“It validates our outcry, and punctures the allegations that robbery kingpins and yahoo-yahoo boys are sponsoring the #EndSARS, Reform PoliceNG Movement.”
The recent initiative by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who in his erstwhile capacity as Acting President issued directives for the commencement of the reform process of the Nigeria Police Force, came as sweet relief to Mr. Segun Awosanya convener of the Reform PoliceNg Movement, which took off in 2016.
READ ALSO: Why Nigerians want SARS scrapped
The group was prompted to commence the campaign to stamp out the raising incidents of gross human rights abuse, and cases of extrajudicial killings perpetrated by police officers, especially those attached to the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
Their vociferous call and demands trended on social media, garnered thousands of supporters, and went viral on numerous online news platforms. In 2017, the hashtags (#EndSARS and Reform PoliceNg) came alive. The virtual fora coalesced into protest groups that made loud outcries on the streets, which ruffled and rattled the police hierarchy.
Awosanya, along with Nelson Olanipekun of the Citizens Gavel, Juliet Kego Ume-Onyido of the Social Justice Advocate (iSERVE2050), Okechukwu Nwaguma of the Network on Police Reform in Nigeria (NOPRIN) and Adebayo Raphael of Our Mumu Don Do, triggered the #EndSARS, Reform Police Movement. And their protests at inception polarized opinions. Many welcomed their protests, while others called them ruffians and political stooges.
But amid the mockery and threats, they remained resolute. “I feared nothing. We are all assured of death at some point in our life journey and no one will live forever. If I were to be counting the number of threats, I would have lost count years back. Threats really don’t move me. The worst-case scenario is that they kill the flesh and the advocacy waxes stronger and becomes a religion, being an ideal virus that can’t be destroyed.
It is getting stronger daily and Nigerians are becoming aware of their rights and duty as citizens in a republic. We have raised the consciousness of the critical mass of transformational leaders with enlightened followers capable of independent thoughts, who are easy to govern, difficult to rule and impossible to enslave. So the #NewNigeria ideal is inevitable. We are not the same populace the political-class is used to. So they all must be afraid of what stares them in the face. The revolution began years back,” Awosanya told Sunday Sun.
Sparking the revolution
As Awosanya explained, the #EndSARS calls did not arise from any personal experience with the men-in-black. He was never rough handled, extorted or unjustly incarcerated by policemen. So why then is he so passionate on his quest to reform the Nigerian Police Force, one would ask?
“This is one of the most common questions I have been asked for over one year now. It is sad to note that we live in an environment where empathy is scarce. Some people wait until something happens to them or their loved ones before they react. But I, and the people I work with are not reactionary. We’re people that respond to societal needs.
“However, the very case that got me pissed and which triggered the #EndSARS #ReformPoliceNG, happened to a young man who worked for a supplier of my equipment at the Computer Village in Ikeja. He was robbed and beaten by SARS officers. His money plus the phones and computers he was to supply were all seized from him. I waited all day for the goods but didn’t even see or hear from the young man. So I had to call him to find out why he failed to deliver the equipment. I spoke to him and he lamented and narrated how SARS operatives robbed him. I was shocked and angered. We reported the incident to the then Commissioner of Police in Lagos (Fatai Owoseni) who promised to get to the bottom of the case. We later rounded up the rogue squad the next day. They were caught red handed at an ATM spot where they were molesting another innocent civilian and wanted to collect his money. That was the very first publicized arrest and arraignment of rogue SARS officers.
“This happened in 2016, and it got us focused on the imbroglio. We started collecting data, and got into deep research on the whole situation and started a poll for people to come forward to present their opinion on the matter. The campaign kicked off in mid-2017 after we substantially realized that the abuse, intimidation, unlawful detention and extrajudicial killings by SARS/Police had become a culture.
“A rally followed in December with online petitions signed by 50,000 Nigerians. That got us talking with the leaders of the Senate and the House of Representatives. It was at this point that we started creating hubs of professionals (data miners, lawyers, creative, etc) to engage having realized the movement was going to be for the long haul.
“There were many days of deep researches and days of lobbying the legislature while engaging the judiciary, but the most obvious activities were the engagement of citizens on Twitter, while creating awareness and helping them develop the courage to report police brutalities and abuses. This was what led to the culture of posting videos of erring rogue officers online.”
The videos and stories of police did not only leave Awosanya shocked but further spurred him to continue his activism. “I got to know that people even use my pictures now as screensavers and cover arts just to ward off intimidation by rogue police and SARS operatives. It’s still a shock to me though, and I really can’t express how this feels because I am still very much an ordinary random citizen that’s only calling for a better Nigeria.”
No going back
And in a seeming response to the clamour, the federal government through the then Acting-President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, ordered an overhaul of SARS; a directive that drew widespread accolade and critical acclaim from Nigerians both at home and in the Diaspora.
However, Awosanya is far from impressed with the reforms carried out so far by police authorities. “We receive with measured optimism, the response of Professor Yemi Osinbajo, to the widespread outcries of citizens to the incessant brutality, corruption, illegal detentions, extortion and overall unprofessionalism of operatives of SARS and the Nigeria Police,” he said.
He expressed delight at Professor Osinbajo’s directive, and further listed the sort of overhaul the #EndSARS campaigners expect. “The overwhelming positive response of citizens to Osinbajo’s directive to overhaul SARS, reflects the pervasive nature of the actions of SARS/Nigeria Police in our nation and that governmental actions were long overdue. It also shows that this administration has admitted that what we’re saying is correct. It validates our outcry, and punctures the allegations that robbery kingpins and yahoo-yahoo boys are sponsoring the #EndSARS, Reform PoliceNG Movement. Our critics can now see that they’ve failed.
“But when you hear ‘overhaul’ of something, it means that the structure doesn’t have integrity anymore, and doesn’t serve the purpose it was put up for. The direction of the Osinbajo’s order wasn’t well placed. He is very conversant with the criminal justice system. So he knows that the criminal justice system doesn’t just work on its own. Hence, the police cannot reform itself.
“An effective and proper reform is not something you can switch overnight within 24 hours or 48 hours. You can’t come and tell us that you’ve reformed SARS. We are not demanding for SARS reformation. SARS is a cancer. And wasn’t even backed by law or act. SARS is an ad hoc creation in 1992 to solve a problem in the immediate.”
Awosanya and his co-campaigners are insistent that SARS, which is not backed by law should be scrapped: “We have done our research and analysis to confirm that it is a lost case to reform this unit and we are no more patient to watch our fellow citizens die needlessly to the impunity of SARS. Again, immediate and effective reform of the police should be triggered starting with the repeal and replacement of the Police Act and the reconstitution and restructuring of the Police Service Commission, which is currently sterile. Also, we call for the Administration of the Criminal Justice Act 2015 to be fully implemented by the states to curb the abuses of human rights, decongest our prisons and enforce documentation of criminals and offenses at the Police station backed with a central database to sanitize the chaos we have today.”