What began as a peaceful protest by motley of interest groups against the excesses of officials of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) in some parts of the country, snowballed into violence in Abuja, Lagos and Osun yesterday after the police allegedly fired tear gas and live bullets to disperse protesters.
A worried President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday evening appealed to Nigerians for calm after a meeting with the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu over the protests. He also directed the IG to commence the reformation of SARS.
In Abuja, trouble started when the protesters, who were marching towards the Central Business District and shouting anti-SARS slogans were confronted by a detachment of policemen, who shot several cannisters of tear gas to disperse them.
Several videos shared on social media showed some of the protesters bolting away from the tear gas, with the policemen giving them a chase.
Many of the protesters were injured as they scampered from the scene, while some of them were badly beaten and arrested by policemen.
One of the protesters in Abuja, @BrianJDenis, tweeted, “Police officers have opened fire on us with live bullets at Central Area, Abuja. Some people are injured.”
The showdown yesterday was a far cry from the peaceful atmosphere that prevailed on Thursday when some activist groups marched to the Force Headquarters in Abuja, where they were received by a representative of the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu.
In Osogbo, the Osun State capital, protesters chanting anti-SARS songs caused gridlock at the Ola-Iya junction. It was learnt that the protesters threw stones at the security operatives, in a bid to resist any attempt to stop them.
The security operatives, who initially took cover beside their Armoured Personnel Carriers stationed at the junction, later shot indiscriminately to disperse the angry youths.
In Lagos, it took the intervention of the Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Hakeem Odumosu to dislodge protesters camping at the Lagos State House of Assembly to protest against SARS’ brutality.
The protesters were said to have relocated to the Alausa section of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, which they blocked, leaving many commuters stranded around the Alausa and Berger areas.
The placards-carrying protesters barricaded the highway from the Secretariat bus-stop, opposite Magodo Phase II, a development which caused serious gridlock that extended to the Otedola Bridge, along the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway.
President Buhari met with the IG over the protests at the Villa yesterday and directed him to reform the SARS.
The president also appealed for calm in a series of tweets after the meeting.
He tweeted: “I met again with the IGP tonight. Our determination to reform the police should never be in doubt. I am being briefed regularly on the reform efforts ongoing to end police brutality and unethical conduct, and ensure that the Police are fully accountable to the people.
“The IG already has my firm instructions to conclusively address the concerns of Nigerians regarding these excesses, and ensure erring personnel are brought to justice. I appeal for patience and calm, even as Nigerians freely exercise their right to peacefully make their views known.
“The vast majority of men and women of the Nigeria Police Force are patriotic and committed to protecting the lives and livelihoods of Nigerians, and we will continue to support them to do their job.”
A statement by the Force Headquarters said the IG condemned what he said was an unprovoked and violent attack on policemen and damage to police operational vehicles and other assets by “ENDSARS” protesters in Ughelli, Delta State.
The statement said the incident resulted in the death of one Corporal Etaga Stanley attached to ‘A’ Division, Ughelli, Delta State.
It disclosed that the policeman was attacked and brutally murdered by the protesters, who also left another Policeman, Sergeant Patrick Okuone with serious injury, sustained from alleged gunshot by the protesters.
It said the protesters also carted away one service AK47 rifle with breach No 56-2609008 and 25 rounds of live ammunition that was with the deceased at the time of the incident.
The statement signed by Force PRO and Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP), Frank Mba, said the IG, who described the incident as “cruel and unwarranted” warned that the force would no longer tolerate any attack on its personnel or any member of the law enforcement community by any individual or group protesting under any guise.
The IG said protests by citizens remained a legitimate means for airing their concerns and views but insisted that “it must however be carried out with all sense of responsibility and within the confines of the law.”
Adamu, while “condoling with the family and friends of the late Corporal Etaga Stanley, who paid the supreme price in the service of our dear nation, equally commended the officers of the Delta State Police Command for exercising restraint in the face of the immoral and unjustified provocation.”
Meanwhile, the IG has directed the Commissioner of Police, Delta State to carry out a discrete investigation into the incident, identify the perpetrators and bring the culprits to book.
Act Now, Demonstrators Tell Buhari
Some of the protesters in Lagos charged President Buhari to address their demands on proscribing SARS over their incessant acts of brutality and human rights abuse.
They threatened to take the protest to Murtala Mohammed International and local airports, Lagos, should the government fail to accede to their request within 24 hours.
They made this demand yesterday, which marked the third day of their protest against SARS’ operatives.
EndSARS Protest Trend
Meanwhile, #EndSARS protest has started trending worldwide, thus drawing global attention with it clinching number one spot in different countries, including the United Kingdom.
The development is said to have spurred Nigerians in the Diaspora, particularly those in the UK, United States and even Canada to begin their own protests, starting from today.
Anti-SARS protesters have held several protests in many parts of the country in condemnation of unlawful arrests, torture and murder by the unit. The movement initially targeted the federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad, widely accused of unlawful arrests, torture, and murder, but has since broadened to include the Police Force.
While the SARS unit was suspended on Sunday, groups such as Amnesty International said the government had not gone far enough, pointing to previous unsuccessful attempts to ban the force. Several Nigerian celebrities have joined the protest.
Their demand to proscribe SARS was in spite of the reforms instituted by the presidency and the Inspector General of Police, a move the protesters termed cosmetic.
Observers said a statement by the Force Public Relations Officer, where he reportedly said some of the protesters were clout chasers looking for online validation may have further fuelled the crisis.
Lagos Assembly Wants SARS Scrapped
The Lagos State House of Assembly, in an emergency plenary session yesterday called on the federal government to scrap SARS.
The speaker, Mudashiru Obasa called for the session after protesters besieged the assembly and even camped overnight.
After extensive deliberation, the house resolved that the National Assembly should carry out a probe of the allegations against SARS, including killing, maiming and dehumanising of Nigerians.
The House also asked the Commissioner of Police in Lagos to protect the #EndSARS protesters in the state and ensure that they are not molested.
LASG Pleads for Patience
The Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu has also appealed to Lagosians for patience over the SARS crisis.
A statement by the Commissioner for Information, Gbenga Omotoso said: “Governor Sanwo-Olu is discussing the issue with the Police authorities and hopes that the matter will be resolved in the interest of our teeming youths and in the spirit of democracy.
“The government, therefore, seeks the patience and understanding of all those concerned. Steps are being taken to correct the wrongs that have been identified. Let us remain peaceful as the authorities are addressing the issue. The Lagos State Government will do everything possible to ensure that human rights of all Lagosians are protected at all times.
“The Inspector-General of Police should be allowed to handle the matter, having intervened and issued directives that address the major causes of the infractions that have pitched the people, especially youths, against SARS.”