LAGOS, Nigeria — Several Nigerian bishops, including the head of the bishops’ conference, have criticized police attacks that have left at least 10 protesters dead and hundreds injured. The bishops say the protests are symptomatic of ongoing corruption issues in the country.
“It is quite unfair to lose so many citizens of the country due to trigger-happy police who are supposed to protect the lives of the citizens,” said Bishop Francis Obafemi Adesina of Ijebu-Ode. “This is why the police must be reformed, and all stakeholders in the country must join this agitation and movement for the reformation of the police in Nigeria. The killings are too much, and we must all speak out against it.”
Bishop Emmanuel Badejo of Oyo told Catholic News Service that the protests were good, “especially as we seem to have an unresponsive government which now seems to have been forced awake.” However, he said, reforming police was just a first step.
The protests, which began in early October, have manifested themselves in a campaign to #EndSARS, a reference to the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, an arm of the Nigerian Police Force. The squad is famous for profiling young people and has been accused of human rights violations, including murder, theft, rape, torture and extrajudicial killings. Demonstrators are calling for an immediate release of all arrested protesters, demanding justice for all deceased victims of police brutality and appropriate compensation for their families.
Amnesty International has expressed concern about increasing violence targeting the protesters.
Mohammed Adamu, police inspector general, scrapped the unit in early October and established a new Special Weapons and Tactics team as a replacement.
In a statement, the Nigerian bishops urged officials to listen to the protesters and added: “The audacity and impunity with which the SARS officials have been operating all the while is a manifestation of the failing state of Nigeria.”
Adesina agreed with those sentiments.
“The cry of the youth and indeed every Nigerian to #EndSARS is a cry to put an end to every form of brutality and oppression Nigerians face daily from those meant to protect their lives,” he said. “Arresting and killing innocent citizens for protesting against the violation of their human rights is part of the so many wrongs in our country that must be addressed by the government.
“The cry goes beyond ending police brutality in the country; the cry is about making Nigeria a better and a safe place for citizens where they can walk around without fear of intimidation from those who were employed to protect them.”
Badejo said eliminating the anti-robbery squad was “first aid by the authorities to buy time before they will sincerely address a much larger problem.” He suggested the #EndSARS campaign could be extended to all Nigerian institutions.
“Maybe we should all be having an ‘end corruption’ … campaign to address the problem with governance in Nigeria comprehensively,” he said.
Badejo said the disbanded police operatives should be made to undergo rehabilitation to determine where they could best be redeployed.
“I think that a program of discernment and rehabilitation will help. We must find out those who can still be helped and rehabilitated,” he said, adding, “Did Nigeria not spend money rehabilitating terrorists and insurgents?”