Vice President Yemi Osinbajo apologizes to Nigerians as street protests roil Africa’s most populous nation

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Vice President Yemi Osinbajo apologized to Nigerians on Saturday, as street protests against police brutality continued to roil Africa’s most populous nation for a second week.

“There are far too many people who have been brutalized at the hands of the police and this is unacceptable. We must take responsibility for protecting young people, even sometimes from those who are paid to protect them,” Osinbajo wrote on Facebook.

“I know that many of you are angry, and understandably so. We could’ve moved faster and for this we are sorry.

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“Many feel that we have been too silent and have simply not done enough. These feelings of frustration are justified,” Mr. Osinbajo added.

Read his full statement below

“Dear Nigerians,

“I know that many of you are angry, and understandably so. We could’ve moved faster and for this we are sorry.

“I fully understand how many young people feel. Many feel that we have been too silent and have simply not done enough. These feelings of frustration are justified.

“There are far too many people who have been brutalised at the hands of the police and this is unacceptable. We must take responsibility for protecting young people, even sometimes from those who are paid to protect them.

“Over the past week, we have been following the protests, and I have had a number of discussions with key people in the administration that you deserve to be informed about. Transparency, after all, is a key tenet of government.

“Several meetings have been held with: the @SPLawan, @femigbaja, the Chief of Staff to @MuhammaduBuhari, Chairman of the @PoliceServiceC2, the IG of @PoliceNG (IGP), the Executive Secretary of @NHRCNigeria, and governors.

“We understand that you want to see action from us and I’m here to tell you that work is ongoing. I chaired a meeting of 36 state governors and the Minister of the FCT (NEC), where we resolved to set up judicial panels of inquiry so we can see justice served, and fast.

“The reason being that only state governors, by law, can set up judicial inquiries in their states. The hearings will be public.

“With Mr. President’s approval, SARS has been completely disestablished, and none of its former members will feature in any police tactical units.

“I am sending my deepest condolences to the families of Jimoh Isiaq, and all those who have lost their lives at the hands of wayward police officers. To those injured, I wish a full and speedy recovery.

“We have proposed that each state government set up a Victims’ Support Fund, which @NigeriaGov will support. This is the least that we can do to compensate for the injustice suffered at the hands of errant officers.

“We also understand that the issues that you’re raising are bigger than just SARS. They’re deep and systemic and we’re undertaking comprehensive measures that will revamp the police by addressing issues of welfare, service conditions and training.

“On Monday, Mr. President also reiterated his commitment to these extensive police reforms.

“We will continue to update and engage with you all on these action steps and the ones to come, in the spirit of transparency, so that you can hold us accountable. We are, after all, here to serve you and we owe you a duty to win back your trust.

“Keep safe. God bless you.

“~Yemi Osinbajo.”

Human Rights Watch criticized the government’s response to the protests on Friday, saying “Nigerian security forces have responded to overwhelmingly peaceful protests against police brutality with more violence and abuse.”

Nationwide protests began on October 8, 2020, calling on the authorities to abolish an abusive police unit called the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). In response, the police have shot tear gas, water cannons, and live rounds at protesters, killing at least four people and wounding many others. Armed thugs have also disrupted protests and attacked protesters.

“People exercising their right to protest and calling for an end to police brutality are themselves being brutalized and harassed by those who should protect them,” said Anietie Ewang, Nigeria researcher at Human Rights Watch. “This underscores the importance of the protesters’ demands and the culture of impunity across the policing system, which is in dire need of reform.”

The protests were sparked by a video that surfaced online on October 3, allegedly showing a SARS officer shooting a young man in Delta state. This generated an outcry on social media, especially Twitter, where the hashtag #EndSARS began trending globally, and led to protests across Nigeria and in other cities around the world.

Responding in part to the protesters’ demands, the government announced on October 11 that the SARS unit would be disbanded. Yet its members will be integrated into other police units following “psychological tests,” and SARS is to be replaced by a Special Weapons and Tactical Team that is to begin training next week.

No steps have been taken to hold SARS officers to account for past abuses, or to investigate and prosecute those responsible for the recent crackdown on protesters.

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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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