From October 8th 2020, Nigerian youths staged a series of nationwide peaceful protests for 12 days – in an affirmation of young citizens’ democratic and constitutional right to peaceful assembly as well as freedom of association.
Leveraging social media platforms, young Nigerians demanded an end to the country’s unbearable spate of police brutality. The hashtag #EndSARS was not just a social media trend as it inspired street protests of youths across the country. The approach deployed and the management of the protest was unprecedented. The aftermath was both fertile and fatal.
Loud calls were made from various quarters for the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari to address the nation in hopes of reaffirming citizens’ rights to peaceful assembly and assuring protesters of the government’s commitment towards meeting their demands.
The youth put forward a 5-pronged list of demands, calling for the disbandment of the notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigerian Police Force and an end to police brutality. One of the #5for5 demands was a call for the establishment of independent Judicial Panels in all states of Nigeria to investigate police brutality cases and recommend appropriate compensation for victims.
In October 2020, following the #EndSARS protests across Nigeria and the diaspora, the National Economic Council (NEC), directed the establishment of Judicial Panels of Inquiry by state governors to investigate complaints of police brutality and extra-judicial killings. Membership of the NEC comprises the 36 state governors, the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and other co-opted government officials. The NEC is chaired by the Vice President. Despite the directive, only 29 states and the FCT set up Judicial Panels of Inquiry. Borno, Jigawa, Kano, Kebbi, Sokoto, Yobe, and Zamfara states consistently refused to establish their respective panels. While these seven states were part of the collective NEC decision, their actions reinforce the notion that the need to engage in meaningful security sector reform is not a national concern.
Over the past one year, 22 states – Adamawa, Akwa Ibom, Bauchi, Bayelsa, Delta, Ebonyi, Edo, Ekiti, Gombe, Imo, Kaduna, Katsina, Kwara, Lagos, Niger, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, Oyo, Plateau, Rivers and Taraba – have completed sittings.
Curiously, 6 states – Abia, Anambra, Benue, Cross River, Enugu, Nasarawa and the FCT – have stopped sitting for unknown reasons. Kogi inaugurated its panel but the panel held no sittings.
Only the reports of the Bayelsa, Ekiti and Ondo State Judicial Panels of Inquiry have been submitted, publicly presented to the state government for implementation of their recommendations, and are available to the public. Citizen observers deployed by Yiaga Africa and Enough is Enough (EiE) Nigeria across all the panels report that over 2,791 petitions have been submitted across the 29 states and the FCT where the Judicial Panels of Inquiry were established.
October 2021 marks one year since the #EndSARS protests rocked the country. This provides an opportunity to reflect on the demands for justice by the generations most affected by police brutality since the creation of the Nigerian nation-state.
The generations most affected by police brutality span across Millennials and Gen Z. These generations make up the largest electoral demographic; the most productive and innovative workforce yet the most underrepresented in decision making spaces and the least granted access to justice viz-a-viz the search for justice following the #EndSARS protests. They are still in search of justice despite the claims by the federal government to have met the demands of the #EndSARS protesters.
Former US President Barack Obama, popularised Martin Luther King, Jr.’s quote, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice” as a means of inspiring a young generation to take action towards ensuring justice – whether it’s against racial inequality or police brutality. The truth of history however, reflects many examples of where ‘the arc’ did not bend toward justice. It really bends the other way and it stays that way for a while. The only way to make it bend towards justice is when we organise, when we register, when we make the demands for the Judicial Panels to release their findings, when we vote, when we hold our leaders accountable and when we perform our duties as citizens.
Ibrahim Faruk is a Program Manager with Yiaga Africa’s Governance and Development Program, a member of the Leadership and Strategy Team of the #NotTooYoungToRun Movement and an #EndSARS protester