1 year after #EndSARS protests, the average Nigerian Police officer hasn’t changed much

Since the end of the #EndSARS protests, there has been no significant improvement in the attitude and overall conduct of police operatives towards civilians.

EndSARS Protesters at Lekki tollgate (Vanguard)

On Tuesday, October 20, 2020, the nationwide protests against police harassment, brutality, extortion and bad governance was brought to a chaotic end in Lagos with deafening gunshots.

Prior to the controversial shooting incident, Nigerian youths had been out on the streets across the country, calling for the disbandment of the Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS), a police unit that was notorious for human rights violations.

Following the youths’ persistent agitations, SARS was eventually scrapped.

But what appeared to be a win for the youths over rogue officers, turned out to be a momentary, pyrrhic victory for many.

One year after the protests, many questions surrounding the shooting and the alleged killing of peaceful protesters by soldiers in Lagos, remain unanswered.

Sadly, the protests and the scrapping of the infamous police unit are yet to lead to any significant improvements in the attitude and overall conduct of police operatives towards civilians.

Views of Nigerians on impact of the protests

Days after the protesting youths left the streets and returned home, Nigerians waited with bated breath to see if their police officers would turn a new leaf.

Indiscriminate arrests, profiling and extortion of young Nigerians seemed to disappear temporarily from social and mainstream media coverage.

A year after, however, the bad eggs in the Police Force are believed to have thrown caution to the wind, as conversations about officers’ misconduct are again making headlines.

Some young Nigerians who spoke to Pulse on their observations about police officers’ conduct since the end of the #EndSARS campaign, believe the protests had some impact on the conduct of police officers.

The youths who craved anonymity for this story, maintained that to an extent, young Nigerians are now free to dress the way they want without being profiled as fraudsters.

“The truth is that from that time till now, the police force has been calm in their attitude towards civilians. We’ve not seen so much police brutality and harassment on the road. I think the #EndSARS protest has impacted more on the police force,” one of the youths said.

Another said, “I think there’s been a drastic change in the police force. A lot of them are no more molesting people, unlike last year, when they see people passing, maybe you dress anyhow, they will stop you and try to force you into their vehicle.

“But I think because of what happened last year and their experience, there have been so many changes. You’re free to pass any place, you can call police attention to something and some of them will give you feedback. But the government still needs to do a lot of enforcement to stop them from harassing people.”

Nigerian singer and songwriter, Douglas Jack Agu, better known as Runtown, agrees with the sentiment, saying the protests achieved a never-before-seen success.

Speaking on the impact of the #EndSARS protests, Runtown said: “To an extent it was clear that our voices were heard and our President who hardly speaks to Nigerians, spoke to the country twice in less than a month. The #EndSARS recorded a never-before-seen success and it strongly opposed and resisted every form of hijack until the sponsored elements ruined it.”

However, those who have been victims of police harassment in the last few months believe nothing has changed.

Recounting their ordeal, some of the victims who spoke to Pulse, claimed they were recently harassed, profiled and extorted by police officers at Ojuelegba, Ketu, Costain and Ikorodu areas of Lagos.

The victims also asked that their names be left out of this story.

One of the victims said, “Recently, I was in an Uber, I was stopped by the police and I told them I am a photographer and I was still harassed. I was told to come down from the vehicle and they searched me. Even after showing them my business card, I was still harassed. I told them I am a photographer and I was in a hurry, but the man was like, do you know who I am?”

Another victim said in pidgin English, “Inside that period sef dem still hold me for Ketu. I come back from business say make I cross, they just put am for my waist, the next thing wey I go see, dem carry machete dey flog me, the next thing na inside Black Maria, dem carry us go Chaley Boy for Badagry, na there dem sleep us. I use N15,000 bail myself the next morning, I no do anything. So, they are still the same. I just tire!”

Are #EndSARS voices going silent?

The #EndSARS protests received global attention at the time, with celebrities and sports stars lending their voices to the cause with the relevant trending hashtags.

International football stars like former Arsenal player, Mesut Ozil, Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford, Ghana goalkeeper Fatau Dauda, Chelsea duo Tammy Abraham and Antonio Rudiger, as well as former African Footballer of the Year, Frederic Kanoute all threw their weights behind the campaign.

There were also police brutality protests across the world organised by Nigerians in the diaspora.

At home, entertainment celebrities didn’t just support the campaign with their voices, they were at the forefront of the protests in Lagos and Abuja.

Top music artists like Wizkid, Davido, Falz, Runtown, Tiwa Savage, Banky W, and Don Jazzy boosted the morale of the protesting youths when they joined the protests.

As the protests garnered strength and support, some artistes and activists inadvertently became the faces and voices of the leaderless campaign. Mr Macaroni, DJ Switch, Rinu, Aisha Yesufu were some of the voices leading the protests from the front.

In a recent interview with Trevoh Noah, one of the loudest voices against police brutality, Davido said he got into trouble for supporting the campaign.

The music artiste, who joined the protests in Abuja, said he had to leave the country when his song ‘Fem’ became an anthem for the campaign.

“I did not record that song thinking that was going to happen but it’s amazing how I saw my voice being an instrument for people. It was amazing, I got into a lot of trouble, I had to actually leave the country”, he said.

In commemoration of the first anniversary of the #EndSARS movement, Pulse reached out to some of the artistes and activists that participated in the protests for comments about the impact of the campaign on police conduct, but none was willing to respond.

Mr. Macaroni, Falz, Rinu and DJ Switch turned down interview requests about #EndSARS-related topics.

Police authorities refuse to speak about #EndSARS impact on officers’ conduct

The initial success of the nationwide protests was perceived to have served as a check on the activities of police operatives across the country.

In the thick of the protests, the Police Service Commission (PSC) recommended the dismissal of 37 former SARS operatives from the force.

On Saturday, October 17, 2020, the commission also listed names of two Lagos-based celebrity officers, Abayomi Shogunle and Dolapo Badmus among the officers punished for misconduct.

When reached for comments on whether the police has been ridding itself of rogue officers since the historic protests, spokesperson of the NPF, Frank Mba, promised to make himself available for a chat on Tuesday, October 12, 2021, but refused to take his calls throughout the day.

Messages sent to him via Whatsapp and SMS were not responded to.

The Police Service Commission also failed to respond to an email for an interview on the observations of the commission about the impact of the protests on the conduct of police officers.

The Lagos Police Public Relations Officer, CSP Adekunle Ajisebutu also ignored calls and a text message sent to him on the matter.

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