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#EndSARS MEMORIAL by Bright Okuta

EndSARS MEMORIAL
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This is an article I have written with a weary heart. I spent two weeks writing this EndSARS MEMORIAL. While writing the concluding paragraph this morning, I asked myself “What about the two other articles you wrote about Police brutality and the EndSARS movement? Of what impact were there?”

A jumble of thoughts and a plethora of rhetorical questions filled my mind. I couldn’t fathom out why because of how disjointed and sad I was. I woke up angry; my mind was beclouded with rage.

I remembered my encounter with SARS on my way back from Delta State. I remembered my encounter with Mobile Police.
I recalled many other encounters by close friends with the police.

I remembered October 2020 and the events that led to the Lekki shootings. I remembered a lot.
My heart shattered. I didn’t know how to feel. I was not thinking straight. But I needed to write this.
It will be kept in the archive of articles, publications and journals that stood against police brutality and injustice in Nigeria. Just like others.

One of the most heart-rending mass protests of 2020 was the George Flyod protest. Following closely, was the EndSARS protest. The EndSARS protest began as a social media outcry sometime in 2017, eventually metamorphosed into street protest in October 2020, and finally became a decentralized social movement by mostly young Nigerians who became fed up with the wickedness, cruelty and many criminal activities (killings, torture, illegal arrests, harassment, abuse etc) of the Nigerian Police.

Today marks exactly one year since the Lekki shootings.
On the night of October 20, Nigerian soldiers were seen shooting at peaceful protestors at the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos state. The protestors waved the nation’s flag, chanting the #EndSARS slogan with zest while lying on the floor. Shamefully, the Nigerian army came out to deny this. They denied they ever sent out soldiers to Lekki Toll Gate, neither was there any shooting.

The desperation of the Nigerian government to quell the enraged youths and alarming full-throated voices and instil fear in them led to Lekki shootings. Who would have thought in a democratic setting, the government employs such barbaric practice of use of absolute force in an autocratic, oppressive, despotic, and repressive manner.

There are silly arguments, whether people were killed or not. The Lagos state government had come out to deny that there was no shooting and bodies were not seen. But there are pieces of evidence, including a well-detailed investigative documentary released by CNN. Investigative journalist, Fisayo Soyombo released a well-detailed piece with a lot of eye-clear pieces of evidence too. This is more of an embarrassment to the government of Nigeria. But we see worse things like this happen. So, it is not so much of a big deal.

Aftermath; Judicial panel of inquiry.
Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, directed all the state governments to set up a judicial panel of inquiry, to investigate all the allegations of brutality and extrajudicial killings against the SARS and Nigerian police.
He also proposed that states set up a Victim Support Fund to compensate victims.
Has this directive yielded any positive result? Only Lagos state and a few others made efforts that achieved remarkable progress.

Has anything changed?
There hasn’t been any change in the cruel and barbaric behaviour of the Nigerian police. There have been numerous reports of more abuse and harassment by the police in various parts of the country even after the Lekki shootings—in what could be described as a revenge plan.
To them, the citizens fought against the police. But in clear terms, the #EndSARS was a call for the total disbandment of the notorious police unit and an end to police brutality, torture, illegal arrests and harassment as a whole. One of the demands of the protestors is to increase the salary of the police and in general, term, work on their welfare.

It is quite appalling that the citizens were killed for the same thing they protest against. The right to protest is a constitutional right enshrined in Section 38 of the 1999 Constitution. The freedom of thoughts and expression is expressively defined.

Police brutality is a serious issue almost anywhere in the world, it chiefly depends on the approach the government tackles the malady.

Today, we remember the ‘heroes past’ who sacrificed their lives fighting against injustice and oppression. We remember the souls lost in this struggle and we condole with the loved ones they left behind.

There are still clenched fists out there to call for redress to all acts of criminalities still being perpetrated by those who swore to serve and protect the people; those we call security forces.

Those who lost their lives in this struggle will never be forgotten. Never will they. Never can they. Never should they.

#EndSARSMemorial

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