or retraining and special counselling, the officers and men remain within the system, implying that the rank and file that constituted the SARS team are still around and could join forces with regular policemen, and remain lethal by still transferring their aggression to innocent people.

So the question is: What has changed, besides perspective and nomenclature? It is therefore not surprising that the youth in the vanguard of #ENDSARS are undeterred in their calls for an holistic transformation of government-citizen engagement.

Going forward, when the uniforms are changed and the attitude remains, when will be the time for the real value reorientation in the Nigerian police?

SARS was just a miniscule arm of a rotten system that the police and the Nigerian state have become, and until the IGP announces more measures capable of total cleansing, I’m afraid more protests might be in the offing, and sustaining the current momentum without derailing is the litmus test of the youth’s resilience to seek the change they desire, but I hope it does not get that bad before the situation is contained by wise counselling on all sides.

In the recent history of citizens’ collective action against the state, only two enjoyed a little measure of “success” like #ENDSARS campaign – the OccupyNigeria protest of 2012 and BringBackOurGirls campaign of 2014, as the latter even enjoyed global attention.

No doubt, the #ENDSARS protests has also drawn international attention to and condemnation of the federal government on the level of security.

International football stars like Manchester United striker, Marcus Rashford; Arsenal forward, Mesut Ozil; and celebrities like Davido have since lent their voices in support of the protest. The campaign has been massive, almost to the point of becoming a major embarrassment for government, yet the youths are not swayed by government yielding to their first demand of ending SARS and have continued to pour onto the streets to demonstrate.

The demonstration is one of a few moments that Nigerians have approached an issue, with unanimity of purpose and recorded success, and without being divided along our usual fault-lines of religion, region and other primordial sentiments, even as the protest is beginning to take a life its own and assuming a new dimension, comparable only to the fuel subsidy or OccupyNigeria protest and BBOG.

While the ongoing actions are synonymous with those two mentioned above in the sense of a citizens’ action against an agency of government, and indeed government as a whole, it is markedly different because while the BBOG and fuel subsidy removal protests had political undertones (the opposition was the driving force behind them), #ENDSARS was spontaneous, and rose from the bitterness against an arm of the police that had become notorious for its brutality against the people they were created and paid to protect, even as it was being used for other dirty jobs such as those by landlords against recalcitrant tenants and the rich and powerful against the poor and harmless. Therefore, there are legitimate scepticisms about their absorption into the police, who, in themselves, are as dangerous as SARS, such that there is virtually no Nigerian who has no sad tale about the Nigeria police.

The policing problem in Nigeria is systemic and deep-rooted, but since the journey of a thousand miles begins with a step, it is hoped that the total reform envisaged by Nigerians would have begun with the SARS protests and this would signal a new dawn for Nigerians to take actions when necessary.

But how about mass action against kidnapping and banditry? How about massive protest against politicians who live large at the detriment of those who elect them? Or a demand for restructuring of a skewed federation not working for anyone, such as Nigeria’s money-guzzling bicameral legislature, a unified police, or feeding bottle-federating units.

Indeed, we need collective action against the 36 state governors for diverting their states’ allocations to personal security votes, even as the security and welfare of the people degenerate and criminals hold sway. Where do we start citizens’ action against corruption in all facets of our national lives from? From top to bottom, from one institution to the other and everywhere else, corruption has stultified our progress as a nation. Don’t we need citizens’ collective mass action against our leaders? Hopefully, the #ENDSARS protest will be the beginning of new consciousness among Nigerians to begin to make demands of their governments and leaders.

As the youth all over the world play a kind of questioning role in our rapidly changing and fractured world, the #ENDSARS protest, as organised by the Nigerian youth, is just a part of that historical process.

About the Author: Zainab Suleiman Okino can be reached at zainabokino@gmail.com

Source: Premium Times

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