Olumayowa Okediran and his family were on a short trip sometime in March when their vehicle was accosted by two policemen at a checkpoint at the popular Ajah roundabout in Lagos, Southwest Nigeria.
What initially seemed like a routine check quickly took a turn for the worse.
According to Okediran, his papers were in order but the policemen insisted on taking him to the station to take his statement as a “criminal suspect”.
“They said my NGO was one of the active participants of the #EndSARS protests that led to the razing of their police station”, said Mr Okediran, the Nigeria-based Director of Student Programs of Students For Liberty, an institution of activists that was very vocal during the #ENDSARS protests.
“One of the policemen, Usman Umaru said he would shoot me right there and nothing would happen, despite seeing my family members in my car”, the activist narrated. “It was then I became very scared for my life.”
That was on March 30 2020, nearly six months after thousands of young Nigerians first took to the streets to protest against police brutality and demand the closure of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a unit notorious for alleged abuses, illegal detention, profiling, extortion and even extrajudicial killings.
Mobilised through social media, the #EndSARS protests rocked Nigerian cities for two weeks in October 2020. The government was forced to scrap the unit on October 11 but demonstrators remained in the streets, demanding wider police reforms, until the protests came to an abrupt end after 10 people were shot and killed on October 20 at Lekki tollgate in Lagos, according to Amnesty International.
In all, over 50 people including about 20 police officers were killed during and immediately after the #EndSARS protests with private and public properties worth billions of naira also destroyed.
The government had conceded to the requests of the protesters and took immediate steps to implement some of them, including naming a new unit, S.W.A.T, in place of SARS and setting up judicial panels to probe excesses of the police and compensate victims.
But one year after, familiar tales like that of Mr Okediran still abound.
The New.ng reported last month how a recently leaked document from the Lagos State Government Public Procurement Agency, which revealed that it contacted a private burial home to bury 103 bodies tagged from the “Endsars” protest in which Nigerian youth participated.
During the protest, about 40 protesters were arrested by the police for defying the Lagos State directive against the protest.
Some cases of protesters have been granted N100,000 bail each and arraigned on charges bordering on flouting the COVID-19 protocol on public gatherings and ‘breaking an order not to protest’.
Meanwhile, among those arrested was Popular Nigerian online skit maker, Mr Macaroni. In a series of tweets on his verified X handle, (formerly known as Twitter) the prankster shared how policemen took turns to beat him because he is ‘Mr Macaroni’.
“That very day, I swore never to stop using my platform to call out the evil that the Police do. If they can do that to someone people know, imagine what they do to hundreds of thousands of unknown Nigerians.
“When I was at Adeniji police station, the police officers took turns to beat me up. They were even calling themselves to come and beat ‘Mr Macaroni’
“They said in my life when next I hear police, I will run! One said if not that people would ask about me, he would have killed me”, he wrote.
In August of last year, at Olive Hostel in Owerri, Imo state, Ngozi Agu, a female student of the Imo state University after a quarrel with her female hostel mate and the hostel’s union leaders, called her police boyfriend.
The Police stormed the hostel one night with more than two Hilux trucks, Steve Oche, a student Journalist who lives in the lodge, monitored the incident and narrated.
“The 70 rooms in the hostel were broken into and students occupants all brutally beaten up after the invading policemen had shut down the power supply, he said. “Those Policemen were till date neither fished out nor punished”.
What has changed?
The Nigerian government says it has made a lot of effort towards total police reform, claiming since the dissolution of SARS, there have been less reports of police misconduct.
Abubakar Malami, Nigeria’s former justice minister believes the police are already reformed.
While glaring police brutality especially by SARS have reduced, accusations of extortion and abuse by the Nigerian Police – named the country’s most corrupt public institution by a 2019 survey and the lowest-ranked police force of the 127 countries profiled in a 2016 index report – are still rife one after ENDSARS, many reform-seeking Nigerians say.
Hundreds of youths took to the streets once again last Wednesday in protests to memorialize October 20, for the first anniversary of the ENDSARS with pictures, videos of the victims and blood-stained Nigerian flags circulating on social networks in memory of what now appears to be a day in history.
“We turned out not only because no one has taken responsibility for what happened in Lekki Toll Gate nor because the victims of the massacre are yet to get justice, but also because one year after, not much has changed”, Samson Adekunle, one of the protesters said.
But yet again, many protesters were harassed and assaulted with pepper sprays and canisters of teargas fired at them by the police.
The Management of the Lagos State Neighbourhood Safety Agency, LNSA said it has sanctioned all the officers involved in the unlawful treatment of Adedotun Clement, the Uber Driver whose assault video during the ENDSARS memorial went viral on social media.
Meanwhile, none of the five ENDSARS demands could be said to have been fully implemented. Although EndSARS panels of inquiry were convened across several states in the country, awarding hundreds of millions of naira in damages to a few victims of police brutality who summoned courage to file complaints, most of the officers involved in the crime are yet to be prosecuted.
“None of the policemen accused of torturing and extrajudicially murdering Nigerian citizens have been brought to justice, there has been no marked improvement in the funding or quality of equipment available to the Nigerian Police Force and these incidents of torture continue in many security facilities nationwide,” former Nigeria senate president, Bukola Saraki said.
“None of the perpetrators of the attacks on Nigerians exercising their rights to peaceful assembly have been arrested or prosecuted, despite many of them being identified”.
According to Tunde Ajileye, a security expert and partner of SBM Intelligence, a Lagos-based research firm, the ENDSARS protests impacted police brutality immediately but things have since returned to what it was before the protests.
“There was no long lasting effect because the Nigerian government is not interested in police reform and wider justice system reforms genuinely”, he added.
Right activist, and legal adviser, TakeItback movement, Festus Ogun said: “The Protest was a rehearsal of the uprising that is to come. While it had a significant impact on the power in the voice of the youths, police brutality is still rife in our land.
“And this is because there is a system that allows for it. The mere editorial amendments of laws would not solve the problem unless and until we have a complete overhaul of the Nigerian Police.” He said.
For Kabir Adamu, an Abuja based security expert, the demonstrations created a form of “wokeness” among Nigerians and the global community about the challenge of policing in the country.
“It has also created government attention and interest in reforming the police even if the aspiration has not yet been achieved.
“The government is fully aware that there is a huge expectation of that to be done. I am aware that a committee has been set up involving the government department, CSO’s and the Police itself with the view of creating the reform. I will say it’s a work in progress as the objective has not yet been made
“And my view of it is that it would require a systemic change before they (agitators) achieve the reform, as it would require the entire policing process to be reviewed from recruitment down to their standard operating procedures on how they work”, he said.
Meanwhile, Mr Adamu noted that he does not think police brutality has ended.
“What is required to end police brutality are those reforms that I mentioned and those reforms haven’t yet been implemented”, he said.