While preparations were in top gears for a professional and peaceful policing of the entire length and breadth of Nigeria in view of the yuletide season that usually attracts unusual traffic, the Nigeria Police Force and indeed, security agents in Nigeria had to fall back on its reservoir of strategy to deal with sudden protests over Police brutality.
Within days, what started as isolated protests against the police snowballed into a national showdown.
The protesters made specific demand on President Muhammadu Buhari and Inspector General of Police, IGP, Abubakar Mohammed to terminate the Special Anti Robbery Squad, a Nigerian police unit that has been tasked over the past three decades with fighting violent crime, including banditry and kidnapping. The protest was aptly tagged #ENDSARS#.
The public outrage over the impunity of SARS was triggered by the reported shooting of a young Nigerian in Ughelli, Delta state.
Home and abroad, lots of high profile Nigerians including celebrities took up the cause to #EndSARS.
The government swung into action, disbanding SARS and assuring that “Our determination to reform the police should never be in doubt.”
All that fell on deaf ears. By the time normalcy returned, lots of lives had been maimed and lost. Properties burnt and in some cases vandalized including police formations.
In Lagos for instance, the loss in human, business and property are unquantifiable, prompting leadership at all levels to embark on mitigating dive to alleviate the consequential sufferings.
First was the governor of the State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu who visited the Lagos State Police Command with a promise of welfare for officers and men including replacing burnt operational vehicles and buildings.
During the week, the Inspector General of Police, IGP Mohammed Adamu was in Lagos for on the spot assessment of damages across police formations in the State.
The IG encouraged the officers to put behind them the unfortunate #EndSars protests, which was hijacked by hoodlums and led to the loss of Police officers and destruction of properties of the Nigerian police force.
After the traditional official courtesy visit to the Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, the IG encourage police personnel not to be discouraged by the unprecedented events. He tasked officers to brace up for the duty of policing and securing Nigeria.
He reminded the demoralised officers of their training which prepared them for such risks.
The IGP, who was in Lagos with other senior officers, begun the on-the-spot assessment from Makinde Police Division in Mafoluku, where the station and barracks were burnt by hoodlums in the community.
From there the IGP and the other senior police officers moved to Orile Police Station, and then Ebute Ero Division after which the IGP moved to assess the damage at the Iga Idunganran, the official residence of the Oba of Lagos.
The IGP also visited the private residence of Oba Rilwan Akiolu where he had a private session with him before moving to the Ikoyi, Police Hospital to see some of the policemen injured during the #EndSars crisis.
Speaking with newsmen during his tour around affected areas in Lagos, Adamu assuaged officers and men of adequate makeup of losses.
“Lagos seems to be the epicentre where the incidents took place. The amount of destruction is more in Lagos than in any other state. I am here to commiserate with the governor of Lagos State and the people of the state on the amount of destruction to public property and private businesses.
“My visit is also to see the police stations that were destroyed and talk to officers and men of the Nigeria Police and encourage them not to be demoralised by the events that took place where they were attacked and police stations destroyed.
“They are specially trained to take this kind of risks because, by the nature of police job, they are exposed to this type of risk. Now that this has happened, it shouldn’t discourage us from performing our constitutional duties, he said.
Continuing, the IG stressed that “Apart from the police stations destroyed, private businesses were destroyed; even the palace of Oba of Lagos was destroyed. I would urge the citizens to set up protocol before embarking on any protest to avoid miscreants’ hijack. The moment you allow that the intent of the protest will be defeated as in the case of this peaceful protest we witnessed.”
At the Ikeja Police Command Headquarters, the IGP recapped the incident that led to the protest. He recalled that it was engineered by fake news over the supposed death of a civilian in Delta State.
Adamu said: “The #EndSARS protest was engineered by fake news that came out of Delta State where the local security outfit called Operation Delta Safe in routine stop-and-search accosted some individuals.
“Out of guilt, one of them decided to bolt out of the vehicle and an individual who wanted to spread mischief took a video of the incident and posted it on social media that the police had killed somebody.
“That led to protests in Delta State and in the course of our investigation, we found out that nobody was killed and SARS was not involved.
“But then with the use of social media, everything went so wide to the extent that Lagos picked it and it became a serious matter; it became the epicentre of the EndSARS group that started in 2017.
“They resuscitated it and came up with the campaign against #EndSARS. They came with five demands and after about four days of protest, the authorities acceded because it could lead to reform of the SARS itself.
“Our expectation was that after that, they would leave the streets but they did not. Every security agency knows that when people come out to protest without observing the protocol; you stay too long on the streets protesting, there is always a tendency for protests to become violent.”
Commending the policemen, IGP said: “When the police are viciously attacked by hoodlums in this manner that we have seen the tendency is for the police to be provoked and they have the power and capacity to repel.
“But you showed maximum restraint by not using maximum force to repel the miscreants that went about destroying property and killing people here and there.
“That restraint and resilience you have shown that no amount of provocation will lead you to give credence to police brutality.
“That has turned the table against the protesters and everyone knows that you were professional in handling the protests, which subsequently turned violent.”
Adamu, acknowledged that in every organisation there must be few that are bad.
Reconnecting the president’s speech in support of the police, Adamu said: “The vast majority of men and women of the Nigeria Police Force are patriotic and committed to protecting the lives and livelihood of Nigerians and we will continue to support them to do their best.”
“Now that this has happened, it shouldn’t discourage us from performing our constitutional duties. It is true that some of them, their morale has been dampened but the visit is to encourage you not to relent in performing their constitutional duties to protect lives and properties,” Adamu said.
Meanwhile, the state Commissioner of Police, Mr Hakeem Odumosu, appealed to IGP to further enhance better service delivery with the provision of anti-riot equipment and non-lethal weapons.
He urged the IGP to consider and approve posthumous special promotions for the police personnel who lost their lives to the Lagos unrest.
Odumosu further appealed to IGP to make additional anti-riot equipment and four water cannons available to the command to make the management and control of riots easier and more professional.
It is however learnt that Hakeem Odumosu’s requests are being looked into by the police hierarchy.