Ubani: How Buhari can appease #EndSARS protesters
Monday Onyekachi Ubani, former Second Vice-President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), in this interview with ONYEDIKA AGBEDO, speaks on the #EndSARS protests across the country, pointing out some immediate steps the Federal Government can take to douse tension and restore normalcy.
How would you comment on the #EndSARS protests going on across the country especially from a legal point of view?
From the legal point of view it is legitimate. It is not unconstitutional for people to protest as long as the protest is peaceful and within the bounds of law and decency. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with protest; it is part of the mechanism that is employed in democracy to drive home the grievances of citizens over some government policies they feel strongly about.
The protesters have been blocking roads, thereby preventing other people from going about their lawful businesses. Aren’t they infringing on the rights of others in doing that?
Well, when you carry out protests, there are some consequences part of which is what you are highlighting now. Protesters may in some instances block the roads; sometimes they may slow the movement of other people who are lawful users of the roads; sometimes they can inconvenience people. It is part of the protest as long as they are not attacking citizens. I have never seen any place where protest is done in such a manner that there won’t be some of these inconveniences. But as long as there is no violence being unleashed on innocent citizens it is expected.
So, we need to endure because what they are actually demanding is of national importance. Few days ago, I spent five hours in a journey of 45 minutes because of the protests. I even had to grant an interview in the traffic to a national television. So, it is one of those things. If they eventually succeed in getting government to address the issues, all of us will be beneficiaries. By that time, you will not remember that you suffered some inconveniences during the protests.
What is your view on the counter protests going on in some parts of the country?
Any counter protest that is peaceful is also legitimate; so let it not be like what I saw where people were unleashing terror and mayhem on other innocent citizens. I saw them brandishing knives and guns, smashing cars and attacking those who are engaged in the peaceful protests. I don’t think that is allowed under democracy.
So, they have entered into the realm of violence. They want to draw the peaceful protesters into a full-blown mayhem and probably blame it on those who had been protesting peacefully. That is not the purpose of protest; protest is to drive home your point. If you have a strong view of your own position, also express it peacefully without attacking those who have a right to protest just as you also have a right to protest.
Despite the acceptance of the demands of the protesters so far by the government, the protest is still ongoing. Do you think the protest is beyond police brutality?
What are the demands that have been met?
One is that SARS should be disbanded, which the Inspector General of Police (SARS) has already done…
(Cuts in) We need a more holistic treatment of the complaints of the protesters. To me, change of name is not addressing the issue or saying that the old SARS operatives will undergo psychological evaluation and you have a new set of police that will now man your new Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT). They are the same Nigeria Police operatives. I mean they are the same people you did not recruit in a proper manner, the people you have not given a proper training. How soon are you going to inculcate in this new people you are going to use in SWAT the noble ideal of respect of the fundamental human rights of citizens and the noble ideal of not collecting bribe before they perform their official function. Today, when you have a complain to make and go to any police station, there is none of them that is not a business centre of sort because you have to pay before they can take down your statement; you have to pay before they can go for an arrest. So, the issues of training and welfare of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) have to be addressed.
Have we agreed now that any budget approved for the NPF should be released and tracked to ensure that it trickles down to the rank and file? We need to see new police stations where policemen don’t use their monies to buy papers and pen. We need to see a new set of policemen that don’t use their personal monies to buy their uniforms and boot. We need to see a new set of policemen that don’t in any way influence their posting to the so-called lucrative areas where they will be milking the citizens. We want to see a new orientation; we want to see a new Nigeria Police that will not harass any citizen on the road and extort money from him/her with impunity. We want to see new Nigeria Police operatives that will be paid good salaries that they will depend on and not on what they will extort from the citizens. You don’t unleash these people with guns to go and extort money from Nigerians and you say you have a police force; there is no policing system that happens that way. We want to see their barracks being refurbished; we want to see them leave in decent apartments. We want to see even the recruitment process improved upon.
So, it is not a question of you have changed the name and have therefore answered the protesters, so they should go back to their homes when you have not addressed the fundamentals. In that case we will continue with all the evils Nigerians have been seeing in the Nigeria Police. I think that is not the kind of change that Nigerians are yearning for. Let’s get it right with our policing system and then begin to address other policies of government. So, these people are saying, ‘this issue of change of name is not what we are asking for. We are asking for fundamental reforms of the NPF and our policing system’.
But you will agree that some of these reforms you have enumerated will not happen over night and government has made a commitment to overhaul the policing system?
They don’t believe the promise from the government because overtime they have heard such promises. In the past, the moment protesters left the street, the government forgot all its promises and that was the end of the matter. They want to see more practical steps being taken. What of the operatives that have killed, maimed and taken so much from Nigerians? Have they been arrested? Are they being investigated? Nothing has been done to really show that government is going to match its promise with action. One thing is to make a promise, which overtime they have made, but another thing is to fulfill the promise. So, Nigerians are saying that they want a more practical solution to some of these issues they have raised.
If not for the resilience of the protesters so far, we wouldn’t have even got what they have promised now. In this country, we pursue issues with halt-hearted measures and that is why government does not take Nigerians serious. They have mismanaged this country because people are not resilient; we don’t pursue anything to conclusion. There are no ideals. The Nigerian people are very impatient and very ungrateful. Even when you are asking for certain things to be done and done properly, they look at you as a stupid person. You will begin to hear ‘e don do now, e don do now’ because we like pleasure.
But how long are we going to continue this way as a nation, where nothing is gotten right? My happiness is that all of us are here; so it will affect us and our generations unborn. But the moment we get a country that is functional and efficient where people’s rights are respected, everyone will begin to enjoy also. But we know also that people have to stand for it.
So what do you think the government should do at the moment to calm the tension in the country?
They need to be more sincere about getting the operatives who committed all those evils against their fellow citizens arrested and investigated. That is a more practical approach; forget about the change of name. What I expected government to do that would have actually shown some degrees of seriousness is to form a committee of stakeholders comprising intellectuals – sociologists, philosophers, psychologists, e.t.c – to look into the issue of overhauling the Nigerian policing system completely to end the insecurity all over the place.
Another phase of constitution amendment has kicked off in the National Assembly. Do you see the creation of state police as a panacea for all the challenges confronting the police force?
Have they agreed now? The creation of state police will be a very good measure. Let the states have their own police and fund it. But legal safety guards have to be provided to avoid the issue of abuse. That is why there must be an interaction between the federal police and state police so that in case of any abuse by the state police, the federal police will come in just like the FBI in the U.S. comes in when the state policing system runs into a hitch. These are issues we need to tackle. I believe in having a state policing system but we must make sure that we don’t allow the abuse that is clearly inherent to go unaddressed. So, the legal architecture must handle that.
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