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Ongoing Protests in Nigeria “a microcosm of the fundamental problems”: Bishops

The ongoing protests against police brutality in Nigeria represent “a microcosm of the fundamental problems” the West African nation is facing, the Catholic Bishops in the country have said.

In their collective message shared with ACI Africa, the members of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) address the recent disbandment of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), express their support for the countrywide youth-led demonstrations, and encourage the youth to keep them peaceful. 

“Ending the SARS will not solve the enormous problems of Nigeria, because it is futile treating symptoms of a disease when the root cause is known,” the Bishops in Nigeria say in their collective message dated October 17.

They add, “The audacity and impunity with which the SARS officials have been operating all the while is a manifestation of the failing State of Nigeria.”

The countrywide demonstrations are occasioned by the need for Nigeria to have “a system that will be hard on crimes and criminals in the society within the ambiance of the law, while at the same time treating every human being, citizens and visitors alike, with respect and dignity,” CBCN members say. 

They continue, “The #EndSARS protest is a cry for justice for all victims of the SARS and police brutality, and a call for the prosecution of all those responsible for these crimes against humanity and their superiors under whose leadership such heinous atrocities were committed against innocent Nigerians.”

Nigeria’s Inspector-General of Police announced the disbandment of SARS on October 11 saying that members of the controversial police unit are expected to be redeployed to other police formations, commands, and units.  

On October 13, the head of police in Nigeria announced the formation of a new police unit, Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT), which is expected to carry out the duties that had been entrusted to the disbanded SARS.  

In their message, CBCN members have referred to the formation of SWAT as a “knee jerk reaction of the administration,” adding that “the formation of the new police unit portrays either the absence of an understanding of the entire problem or a lack of sincerity to address the problem.” 

Against this backdrop, the Bishops in Nigeria express their support for the nationwide youth-led protests and call on the Government to come to terms with the scope of the reforms the protestors are demanding.

Through the protests, the Bishops say, the youth are asserting their constitutional right by demanding for justice and peace for all from “extra-judicial killings, unlawful arrests, profiling of youths as criminals, the invasion of youths privacy by searching phones and laptops without any warrant or any just cause, and the incarceration of many of the youths in the SARS custody without trial.”

“We support the youths who have taken this step and we caution that they are allowed without any intimidation to exercise their right to peaceful demonstration and should not be provoked or incited to violence,” CBCN say in their October 17 collective statement.

They add, “We unequivocally add our voice to those of our youths and that of every well-meaning Nigerian to condemn the excesses and the horrible operations of this police unit and the bad omen they portend to our democracy.”

“The cries for justice by our youths must be seen as a cry for peace in Nigeria. The youths want a Nigeria where there will be education without industrial strikes. They want a Nigerian society where the child of nobody can become somebody without knowing anybody. They want a Nigeria where knowledge and skills will meet gainful employment,” the members of CBCN say. 

They add, “This cry is for a Nigeria where they are not treated as second class citizens but accorded equal opportunities to realize their potentials rather than being profiled as criminals by those who are supposed to protect them. Our youths desire a Nigeria they can be proud of and live in and raise their families and hand over to the next generation with great hope.”

“The Nigerian Government must realize that what the youths, on behalf of Nigerians, clamor for under the code name #EndSARS is a total reform of the entire Police Force and not a change of name; they call for a reform of all our government institutions and a reform of the entire nation,” the Bishops say.

The #EndSARS campaign is also a call to review the welfare of the policemen who have been badly deprived by the system, they further say and question, “How does a country with conscience and reason put arms in the hands of such poorly paid police personnel?”

“Our police barracks are mostly dilapidated and the salaries of our police officers are very demeaning,” the Bishops note in their collective letter signed by CBCN President, Archbishop Augustine Obiora Akubeze.

They explain, “It is a fact that many widows of deceased policemen are yet to collect the entitlement due to their husbands, and for those who have, it has been after very harrowing experience and very inhumane extortion by those in charge.”

As a way forward, the Bishops call on the Federal Government of Nigeria “to once again listen to the cry for justice so that peace can reign in our country.” 

“We urge the Federal Government to fulfill its primary constitutional responsibility of securing life and property of every Nigerian and provide opportunities for our children to realize their God-given potentials,” they say. 

The demonstrations call for reforms that “will take care of the proper training, equipping, and promotion system devoid of nepotism but based on merit and meaningful welfare package for the men and women in the front line of our security,” CBCN members say in their two-page statement.

They call for an end “to every form of brutality and oppression” in the ongoing #EndSARS campaign saying brutality “degrades the image of God in us.”

The Prelates reiterate the need for the restructuring of the country’s governance “as a desirable path to be towed given the various developments in this nation.”

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“Now is the time for the Federal Government to move beyond tokenism and institute reforms that would guarantee justice and lasting peace in Nigeria,” the members of CBCN say in their October 17 collective statement.

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