2020 was a year of protest globally, Nigeria included. This month marks a year since Nigerians took to the streets to demand the disbandment of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) in the country’s largest protests in a generation. 20 October, a date now ingrained in Nigerian history, marked a year since the Nigerian Army opened fire on its own citizens in the midst of protests at the Lekki Toll Gate and Alausa in Lagos–killing at least 12 peaceful protesters, a claim that the government vehemently denies. The deceased still have not received justice and in the year since the shootings, supporters of the protests have been subjected to intimidation, harassment and arrests. These time markers are a painful reminder of the lack of accountability that has occurred in the past year, further exacerbated by the devaluation of the naira, insecurity, youth unemployment and the multitude of other socio-economic issues Nigeria faces. One year after the protests ended, where is the country now–what has changed for the good, what has remained the same and what has deteriorated?
On 11 October 2020, three days into the protests, the #5for5 signed by the Nigerian Youth were released as a guide for both protestors and the government to understand the demands of the #EndSARS movement. Referring back to the #5for5 now allows Nigerians and the international community alike to assess if any progress has been made.
1) Immediate release of all arrested protesters. According to the Enough is Enough (EiE) Project Nigeria, an NGO, it has been “authoritatively” confirmed that there are still #EndSARS protestors in jail that were incarcerated during and after the demonstrations. Sunday Okoro, a 36-year-old bus driver, accidentally walked into a picture as he went past rioters outside the Orile Police Divisional Headquarters last October on his way home. This image was circulated on social media and two months later he was arrested; he remains in prison today for a multitude of charges including unlawful assembly despite being uninvolved in the riots or peaceful protests. Likewise, at the Kirikiri Correctional Centre in Lagos, it is alleged that over 300 #EndSARS protestors remain today.
2) Justice for all deceased victims of police brutality and appropriate compensation for their families. According to Ikemesit Effiong, Head of Research at SBM Intelligence, a Lagos based think tank, N1 billion in compensation has been issued so far to police brutality victims and their families through the judicial inquiry panels. This month, the National Economic Council (NEC), chaired by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, directed each state government in collaboration with the Federal Government, to pay compensation to police brutality victims across Nigeria while simultaneously warning the youth not to gather for protests to mark the one year anniversary of #EndSARS this month.
3) Setting up an independent body to oversee the investigation & prosecution of all reports of police misconduct (within 10 days). According to NEC, 28 states have set up judicial panels of inquiry to investigate allegations of police misconduct and human rights violations by the Nigerian police and security forces, meaning that eight states have refused. In addition to a lack of participation by all 36 states, the panels that are in place have been criticized for delays, lack of transparency, denial of the at least 56 people killed during the protests, a continued resolve to punish leaders of the movement and no prosecution of police officers so far. In February, Rinu Oduala, a prominent protestor, stepped down from the Lagos State Judicial Panel where she was a youth representative explaining that “it is now obvious that the government is only out to use us for performative actions.” She cited some successes of the panel but ultimately did not want to be part of what she described as a “cover-up” by the Nigerian government.
4) In line with the new Police Act, psychological evaluation & retraining (to be confirmed by an independent body) of all disbanded SARS officers before they can be redeployed. According to Amnesty International, there have been reports of human rights violations committed by resurfacing SARS officers in the past year since the protests, and there are still police who identify themselves as members of the squad today. Thus far, there have been no updates from the panels about psychological evaluations but Inspector General Usman Alkali Baba released a 12-point plan to reform the police system including the dismantling of police checkpoints across the nation. However, the reality of the types of changes Baba is attempting to enforce in Nigeria are meager due to bureaucracy challenges like the centralization of the police force.
Lastly, 5) Increase police salary so that they are adequately compensated for protecting lives and property of citizens. In June, President Buhari ordered an increase of police salaries and benefits in an attempt to reform the police force. This policy move is in line with the #5for5 demand for better funding and welfare for Nigerian police, the rationale being that they will be less likely to turn to bribery and crime against the citizens they are meant to be protecting if they are adequately compensated.
In terms of what has changed for the good, compensation has been issued to some victims but there is still a long way to go, and the increase in salary for police answers one demand of the Nigerian Youth. However, it’s clear that many things have still remained the same and even worse, deteriorated. Peaceful protestors remain in jail, not all states have set up judicial panels, there are still reports of SARS officers in the police force and insecurity is rampant throughout the country. Furthermore, many questions still remain about the fate of Nigerians who have gone missing at the hands of SARS officers over the years–these victims are still waiting to receive justice. #EndSARS was more than a movement against police brutality, it was a call for wider reform to Nigeria’s political, social and economic landscape that has been plagued with issues since independence 61 years ago. One year later not much has changed, just like the past 61 years.
Temi Ibirogba is an Africa policy researcher based in Washington, D.C. and a Sub-Editor at The Republic Journal.