Ladies and gentlemen of the press,
- Our Nation has in the last couple of days witnessed a mass action by Nigerian citizens, mostly the youth, against the Special Anti-Robbery Squad of the Nigerian Police Force (SARS).
- As you all may know, the protests are precipitated by years of brutality and professional misconduct by operatives of this particular police unit who have for too long derailed from the core mandates of their establishment, and have become threats to the same citizens that they were meant to protect in line with the general mandate of the Police under the Nigerian Constitution.
- In response to the protests, the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu had on Sunday, 5th October 2020 placed a ban on the operations of the Special Anti- Robbery Squad and other tactical squad of the Police force with “immediate effect”. He thereafter announced the disbandment of the controversial police unit across the 36 States of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory, while promising the constitution of an Investigation Team which shall include Civil Society and Human Rights Organizations that will work in concert with the Nigerian Police in investigating cases of human rights violations by the Force, amongst other proposed reforms.
- While these are admittedly welcome reforms, I would like to place it on record that the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), in line with its core mandate of promoting the Rule of Law in Nigeria and deepening the democratic space in Nigeria, has been actively involved in, and monitoring, the ongoing #EndSARS protests across the country.
- The protests have again brought to fore perennial issues affecting the Nigerian Police, our security agencies, their interface with the citizenry and the fundamental issues affecting our security system that can no longer be put off.
- In the wake of the protests that have resurrected the consciousness of the Nigerian society and indeed the international community to these very important and systemic issues, the NBA is convinced that a disbandment of SARS (or any other unit by whatever name called), re-posting or transferring officers of any disbanded unit and other knee-jerk reactions will only scratch the surface and not offer long-lasting solutions to the endemic issues bedevilling the Nigerian Police as currently constituted.
- Consequently, and in keeping with its mandate of acting as a watchdog of the society, the NBA has mapped out certain short, mid and long-term measures that must be put in place to address the current issues and prevent a reoccurrence in the future.
IMMEDIATE OR SHORT-TERM PROPOSITIONS
In the immediate or short term, the position of the NBA is as follows:
- The right of citizens to peaceful protest is an inalienable and fundamental right that is not only recognised by the Nigerian Constitution but has also been consistently upheld by Nigerian courts at all levels. We therefore condemn in very strong terms any ban on the rights of citizens to peacefully assemble and protest in any part of the country.
- We call on governments at all levels to protect the rights of all citizens participating in the peaceful protests across the country and direct the security agencies to cease assaulting, attacking, abusing or otherwise harassing or using force against citizens who seek to have their voices heard through the peaceful protests. Under no circumstances should the use of live arms and ammunition against peaceful and lawful protesters be tolerated and those found culpable must be apprehended and made examples of.
- The NBA demands an unconditional release of all peaceful protesters across different States, and also appeals to all protesters to remain non-violent and law abiding in expressing their grievances or embarking on the protests.
- Various branches of the NBA across the country have set up teams that will provide legal support to peaceful protesters and victims of police harassment in their various regions. The NBA, working with other stakeholders, have already achieved results in this respect in Benin, Ekiti, Ile-Ife, Abeokuta and Lagos. In particular, we commend the Attorneys General of Ogun, Edo, Ekiti and Lagos States for responding to our calls, providing support and promptly ensuring the release of protesters arrested and detained by the Police. We will continue to play our part in protecting the rights of citizens across the country. In addition to the institutional efforts of our various branches, individual members of the Association and law firms have, in solidarity, volunteered their services. The NBA appreciates these individual efforts and welcomes more volunteers to this noble cause of defending the fundamental rights of the people and checking misuse of power.
- The NBA has set up a central help desk to receive complaints from, and provide support to, members of the public on harassment by security agencies and other public interest matters that require the attention of the NBA. Complaints received will be dealt with either at the national level or passed on to an appropriate branch of the NBA (as the case may be). The platforms for submission of complaints are firstname.lastname@example.org and 07062108806 (SMS and WhatsApp).
- The Nigerian Police should immediately commence disciplinary action (including dismissal and public prosecution) against erring officers and those who have breached the rules of engagement in dealing with the citizenry. This is important on the part of the Nigerian Police to demonstrate good faith and commitment towards ensuring accountability, restoring confidence and sanitizing the system.
- The NBA will make its human and other resources available to the independent investigation panel which is to be established by the Police and the National Human Rights Commission to investigate the violations of human rights by the disbanded SARS and other segments of the Nigerian Police.
IN THE MID-TERM:
- The NBA will constantly monitor compliance with rules of engagement by security agencies and escalate cases of abuse to the highest authorities within the relevant security agencies. For this purpose, we will continue to expand our public interest channels and platforms to receive complaints from members of the public and liaise with the relevant authorities within the security agencies.
- We demand an expedited audit of the various SARS detention centres across the country. The most notorious of these centres are the SARS facilities in Awkuzu (Anambra State), the infamous “human abattoir” in Abuja and the notorious SARS detention facilities across Lagos, Port-Harcourt and other parts of the country. The NBA demands an immediate audit of the detainees in these and other facilities to ensure that those who are unjustly and unlawfully detained are immediately released while those against whom the Police have credible cases are promptly charged to court and prosecuted in accordance with the law.
- The NBA will work with, and continue to prod, the Chief Magistrates or designated Magistrates across the country to pay monthly visits to police stations and other detention facilities within their territorial divisions to direct the arraignment of suspects or grant bail to them (as appropriate) in line with the newly enacted Police Act. We expect that this will, in the long run, not only decongest these facilities but also discourage unnecessary detention of citizens for largely unfounded and unjustifiable reasons.
- We demand that the Police Service Commission should live up to its responsibilities by speedily and constantly looking into complaints against the Police for abuse or misuse of power. This is important to ensure that the relationship between the public and the police is one of trust and confidence instead of suspicion and indifference.
- The NBA will collaborate with the National Assembly on its proposed initiatives to provide legislative intervention on issues affecting the Police. The NBA has in the last week been in touch with the leadership of the National Assembly on the proposed legislative interventions, details of which the National Assembly will make public in due course.
IN THE LONG-TERM:
- We demand, and will continue to advocate for, a complete reform and overhaul of the Nigerian Police into a modern and responsible and responsive law enforcement establishment. This includes, among other things, increased funding and better working conditions for the men and officers. Information available to us show that that the current working conditions are atrocious and incapable of boosting morale.
- The NBA will set up an NBA Police Reform Team that will work with the Police and other institutions and organisations in developing or refining a Comprehensive Blueprint for Police Reform in Nigeria and continuously advocating for an implementation of the Blueprint.
- The NBA, working through its Human Rights Institute will team up with the Police and other security agencies to provide continuing education, enlightenment and sensitisation to members of the Nigerian Police and other agencies on respect for civil law, human rights, rules of engagement, compliance with rulings and/or judgment of courts, etc., in the discharge of their duties. Our findings show that in many cases the problem is one of lack of proper orientation and re-training of officers on how to engage or relate with citizens in a democratic society.
Our Nation is at a crossroads, and the ongoing nationwide protest is in many respects emblematic of the larger problems that bedevil us as a nation. But if there is one thing we must do, it is to make the best of this crisis. The NBA believes that the only way this can be done, is to enlist in a thorough and holistic reform of not just the Nigerian Police, but the entire security architecture in the country. I believe that with the daunting security challenges across different parts of the country, this should not just be our collective responsibility, but a national obligation.
The NBA remains committed to its core mandate of promoting the rights and interests of the citizenry and advocating for a better society. We will not shirk this responsibility.
I thank you all for your audience.
President, Nigerian Bar Association
13 October 2020