No retreat, no surrender: Nigerian youths reject replacement of brutal police unit known as SARS with sister unit known as SWAT

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In a statement on Wednesday, Nigerian youths vowed not to retreat nor surrender until the Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS) is completely dismantled. They vowed not to allow another brutal unit known as Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) to replace it.

Anti-police brutality protests have rocked the West African country for weeks. Protests were mainly against SARS, a police unit known for violating human rights, including raping, extorting and murdering suspects.

President Muhammadu Buhari agreed to dismantle the unit last week but many young Nigerians now fear the federal government is trying to replace it with another violent unit.

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“The Youth Rights Campaign (YRC) welcomes the decision of the Federal Government to meet the 5 key demands of the #EndSARS movement.

“However we strongly condemn the decision of the same government to create a Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) squad as a replacement for the now defunct SARS. This would most likely be a more brutal and lethal force with military and semi-military grade weaponry as we have seen with similar elite police units in the more advanced capitalist countries,” the group said in a statement received by Today News Africa in Washington D.C.

Read full statement below

The Youth Rights Campaign (YRC) welcomes the decision of the Federal Government to meet the 5 key demands of the #EndSARS movement.

However we strongly condemn the decision of the same government to create a Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) squad as a replacement for the now defunct SARS. This would most likely be a more brutal and lethal force with military and semi-military grade weaponry as we have seen with similar elite police units in the more advanced capitalist countries.

This shows the mind-set of the ruling elite that even though it has been forced to make concessions by the #EndSARS movement, it is not prepared to change the character of the police as an instrument of state repression instead of the protector of lives and properties as mandated by the constitution.

What we need is not another SARS under a new name but a civil police, armed where necessary, under the direct control of the ranks and communities with officers elected and recallable.

The YRC therefore calls on the #EndSARS movement to reject the SWAT and organise more nationwide demonstrations over the next few days to compel the government to shelve this idea. This is the only way to ensure that SARS does not continue under a new name.

The 5 key demands that have been reportedly met include: (1) Immediate release of all arrested protesters (2) Justice for deceased victims of police brutality and appropriate compensation for their families (3) Setting up an independent body to oversee the investigation and prosecution of all reports of police misconduct (within 10 days) (4) In line with new Police Act, psychological evaluation and retraining (to be confirmed by an independent body) of all disbanded SARS officers before they can be redeployed and (5) Increase police salary so that they are adequately compensated for protecting lives and properties of citizens.

Undeniably meeting these 5 key demands is a significant victory for the movement. However in the opinion of the YRC, there is absolutely nothing yet to be cheerful about, neither is there any justifiable reason for the nationwide protests to be suspended for the following reasons:

Firstly, the Buhari capitalist government cannot be trusted. It habitually breaks agreement with all organisations of the oppressed masses. A reason why universities are still shut is because this government, just like its predecessors, has refused to implement an agreement on funding and staff welfare reached with ASUU since 2009. Over a year ago it passed a law increasing the minimum wage, but that has still to be fully implemented. Unless actual evidence is seen in the course of the following days that the demands are being implemented, it would be a mistake to suspend the ongoing nationwide protests.

Secondly, the item 2 and 3 of the 5 key demands cannot be seen to have been justifiably implemented without immediate removal of the Commissioners of Police in Oyo and Lagos States as well as the Inspector General of Police under whose watch some protesters have been killed and several injured, arrested and detained over the past seven days. Victims of police brutality during the protest also include journalists.

Thirdly, all of the concessions granted since Sunday 11 October 2020, though significant, are still scratching the surface of the problem. Fundamental questions about how the police are controlled and run have not yet been answered. The disbandment of SARS and promises of psychological evaluation and respect for human rights notwithstanding, so far the running and control of the police remains as it is, then police brutality and state repression will continue and neither will the police be accountable to the public. This is why the YRC demands democratic control of the police by the rank and file and communities, election of its officers who must be recallable and accountable to the public they are to serve and protect as well as recognition of the right of the police to have a union.

The #EndSARS movement is powerful and has won significant concessions. However the YRC feels it can win far more if well organised and develops a clear programme to struggle for. We therefore challenge the movement to now expand its demands to include end of unemployment, for decent jobs or N30, 000 monthly unemployment benefit, slash in the salary of political officer holders, payment of living wage, end to education underfunding and commercialisation, end to electricity tariff hike and fuel price hike, end to deregulation and privatisation and end to all anti-poor policies. This is the only to ensure that this powerful movement leads to some improvements in the living conditions of young people and other oppressed sections of the population. 

It is vital that the #EndSARS youth protest movement connects with the working class otherwise it would either be defeated or regress at some point. The working class though currently held down by a bureaucratic and pro-state leadership is the only class capable of leading a revolutionary struggle to transform society with the youth playing an auxiliary role.

We therefore challenge Nigerian workers to join the protesting youth at the barricades by calling for a 48 hours solidarity general strike and mass protest as a next step. If the bureaucratic trade union leaders do not take action, we challenge rank and file activists to take this step by mobilising and organising the ranks. This is the only way to support young people who have put their lives on the line for over seven days now and to also ensure that this struggle which has cost precious lives lead to the enthronement of an equitable, safe and democratic socialist society where everyone, old or young can live and go about their daily legitimate activities without fear of molestation, illegal arrest and detention, extortion and extra judicial killing.

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Simon Ateba
Simon Ateba
Based in Washington, District of Columbia, United States of America, Simon leads a brilliant team of reporters, freelance journalists, analysts, researchers and contributors from around the world to run TODAY NEWS AFRICA as editor-in-chief. Simon Ateba's journalistic experience spans over 10 years and covers many beats, including business and investment, information technology, politics, diplomacy, human rights, science reporting and much more. Write him: simonateba@todaynewsafrica.com

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