“Tread with caution” in Handling Anti-Police Brutality Protesters: Nigerian Prelate

Reports of Nigeria's federal government seizing passports and freezing the bank accounts of protesters who demonstrated against police brutality orchestrated by the controversial Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) is a concern to the Archbishop of Lagos who has advised the authorities involved to “tread with caution.”

In a Tuesday, November 10 report, which the Director of Social Communications of Lagos Archdiocese, Fr. Anthony Godonu issued, Archbishop Alfred Adewale Martins advises the government to “tread with caution in its handling of prominent figures in the #ENDSARS protests that recently rocked the nation.”

For Archbishop Adewale, a cautious handling of demonstrators is important “so that wounds that are gradually being healed would not be reopened and the hope that trust would gradually be restored may not be lost again.” 

Thousands of Nigerian youth took to the streets to protest against police brutality in October after a video that showed a purported officer of the defunct SARS killing a man appeared online. The height of the demonstrations was October 20 when army officers allegedly opened fire and killed at least 12 protesters in Lagos.

Following the demonstrations, a Federal High Court Judge made an order for the accounts of twenty people linked with the protests to be frozen for “a period of 90 days pending the outcome of an investigations being carried out by the Central Bank of Nigeria,” Reuters reported.

The Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) had also seized the passport of Modupe Odele, a lawyer who offered pro bono services to protesters who were arrested during the demonstrations. 

“It came as a shock that the people who had helped the government to the new awakening are now being punished for the service they offered,” Archbishop Adewale says in the November 10 statement. 

The 61-year-old Nigerian Archbishop adds, “Apart from being an abridgement of the rights of these youths to organize peaceful protests, a right that government officials have affirmed over and over since this whole matter started, it also amounts to a betrayal of their trust that government will actually listen to them.”

He continues making reference to the action to freeze the bank accounts, “Financial contributions to support a cause, that even government officials recognize as being a noble one, should certainly not be a crime.”

In the face of the current state of affairs, the Archbishop of Lagos assures citizens of the West African county of his “continuous prayers for the nation”

He also calls on Nigerians to be “law-abiding and peaceful while going about their daily activities.”

In October, Archbishop Adewale expressed his support for the protests saying the disbanded SARS had “compromised the purpose of its existence.”

“We call on President Muhammadu Buhari to prevail on the Police Service Commission and the Inspector General of Police to commence a thorough and realistic review of the entire structure of the Police Force in order to restore its integrity,” the Archbishop said October 10.

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ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.

Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa
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