Criminal Justice Reform and Wizkid’s EndSARS Nigerian Protest

Although the US has its police issues, Nigeria can borrow and integrate the acceptable practices of criminal justice reforms from the US and other parts of the world.

By Dr. I. D. Onwudiwe

Due to the incessant killings of Nigerian youths by SARS and the resulting dilemma, Ayodeji Ibrahim Balogun, Wizkid, a famous young musician, staged the EndSARS protests in London on October 11, 2020.  His efforts and actions exposed police brutality and its accompanying violations of Nigerian citizens’ human rights, with utter impunity. Wizkid admonished Nigerian youths, saying that they have a voice and stake in Nigerian affairs. Today, Nigeria is boiling, and there are protests in every corner of the country.

The protests have also caused lives to be lost, and the government army and the police have even used punitive force (live bullets) to stem the tidal wave of potential explosions.  The military’s propensity to shoot peaceful, unarmed civilians will signify a dreary day in the annals of Nigerian history.  In fact, in a democracy, it is a violation of privacy to shoot fleeing civilian protesters.  In such situations, the army could limit its actions against the nation’s future leaders to teargas or other non-lethal devices.

But what does SARS stand for, and is it the culprit? SARS is the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, a Nigerian centralized police force unit and part of the police force criminal investigation and intelligence arm.  It was established in 1992 following the killing of a Nigerian military colonel by police officers.  SARS has been disbanded several times due to the same alleged issues that led to the current protests: extortion, cruelty, coercion, the framing of citizens, and intimidation.  On October 11, 2020, President Buhari disbanded SARS again after Wizkid led protests in London. In various regions of the country, especially the eastern parts, roadblocks are routine and are facilitated by SARS and other uniformed officers. Youths suffer at the hands of these officers, who regularly collect inducements and seize citizens’ incommunicado.

Custodial justice is absent in the Nigerian context of criminal procedures. Lives are wasted without accountability. Probable cause is interpreted, in many instances, as personal appearances and possessions of private property, like cell phones and laptops, the driving of luxurious vehicles, or dressing immaculately. Indeed, young people are often killed in the process of mounting roadside investigations.

It must be emphasized that SARS’ initial intent remains an essential policy of the Nigerian justice reform. Notably, the citizens of Nigeria live under failed security shields. The roads are menaced by kidnappers and armed robbers, as well as by terrorists. In the east, the conditions of the streets are on par with the SARS menace.

For Nigeria to eradicate these problems, it must first restructure its policing style. There must be an acceptance of police devolutions (local police formations), where states can design their own policing parameters and adhere to the federal police systems. To better understand the professional policing philosophy based on the rule of law, the Nigerian police must be educated and trained in the nation’s police academies. They must be accountable to the citizens they protect, and the citizens, with a good demeanor, must also respect police authority.

Significantly, the Nigerian police are not treated well by the country. The officers must be paid handsomely. Compensating Nigerian police like their global counterparts and improving their quality of life as professionals—including offering good pensions, disability payments, housing allowances, police technology, and education of their children—would lessen the need for patrol officers to take bribes and engage in other vices.

Law enforcement officials will undoubtedly become closer to the people they police

By allowing local police formations and other police reforms, as has been articulated in various academic publications (Onwudiwe 2000; 2009; 2012; 20017; Wisler and Onwudiwe 2008), each state would be obligated to develop its professional police to serve its citizens’ needs. Law enforcement officials will undoubtedly become closer to the people they police.  Presently, the federal government’s fixation on controlling everything in a democracy with the military constitution comprises the primary root of the country’s problem.

The author rejects any use of deadly force against the youths, a dire situation that the president must also condemn and prohibit.  Citizens have the right to protest peacefully in their country.  Things are so noxious in Nigeria that these protests may become the only avenue to bring the president’s attention to society’s pains.

While the president is in charge and the “father” of all Nigerians, the people must not overlook the politicians’ greed in the Senate and the various houses of assembly. Notably, some governors erroneously believe that state money is their coinage. As the government’s ultimate leader, the president endorses resources to the states in conjunction with the National Assembly.  What do the states do with their respective resource allocations? Why are the environments decayed and characterized by the absence of collective efficacy in most federation states?

Can the states develop industries and agricultural sectors for the employment of youths?  Why are the roads in dangerous conditions?  Why does the country still in 2020 suffer from power (electricity) deficiency?  Why are young people, with their hard-earned college degrees, massively and shamelessly unemployed? Why are national appointments skewed without a reflection of federal character?  These are the issues, in my view, that have germinated the EndSARS protests, and they must be quickly addressed.  These issues are the antecedents of the complaints today.

Although the United States has its police issues, Nigeria can borrow and integrate the acceptable practices of criminal justice reforms from the United States and other parts of the world.  Human life is sacrosanct and cannot be toiled with in Nigeria. Corrupt politicians who embezzle their state funds must be held accountable.  The center (Nigerian government) must bend from its rigid adherence to federalism as currently practiced and embrace egalitarian justice principles to allow local police formations for the nation’s good.  A country blessed with diverse cultures, languages, and religions cannot correctly operate under one federal police structure.

In both societies, Nigeria and America, there is a need for criminal justice reform to embrace egalitarian social justice

In closing, Chapter IV of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution expressly guarantees citizens of Nigeria the freedom to engage in peaceful protests, assembly, engagement in unrestricted organizations and protection of interests, and freedom of expression, including the liberty to hold opinions without torture, killing, and terrorization.  It is a violation of the Nigerian Constitution to murder any person by mere suspicion of participation in yahooism or other offenses. Such guarantees constitute inalienable rights as enshrined in the document.  On the other hand, the government also retains the right to maintain peace and order for society’s operations and never shoot and kill unarmed citizen protesters.

As this piece is being written, Nigerians and their friends in Houston, Texas, are marching peacefully with the notion that all lives matter in Nigeria as Black lives matter in America. In both societies, Nigeria and America, there is a need for criminal justice reform to embrace egalitarian social justice.  There is, therefore, a need to organize conferences and workshops among criminal justice experts in Nigeria and the diaspora for the articulation and policy ideas that work. Such an approach could be led by the Center for Criminal Justice at Texas Southern University in conjunction with the African Criminology and Justice Association.

One focus could examine the link between low self-control and police misconduct, police policies and culture, education and training, and conditions that cause police brutality.  Nigeria and America could learn from each other and the international community for improvements of their justice systems.

Dr. Onwudiwe, a Professor of Criminology at the Texas Southern University, contributed this piece to the West African Pilot where he serves on its Editorial Board

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