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#EndSARS: Police Harassment Continues A Year After

A year after the Nigerian government disbanded the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) unit of the Nigeria Police, security operatives continue to unjustly arrest and harass Nigerians, as many spend months in prison without bail or trial.

Nigerians have not experienced a respite from arbitrary arrests, detention, and harassment in the hands of the country’s police officers despite repeated promises by the government to carry out reforms in the police. 

This is more so almost one year after Nigerian youths staged the #ENDSARS protest that forced the government to disband the rogue Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) unit of the Nigeria Police. The protest, which spanned through several weeks with various demonstrations, was observed in different states across the country. HumAngle had reported, in its analysis, the account of events that happened during the period. 

Despite the demands raised in the protest, HumAngle reported that there have been concerns raised on improvement in policing as well as the police reform.

In Nov. 2020, John Eze (not real name) was arrested by the police in Ilorin, Kwara State North-central Nigeria,  for allegedly  possessing a stolen phone. Eze, who claimed that he bought the phone from a store, presented the receipt to the security operative when requested.

“I was asked to provide the details of the person who sold the phone to me. I even submitted the phone to them. Some days after, I went back to the station with my brother and I was told to pay some money before I could be released,” he narrated to HumAngle.

“I protested and told them I would not pay since all evidence had been submitted to them. I was only a victim of circumstance. After the persistent agitation, my brother was forced out and I was threatened.”

But the police officers threatened Eze they could frame him up in a robbery case if he refused to make the payment. 

“The policeman said they could change the story to be a robbery case for me. I told them even if it was, I have provided the phone, receipt and other necessary documents so I should only be a victim of circumstance,” he said.

It took the intervention of the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) of the station when the case file got to his desk for Eze to get off the hook.

For the duo of Tobi Joseph and Hassan Tayo (not real names), their crime, according to a team of police officers, was looking like cyber criminals. They were on their way to Lekki from the FESTAC area of Lagos, Southwest Nigeria when they were stopped by some  police officers along Orile.

“They checked our phone, messages, bank account statements for proof. When they discovered there was nothing incriminating , they said we looked like gay. It took a long while before we were released.”

Multiple arrests after disbandment of SARS

Robert Kpanou, a tiler, was returning from work on Oct. 24, 2020, four days after the infamous Lekki shooting, when some police officers arrested him. The Beninese was accused of being one of the hoodlums vandalising properties in Lagos, during the #EndSARS protest. 

Kpanou told the police officers who arrested him he was not aware of the curfew imposed by the Lagos State government. “After the questions, they asked me to come down, told the bike man to go, and took me into their cab straight to the Lekki Police station.”

Days later, he was moved to Area A Command, Lagos Island, known as the Lion Building. Kpanou was arraigned before Yaba Magistrate Court on Nov. 3, 2020 and he has since been remanded in the Kirikiri Prison. 

The news of his arrest came as a shock to his family members. Kpanou, who spoke with HumAngle from the prison said “I just came back from my village two months before I was arrested. As I speak to you, my mother is currently sick.”

“My wife and two children have relocated to the village to stay with her. Once in a while, my brother comes here to check on me. But it really has not been easy.”

Robert Kpanou. Photo: Robert Kpanou

He told our reporter how he battles with various forms of challenges in prison: “to eat in here is a problem. Sometimes we just eat in the morning and that is all for the day. If we are lucky, we can take garri in the morning and  beans in the night or you can just go to bed like that without anything.” 

“Any small things you try to say here, they will beat you.”

Kapnou, since his arrest, has only appeared in court twice; Nov. 3, 2020 and Sept. 24, 2021. On his last appearance, the court adjourned his case to Dec. 17, 2021. 

This means that Kapnou, at his next re-appearance, would have spent over a year in police custody without bail nor trial. 

For Sunday Okoro, he was arrested on Dec. 22, 2020 for alleged arson. He was detained at SARS Ikeja division for over a month without trial.

After several appearances in court, Okoro, who had spent about 10 months behind bars, was granted bail but has been unable to perfect it due to paucity of funds. Festus Ogun, the counsel to the defendant, said efforts are on  to perfect his bail before his trial in October.

‘Persecution, a calculated attempt’

Tope Temokun, human rights lawyer, said “It was my expectation that when the #EndSARS protest came, it would be an avenue for the government to clear all huddles in the security unit as the public had lost its trust in the government, but it did not.”

Temokun added that, despite the effort of the judicial panel to receive cases of brutality and award compensation, no government has implemented the recommendations of the panel. 

“If the government of a state has refused to implement the recommendation, people should get organised and force the government to do it. This is because, people who were victims are not at the mercy of the government and they have lost lives, sustained injury and pain to these brutality.”

On his part, Festus Ogun, who said that while the demonstration of Nigerians is a fundamental right as guaranteed by the constitution, argued that protesters are still being persecuted for the action.

“You see that most of these prosecutions arising from the EndSARS protest are not prosecution in the real sense of it but a calculated attempt to persecute innocent citizens. This should not happen in a democratic country,” he said.

Ogun added that it is important for the government to withdraw all charges in the interest of social justice, democracy  and the public. 

Govt warns against Oct. 2021 protest

After the reported shooting that happened at the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos on Oct. 20, 2020, Nigerians are moving to honour the deaths of those who lost their lives during the protests with another mass protest on Oct. 20.

HumAngle had reported how the October 1st Independence Day celebration was taken over by #EndSARS discussions on social media. It was also reported how families still mourn the death of their loved ones who died during the protests across the country. 

However, while plans are in place to hold another protest, the Lagos State Government has said it would not allow any form of demonstration in the state. Similarly, the National Economic Council had advised that another lawful alternative should be adopted against the planned demonstration.

 


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