The #EndSARS protests that spontaneously erupted in Lagos about two weeks ago, which spread like wild fire to many parts of the country and rocked this country like nothing else in recent times, have served a very good purpose.
It has already led Inspector General Mohammed Adamu to disband the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad [FSARS], a special police unit set up to fight armed robbery but which acquired notoriety for human rights abuses including extortion, indiscriminate arrests and even murder of suspects.
The youths were right to sustain the protests even after FSARS was dissolved and police command announced that it will be replaced by another special unit called Special Weapons and Tactics [SWAT] team.
If not because of the sustained protests, this could have been a ruse to bring back SARS under another name.
Afterall, when people first protested against SARS some years ago and demanded for its reform, the measures police unveiled merely changed its name from SARS to FSARS and everything else continued as usual.
This time around, the IG has pledged that officers and men of the dissolved SARS will not be in SWAT, and all of them will undergo psychiatric and other tests before they are redeployed to other police units.
Of course people still have a reason to be skeptical, so the protesters escalated the campaign to demand an overhaul of the entire Nigeria Police.
Desirable though this is, it cannot be done overnight and in the meantime we need the police because of pervasive insecurity in the country.
A stakeholders’ meeting jointly convened by National Human Rights Commission and Police IG, attended by eminent NGO activists, unveiled important concessions, including a pledge not to use force on the protesters, to release all arrested activists and to speed up implementation of the white paper on police reforms earlier approved by government.
Last week, National Economic Council [NEC] added more concessions by pledging to set up judicial commissions of inquiry on police brutality as well as victims’ support funds in various states.
Within days some states had already done so, while some were expected to follow suit soon.
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo also apologized to Nigerians on Friday and admitted that the Federal Government could have moved faster in addressing the demands of #EndSARS protesters.
Yet the protests did not abate. In fact they escalated with street protests, night vigils and demonstrations to Police HQ and National Assembly.
One problem with these near-spontaneous protests is that they don’t have a unified leadership, national or even local.
As such, they were amenable to hijack by other interests.
The police initially responded to them with heavy-handed action in some states.
More recently however, police appeared to have abided by government’s pledge not to use force on the protesters.
Ugly things soon happened. Protesters blocked some all-important routes, such as Abuja’s airport road and caused untold hardship to commuters.
And then, some pro-government elements organized attacks on the protesters, leading to injuries and chaos.
Mid-last week, another dimension opened when the Coalition of Northern Youths started what it called #EndInsecurity protests.
Its grouse was that government paid more attention to EndSARS campaign than to pervasive insecurity especially in the Northern states.
Northern State governors further confused matters when they said they opposed scrapping of SARS, which is fighting criminality in the North and has not acquired as much notoriety in the region as it did in Lagos, for instance.
Everything considered, the youthful protesters have made their point and it is time to cool matters for now.
A serious warning has been served on the authorities that if they continue with their lethargic and non-challant response to the cries of citizens, then matters can careen out of control and consume democratic institutions and society as a whole.
#End SARS protesters have made their point.
They should stop at this point before they lose control of the situation.