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Every week, seasoned journalists, pundits and analysts at Word Bank International Magazine make concerted efforts to meet and interview with people from all walks of life, to discuss about the most challenging issues of the day which affective sustainable development at both local and international levels. One of the benefits of such interviews, panel discussions and meetings is to get the views of different people from our diverse world populations; and subsequently, find ways to solving the common problems of humanity and improving our civilization.

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PUBLISHER OF WORD BANK MAGAZINE, REV. EKE, MEETS WITH BOSTON’S NIGERIAN-AMERICAN SOCIALITE DEACON GODFREY NWOGU

On the 25th of October 2020, the publisher of Word Bank International Magazine, Rev. Chukwudi Chuck Eke visited with Deacon Godfrey Nwogu, a Nigerian-Boston community leader, a certified healthcare clinician, a humble Christian philanthropist. The core of their discussion centered on the recent #EndSARS protests in Nigeria, police brutality and the reforming of the Nigeria Police Force. The following are the excerpts of their discussion. Hope you will enjoy reading it and taking some lessons therefrom.

Godfrey Nwogu: Why is the 20th of October 2020 referred to as “Black Tuesday in Nigeria”?

Chukwudi Eke: Yes, Deacon Nwogu, as you already know Nigerian youths from all walks of life took to the streets of certain cities and towns of Nigeria to demand for the end of Nigeria Police Force’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), because of its brutality and impunity against defenseless citizens and residents of Nigeria.  As you will recall these agitations mainly by Nigerian youths became known as #EndSARS protests. All along, these protests remained peaceful. And many of the youths gathered at Lekki Toll gate in Lagos to continue their peaceful protest against the impunity, criminality and brutality of many officers of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).

Unfortunately, on October 20th, unknown to the peaceful youths gathered at the Lekki Toll gate, armed officers of the Nigeria Army and the Police Force arrived there and started firing at the unarmed youths. The officers, consequently, shamelessly killed many of the defenseless youths for no other offense than the fact that they gathered to protest the notoriously brutal arm of the Nigeria Police Force known as #SARS. So, it’s the unwarranted mass murder of the innocent and defenseless youths and citizens of Nigeria at Lekki Toll gate on 20 October 2020 that led the media and global community to refer to that date as the “Black Tuesday in Nigeria.”

Godfrey Nwogu: Indeed, such wicked and unwarranted massacre of unarmed youths at Lekki toll gate is worse than crime against humanity. The defenseless youths committed no crime by peacefully protesting against police brutality and demanding for the end of that infamous arm of the Nigeria Police Force.

I remember that the immediate trigger of #EndSARS protests was that video showing one SARS officer shooting a young motorist in Ughelli, Delta state, Nigeria. The video is so disturbing and anger-provoking, because it’s so bloody an act! Then, after the shooting, the officer was also videoed pushing the corpse of the motorist out of the car; and subsequently, driving off with the dead man’s Lexus SUV. The video went viral, and within several days, large crowds of young people gathered in different towns and cities of Nigeria to demand the abrogation of that notoriously brutal arm of the Nigeria Police Forced called SARS.

Chukwudi Eke: That’s exactly correct. The immediate trigger for the latest series of #EndSARS protests was that shooting of a young motorist in Delta state city of Ughelli by the SARS officer. It’s important to recall that the fresh agitations to end the Special Armed Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigeria Police Force with the hashtag #EndSARS started again to trend on social media on 4th of October. This year’s protests are the fallout of former agitations and the nonchalance of government to positively listen and proactively respond to the demand of the masses to either disband or reform SARS. Without doing as they promised, government was distrusted the more

Though the Federal government had promised and announced at different times in 2014, 2015 and 2017 that SARS will be demobilized, nothing happened to that effect. Though the Nigeria Police Force had good intentions for the creation of SARS, many of the officers had abused the power reposed in them. They unjustly handle citizens without recourse to law and order. Many of the officers became corrupt and acted with impunity, even engaging in criminality and brutality. Though, not all the officers are bad eggs – because when one finger brings oil, it stains the others – the brutal or bloody performance of many of the officers constitute crimes against humanity.

In fact, the extra-judicial killings at Lekki Toll gate became the peak of both police brutality and military impunity against the peace loving and law-abiding inhabitants of the Nigerian state. The Lekki massacre marked another curve in over two weeks of agitations against police impunity, brutality and criminality in Nigeria. In fact, it’s not just the SARS criminality, but also military brutality and impunity against defenseless Nigerians that have been on skyrocketing increase.

Godfrey Nwogu: From all indications, Reverend Eke, the Black Tuesday as you earlier remarked appears to be the latest in the unpleasant record of police and military assaults against unarmed and defenseless Nigerian inhabitants. I can recall that for a great part of Nigeria’s history as a politically independent nation, there’s been very poor records of the police being used to repress civilian protests against inept leadership and poor governance. There are also cases of police officers taking laws into their hands, not necessarily being used by those political office holders.

Chukwudi Eke: Yes, Deacon Nwogu, you’re totally correct. Much more, the history of brutality and criminality, especially the abuse and misuse of power by the Nigeria Police enables us to understand and appreciate how political leaders and those vested with authority and power of the sovereign nation misappropriate the instruments of state power against the citizens and inhabitants of Nigeria.  Much more, it helps us to see how the citizens are deprived of their fundamental human rights. Whereas the officers of the police force are supposed to protect the citizens from harm; ironically, many of the officers have become some of the major promoters and even perpetrators of harm against the defenseless masses.

So, rather than protect the citizens against the impunity and lawlessness of those in government and their cronies, the police protect the already protected while more than enough security to political leaders who care less about the officers’ welfare. The police, thus, allow themselves to be used against the masses who often question the excesses of the inept leaders. This question of police serving the interest of the governor rather than the governed dates back even to colonial times and immediate post-independence era of the Nigerian nation-state.

Godfrey Nwogu: Of course, history is replete with different accounts of police either taking laws into their hands or being used by the colonial masters to suppress the agitations of the colonists. Just because I’m from Abia state in Nigeria, what readily comes to mind in recounting the repression of the masses by the British imperial masters was the oppression and brutality culminating in the Eastern Nigeria’s Aba Women’s riot of 1929. The brutality of the police before, during and after that riot were not pleasant, to say the least. In fact, the quasi-military police and their cohorts were the instruments of repression used by the colonial masters against the defenseless women and masses of Eastern Nigerians back then. There were also other cases highlighting the colonial repression of the voices of the indigenous people, such as the General Strike of 1945 and the Enugu Colliery Strike of 1949. These, also, culminated in the unleashing of brutal police force against the defenseless citizens.

Even after Nigeria’s political independence of which the masses thought that an end has come to police brutality; and that the situations in which political office holders used the instruments of the police force to intimidate and hurt the masses would cease; the opposite became the case. Without doubt, the worse began to happen since the days of Nigeria’s independence till date. This is evident, especially with the lawless and shameless acts of the notoriously infamous SARS against defenseless Nigerian citizens. The question is what is the way forward? This is because Nigeria can’t continue like this and expect to have lasting peace and sustainable development.

Chukwudi Eke: Yes, of course, Nigeria can’t continue like this and expect to have lasting peace and sustainable development. There must be a way forward. First, it’s imperative to reiterate the fact that the #EndSARS protests started with the major goal of ending police criminality and brutality, but the agitations have since increased to other areas of concerns including government corruption, the nation’s underdevelopment, impunity of elected and appointed government officials, human rights violations, skyrocketing unemployment and spiraling security challenges among others.

It’s more important to underscore the fact that the protests and agitations are not meant to topple the Buhari administration, not even to cause secession of Nigeria into different smaller nation-states, because we saw most of the youths carrying our Nigeria flag very high and showing solidarity for one Nigeria. So, I think besides #EndSARS, the major reasons for the protests are to make life better for the masses and make government all-inclusive, especially creating more youth employments, checking the excesses of the three organs of government, providing security and reforming the Nigeria Police Force to make it more people-friendly and productive.

 

Godfrey Nwogu: Rev. Eke, you’re right on point. Far beyond the #EndSARS protests, not only the youths, but also a larger percentage of Nigerians at home and abroad are not happy with the poor and corrupt leadership that have remained a major bane to the development of the nation since independence. Nigeria remains the world’s headquarters of poverty in spite of the huge natural resources and human capital available in the country. Electricity and other infrastructural amenities are not adequately provided, and the government seems to abandon its responsibilities without gainful employment for the teeming masses and youth graduates, thus allowing restiveness in the nation to become inevitable.

Therefore, one of the ways forward is to trim down the numerical size and financial budget of government, especially the selfish waste of material and fiscal resources in the legislative and executive organs of government. Such surplus derived by trimming down on expenditure on salaries and emoluments will not only calm the nerves of Nigerians who frown at such waste of resources by both legislative and executive arms of government; but also, such surplus could be channeled towards infrastructural development and graduate youth employment. Therefore, National Assembly should be compelled to reduce by one-third its exorbitant budget for salaries and allowances. Government should, also, bring down the cost of fuel and electricity as well as the prices of certain essential commodities.  

Chukwudi Eke: And besides these immediate measures that you mentioned, the Federal government in consonance with the National Assembly should quickly revisit the Recommendations of the 2014 National Conference under the regime of former President Goodluck Jonathan, with the view of taking and implementing those salient recommendations which will promote the enduring peace and sustainable development of the Nigerian nation. In fact, the bulk of the solutions towards resolving the continuing Nigeria’s development challenges lies in the restructuring of the nation and amendment of the 1999 Nigeria Constitution.

Let us end by saying that the Nigeria Police Force is a great institution for the maintenance of peace, law and order. Many of our police officers are doing very well towards the maintenance of law and order as well as the protection of lives and property of Nigerians. It’s just a crop of officers who are not doing well and rubbishing the image of the good ones with their wrongdoings. It’s also essential to address the fact that the Police Force needs better salary and attractive conditions of service. They lack quality equipment and the moral incentives to perform better. It’s not good to send a child to buy salt when it’s raining without giving her protective equipment. Yet, you insist that she should not get wet and bring you the uncovered salt without it getting wet. So, government should do more to make the youths better and our police function much better.

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