#EndSARS Protest as Catalyst for Citizens Political Participation, By Halimat Musa

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In a gripping story on Vox news, Alex Ward narrated the ordeal of one Mr “Tamunoteim Princewill with men of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) in the Nigerian capital of Abuja around September 2019. A SARS officers and his colleagues banged on the bus which he boarded as some hopped on. One SARS officer, looking for his unjust reward, found Princewill – a passenger listening to music on his phone and snatched it out of his hand. The 22-year-old complained, saying he’d done nothing wrong.

That’s when Princewill found himself staring down the barrel of a rifle, barked at to be quiet. “I’d seen guns at a distance, but for the first time it was right in my face,” he said. “A simple pull and I would’ve been gone, far away from home.” After the officer rummaged through the phone, seemingly finding nothing to his liking, he chucked it over the side of the bridge. Princewill tried to get off the bus to retrieve it, only to have more SARS members point their guns and command him back to his seat.Ultimately, the police unit coaxed about #12,000 from the driver before letting the bus go on its way, with passengers — including Princewill — visibly shaken but unharmed. “It took me several months to forget and save enough to get a new phone,” he said. Still, he recognized, it could’ve gone so much worse. “Others have been less fortunate. I know people who have been killed or robbed of so much more.”

This is one out of many more cases in what seem to be perpetual, decades-long abuse of power and authority that has thousands of young Nigerians demanding that the government #EndSARS”. The protest was a spontaneous uprising driven by the abuse of power, arbitrary and unlawful arrest and detention, enforced disappearance, extrajudicial killings, prolonged detention without trial, extortion, brutality and torture as well as inhuman and degrading treatment meted by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and other units of the Nigerian Police Force. It was further steered by the failure of the government to respond to the needs of the people. The fact that the political leaders have failed the citizens over and over again cannot be overemphasized. 

Section 34 (1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria enshrines respect for the dignity of citizens and nobody should ne subject ted to torture of any inhuman or degrading treatment. Unfortunately, SARS operatives have flagrantly violated this law without any consequences. Thus legal practitioners have suggested passage of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), which criminalises the behaviour of SARS officials and spells out adequate punishment. 

While the repression of protesters seem to have calm the protests, the message it has communicated is loud and clear. It was obvious that beyond police brutality, the end SARS movement is agitation against bad governance with political analysts believing this may emanate into a strong political force come 2023.There is no doubt that, Nigerians will want to make a better voting decision amidst failure of the political class and representatives. This makes electoral reform very instrumental at this juncture.

There is need for the National Assembly to heed the voice of the people and expedite actions electoral amendment which will make the entire electoral process more seamless and credible.Having seen the efforts of the government in setting up judicial panels of inquiry to probe into the agitations of the youth with respect to the various crimes committed by the SARS and other police formations in the country, there are important issues that must be addressed. 

The government should effect the 5/5 demands of the protesters which include the immediate release of all arrested protesters, justice for all deceased victims of the police brutality and adequate compensation for their families, setting up an independent body to oversee the investigation and prosecution of all reports of police misconduct, among others.Also, the government should improve the social contract between it and the citizens. State governments should identify issues affecting their people and provide lasting solutions with immediate effect. This includes the provision of adequate security, electricity and enabling environment for job creation.

However the responsibility doesn’t lie with government alone. Civil Society Organisations like Yiaga Africa, Enough Is Enough, Center for Democracy and Development amongst others can organize conferences and capacity building programs for political education and awareness. It should also endeavour to educate the masses on how to remain united when corrupt leaders try to divide them along ethno-religious lines. Voter education/sensitization should commence ahead of Continuous Voters Registration. People should be educated on the consequences of votes-selling and electing corrupt leaders thereby disrupting the vicious cycle of re-electing those already in power. Similarly, young people with competence and character can leverage on the Not-too-young-to-run platform to encourage young Nigerians to run for office. 

Finally, Nigerian citizens especially women and youths should engage more civic activities like voter education, community sensitization and nation building. Similarly, it’s time to realise that the only way to better governance is by participate in the process either by voting or by aspiring for office.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Sky Daily 

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