By Adedapo Adesanya
The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has declared its intent to uphold Nigerians’ right to protest as a fundamental right as recognised by the Nigerian Constitution and upheld by Nigerian courts at all levels.
This follows a nationwide #EndSARS protest from Nigerian youths calling for the disbandment of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) unit and the need for police reforms across the country.
This was disclosed by the President of the association, Mr Olumide Akpata, in a press statement sighted by Business Post, in which he outlined short and medium-term goals to ensure the much-demanded reformation.
He said, “As you all may know, the protests are precipitated by years of brutality and professional misconduct by operatives of this particular police unit who have for too long derailed from the core mandates of their establishment, and have become threats to the same citizens that they were meant to protect in line with the general mandate of the Police under the Nigerian Constitution.”
He added, “The protests have again brought to fore perennial issues affecting the Nigerian Police, our security agencies, their interface with the citizenry and the fundamental issues affecting our security system that can no longer be put off.
“In the wake of the protests that have resurrected the consciousness of the Nigerian society and indeed the international community to these very important and systemic issues, the NBA is convinced that disbandment of SARS (or any other unit by whatever name called), re-posting or transferring officers of any disbanded unit and other knee-jerk reactions will only scratch the surface and not offer long-lasting solutions to the endemic issues bedevilling the Nigerian Police as currently constituted.
“Consequently, and in keeping with its mandate of acting as a watchdog of the society, the NBA has mapped out certain short, mid and long-term measures that must be put in place to address the current issues and prevent a reoccurrence in the future.”
The NBA then stipulated some immediate, mid and long-term propositions regarding the current wave of demands being made, noting that “we condemn in very strong terms any ban on the rights of citizens to peacefully assemble and protest in any part of the country.”
In the immediate term propositions, the association called on governments at all levels to protect the rights of all citizens participating in the peaceful protests across the country and direct the security agencies to cease assaulting, attacking, abusing or otherwise harassing or using force against citizens who seek to have their voices heard through the peaceful protests.
It noted that “Under no circumstances should the use of live arms and ammunition against peaceful and lawful protesters be tolerated and those found culpable must be apprehended and made examples of.”
The NBA also demanded an unconditional release of all peaceful protesters across different states and also appeals to all protesters to remain non-violent and law-abiding in expressing their grievances or embarking on the protest.
It noted that it will continue to play its part in protecting the rights of citizens across the country.
In addition, it called for immediate disciplinary action (including dismissal and public prosecution) against erring officers and those who have breached the rules of engagement in dealing with the citizenry.
In the midterm propositions, it noted that it will continue to monitor compliance with rules of engagement by security agencies and escalate cases of abuse to the highest authorities within the relevant security agencies.
It equally demanded an expedited audit of the various SARS detention centres across the country. The most notorious of these centres are the SARS facilities in Awkuzu (Anambra State), the infamous “human abattoir” in Abuja and other parts of the country.
It reiterated its demand to work with the appropriate bodies including the Police Service Commission and the National Assembly to propose initiatives that can help both the citizens and the police.
In the longer term, The NBA demanded a total reform of the police force into a modern, responsible, and responsive law enforcement establishment that addresses funding and better working conditions for officers.
It added, “The NBA will set up an NBA Police Reform Team that will work with the Police and other institutions and organizations in developing or refining a Comprehensive Blueprint for Police Reform in Nigeria and continuously advocating for the implementation of the Blueprint.”
Mr Akpata said the NBA through the Human Rights Institute will work with the Police, providing continuous education, enlightenment, and sensitization to members of the Nigerian Police and other agencies on respect for civil law, human rights, rules of engagement, compliance with rulings, and/or judgment of courts, among others in the discharge of their duties.
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