Although the rather tragic way it spiraled out of control and unleashed a gale of catastrophe is likely to leave discussions about its legacy bitterly divided, the #EndSARS protest across most Nigerian cities succeeded in shedding light on the problem of police brutality like no campaign had ever done. Beyond conceding to the protesters’ demand to scrap the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), the National Economic Council chaired by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, had directed that judicial panels be set up by governors to probe allegations of police brutality and extra-judicial killings in their states, and take necessary remedial actions.
A significant number of states have inaugurated these judicial panels. While most states are still at the basic stage of receiving petitions, a few have actually began prosecuting police officers accused of extra-judicial killing. So the various panels’ attention has, understandably, been on the atrocities committed by officers of the controversial police unit and the hazy circumstances of the military’s alleged shooting of protesters at the Lekki tollgate, in Lagos.
But hardly any state that witnessed the initially peaceful protests was spared its tragic denouement that led to scores of deaths, including the lynching of police officers, willful destruction of public infrastructure as well as private property. Given the scale of devastation and losses suffered, these violent protests and their aftermath are no less deserving of an institutional response.
Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi fully appreciates this. The Enugu State governor had in addition to inaugurating a judicial panel of inquiry and extra-judicial killing, also set up an administrative panel to look into loss of lives or injuries suffered by private citizens and security personnel resulting from the hijack of the otherwise peaceful protests. The governor understands as well that the question of who is right or wrong in a sudden outbreak of violence is of no more importance than healing the wounds arising therefrom. This much was espoused in his speech while inaugurating the administrative panel of inquiry chaired by retired Justice Fredrick Obieze.
“We’ve been in deep reflection on the recent events in our usually peaceful Enugu State. We sympathize with families of private citizens and our security personnel who lost their loved ones to the violence and criminality precipitated by the hijack of the otherwise peaceful #EndSARS protest by miscreants. Private citizens and security personnel who suffered grievous bodily injuries for the same reason are also in our compassionate consideration. We recognize that properties of private citizens as well as security infrastructure, though replaceable, were needlessly destroyed in the recent mayhem. Enugu State is certainly one big family. Our administration has elected to mitigate the pains of the loss of lives of private citizens and security personnel, their grievous bodily injuries and destruction of properties of private persons and security infrastructure occasioned by the hijack of the EndSARS protests,” he said.
Empathy is an essential quality of leadership. Any leader who lacks that loses their moral authority and vital connection to the people. The Enugu State governor is, commendably, imbued with this virtue, and has often demonstrated that in words and deed. Equally commendable was his administration’s proactive handling of the volatile situation which could, quite possibly, have thrown Enugu into the kind of unrestrained mayhem experienced in many states. One can only cringe imagining what the outcome might have been had hoodlums broken into a secondary school – with all the female boarders present – rumored to be housing Covid-19 palliatives?
Of course, it turned out to be mere falsehood as the state government had distributed all the Covid-19-related items meant for the people it had received. It’s unfortunate that rumour led to the death of a young man, apparently at the hands of soldiers deployed to secure the besieged school. But the scale of tragedy could have been worse. Although no compensation can atone for the loss of any life, it is hoped that the panels instituted by Governor Ugwuanyi will help bring a fitting closure to this sad episode.
While the youth’s pervading resentment of police brutality and extra-judicial is understandable, it is also important to urge them, as the governor had rightly noted in a broadcast held in the wake of the violent protest and wanton destruction of properties, to “allow the measures we have instituted to address our collective pain to play out”.