My dear Colleagues, and Fellow Nigerians,
Today marks the anniversary of what historians would come to define as an epochal moment
in the relations between the Nigerian state and her citizens. Many of us would recall that what
started as a minor protest in Ughelli, Delta State, over the extra judicial killing of a citizen, by
a trigger-happy policeman, soon snowballed into a conflagration that brought the entire
nation on its knees for upwards of three weeks.

In what became known as #ENDARS protest, Nigerian youths took to the streets in their
numbers to call out the excesses of the defunct police unit-SARS, in particular, and the
Nigerian Police, at large. The protests would soon assume metaphorical dimensions as many
of the protesting youths, used the opportunity to ventilate their grievances against the spate
of bad governance in the country.

Although hailed as a success in its early weeks, the infiltration of the ranks of the protesters
by hoodlums across the epicenters of the protests, turned what had been a peaceful and civil
action into an orgy of violence. The degenerating violence would culminate in the ugly scenes
witnessed at the Lekki Toll Plaza on 20th October 2020 where operatives of the Nigerian Army
reportedly fired gunshots into a crowd of protesting youths, resulting in the death of some
citizens, and life-threatening injuries to many more.

Throughout the duration of the protests, the Nigerian Bar Association (“NBA”) and her
members and volunteers across the country remained at the forefront of the confrontation in
ensuring that unlawfully arrested protesters were unconditionally released by the security
agencies; and those charged to Court, were provided pro bono legal services throughout the
duration of their prosecution. The NBA undertook this responsibility in furtherance of its
motto of promoting the rule of law and acting as a bulwark against the civil liberties of the
Nigerian masses.

As a gesture of response to the agitations of the protesting youths, the government – both at
the State and Federal levels – set up investigative panels of enquiry, to look into the historic
and systemic incidents of abuse by operatives of the Nigerian Police against the citizens; and
to recommend compensation where appropriate and also to make recommendations on the
way forward in boosting police-citizens relations.

While most of the investigative panels, have concluded their assignment in states such as
Rivers, Enugu, Edo, Nasarawa, Plateau amongst others, it is depressing to note that, in most
of these states, the payment of compensation to victims whose petitions were established, has
simply not happened. Save for Lagos State where the panel has been most successful, in terms
of the number of petitions treated, and the compensations doled out, the situation in other states has been anything but encouraging. This situation is indicative of the government’s less
than noble attitude to the plight of citizens; part of which it may be recalled, exacerbated the
protests last year.

On the occasion of the anniversary of such a symbolic moment in our nation’s history, I want
to, on behalf of the NBA urge the Federal and State governments to deploy this rare
opportunity to address all pending compensations arising from the determination of the
panels of inquiry and to immediately commence the process of implementation of the
recommendations of the panels in their respective reports. This, it goes without saying, is the
only way of vindicating government’s sensitivity and commitment to addressing the
associated factors that necessitated the protests.

I am, however, not under any illusion that the issues associated with police-citizen relations
can be addressed by mere recommendations of quasi-judicial panels. A sustainable
improvement in the quality of that relationship must consist of robust legislative intervention
that addresses the structural problems of the Police Force itself as an institution, with
particular concern to the welfare and discipline of the Rank and File.

It was in furtherance of this realization, that the Nigerian Bar Association, is collaborating
with the House of Representatives in its legislative response to the underlying issues. That
intervention crystallised into a Bill repealing and re-enacting the Police Service Commission
Act, which is due, now for Third Reading at the National Assembly. I am confident that the
propositions in the draft Bill, when passed into Law, would achieve a significant landmark in
the relationship between the citizens and the police.

It is regrettable that on the occasion of the anniversary of such a symbolic moment in our
nation’s history, we do not appear to have learnt our lessons as symbolized by the arrest and
detention of peaceful protesters exercising their fundamental human rights, and journalists
going about their lawful duties at the Lekki Toll Plaza this morning. The NBA unequivocally
calls for unconditional release of all peaceful protesters and journalists arrested today and
hereby mandates the NBA Human Rights Committee to immediately spring into action to
ensure the protection of their rights.

I want to conclude by honouring the memories of all those who have died due to police/SARS
related brutality. In this regard, particular mention must be made of those who fell at the
Lekki Toll Plaza on that fateful day. We are consoled by the fact that their ultimate sacrifice
was not in vain. If anything, it has elicited a new national consciousness amongst the youths
of Nigeria; one that would continue to be consolidated in the struggle for justice, equity, and
fairness. They are the heroes of this hour. May their soul continue to rest in peace, and may
their memory be a blessing to us.

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