Fred Itua, Abuja
There was pandemonium in Abuja yesterday, the nation’s capital, following a violent face-off between #EndSARS protesters and armed policemen attached to the headquarters of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF).
At about 6:20 pm, armed policemen fired teargas canisters to disperse hundreds of Nigerians who had gathered at Force headquarters calling for the end of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) over their brutality, extortion, harassment and extra-judicial killing of Nigerians.
The protesters had yesterday morning taken to the streets to ventilate their anger and displeasure over the inhuman treatment of Nigerians by the special squad.
The protesters who earlier insisted on camping and passing a night in front of the facility over the failure of Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu to address them, got a shocker when they were attacked by armed policemen.
Policemen stationed around the building fired teargas canisters to disperse the protesters who had brought mattresses, food and drinks in preparation for the camping.
The situation led to a stampede, as protesters ran for safety, while those that were caught up in the melee gasped for breath as a result of the fumes they inhaled.
Some protesters arrested were thoroughly beaten and dragged on the floor by the armed policemen. The protest, popular tagged #EndSARS, happened yesterday concurrently across various states of the Federation. The protesting youths insisted on the disbandment of SARS and the prosecution of men and officers culpable in the extrajudicial killing of Nigerians.
On Wednesday, the Senate instituted a joint committee to investigate the excesses of SARS and vowed to ensure that those involved in extrajudicial killings were brought to justice.
On Friday, President Muhammadu Buhari met with the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu and urged him to address issues raised by protesting Nigerians against SARS.
Just as youths marched in Abuja, a protester was reportedly killed in Ogbomoso area of Oyo State yesterday, while another was injured during a confrontation with the police.
Meanwhile, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State has condemned the reported killing of a policeman and injuring of another during the protest at Ughelli on Thursday.
In a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Olisa Ifeajika, in Asaba, the governor said it was disheartening that the unfortunate incidents occurred while the policemen were carrying out their lawful duties.
“As a government, we recognize that protest on any issue of governance or the like is a legitimate right of citizens, but must be embarked on responsibly and within the ambit of the law.
Similarly, the Minister of Youth and Sports Development, Sunday Dare, has called on the residents of Ogbomoso to remain calm and law-abiding following reports of tear- gassing and attacks on protesters in Ogbomoso on Saturday,
Dare while seeking full protection for the protesters, called on the police not to deny the protesting youths the right to protest because the right to peaceful protest was a democratic right.
The Minister has also asked the Vice Chancellor of Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH), Ogbomoso and one of his aides Shola Kolawole to monitor and update him about the situation. He also visited the injured in the hospitals to make sure they get full medical treatment.
In his own reaction, the Catholic Archbishop of Lagos, Most Rev. Alfred Adewale Martins has called upon the police authorities to listen to the legitimate public outcry against the excesses of the operatives of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS.
In a release signed by the Director of Social Communications, Rev. Fr. Anthony Godonu, Archbishop Martins reiterated the need for a total overhaul of the present structure of police force in the country and the reorientation of the personnel to make them more efficient and accountable for their actions.
“We call on President Muhammadu Buhari to prevail on the Police Service Commission and the Inspector General of Police to commence a thorough and realistic review of the entire structure of the police force in order to restore its integrity” the statement read.
In another vein, the Center for Human and Socio-Economic Rights (CHSR), has called on #EndSARS protesters seeking the complete collapse of the unit to have a rethink and called on the IGP to tread with caution.
In a statement signed by the group’s National President, Comrade Alex Omotehinse, and made available to the press, the group noted that it does not believe that ending SARS is the solution to the unprofessional conducts of some operatives of the Nigeria Police Force.
Part of the statement reads, “As a group, we do not believe that ending SARS is the solution because SARS and other units mentioned by the IGP have primary responsibilities, therefore, we shouldn’t because of a few bad eggs among them to cancel the entire units.