On Wednesday, the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) held a meeting over the ongoing nationwide protests against police brutality. The NGF had ended the meeting agreeing with many demands of the protestors, including the demand to #EndSARS and to halt the attempt by the Inspector General of Police (IGP), to replace the defunct rogue unit with a SWAT team.
The governors, at the end of their meeting, issued a communiqué of their agreement on proffered solutions to many of the questions raised during the demonstrations.
Among the agreements of the NGF is that the IGP needs to immediately convene a meeting of all stakeholders and agree on a format of engagement with all State officials in order to address concerns emanating from SARS brutality; and that State leadership should meet simultaneously nationwide, to address matters arising.
The matters to address include reforming the police to be service-driven and to respect people’s rights.
The Governors agreed that reforms must include the training and retraining of operatives on the rules of engagement with the general public; and policing in Nigeria must ensure freedom for all Nigerians to carry out their lawful and legitimate businesses anywhere in the country without fear of harassment, intimidation or molestation.
Those were some of the agreements of the members of the NGF, which is made up of the 36 States Governors.
However, while some States like Lagos and Anambra have already set the ball rolling on implementing the agreements, by setting up panels of inquiry, the Governors of 19 Northern States made a U-turn and reneged on the agreements reached by the Forum.
The Governor of Plateau State, who doubles as the Chairman of the Northern Governors Forum, Simon Lalong, led other members of the Forum to a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari, on Thursday. Following the meeting, he issued a statement contradicting what the NGF had agreed on. He said that “SARS has been useful to the North” and should not be disbanded.
“We had a meeting yesterday (Wednesday), the Nigerian Governors Forum. I’m sure my chairman addressed the press. When we see issues like this …their complaints vary from one state to the other. In one aspect, some people said they don’t want SARS, some said they want SARS but a reformed SARS.
“They want a reformed SARS because as far as they concern, some of these SARS operatives help them in addressing insecurity. If there are bad ones under, holistically, bring them together and reform them. Then, you work for them. So our opinion and conclusion at that stage was that let us not just say that we are throwing away the baby with bathwater.
“If there are good ones, you don’t chase them away. So, as SARS is banned, we are now looking forward to … because most of the States in the North said no. They want SARS because SARS helps them. Borno (state governor) said without SARS, he would not have been surviving today. Niger also wants SARS,” he said.
Although some Northern States including Kano and Plateau have joined the protests, refuting the claims of the Northern Governors, their reneging on the earlier agreement has questioned the oneness of the Nigerian Governors Forum. It has also cast doubt on the implementation of the NGF recommendations in Northern States.
The National Executive Commission (NEC), presided by the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, on Thursday, has reached the NGF’s decisions by directing that judicial panels of inquiry be set up in each state, and each state should also set up fund to compensate victims of police brutality: Which can be interpreted that the presidency aligns with the Southern governors stand to end SARS.
Although compared to the South, the North has lower cases of SARS brutality; a situation many believe instigated the Northern Governors’ late decision to oppose the dissolution of SARS. With the current stand of the Northern Governors Forum, the implementation of 5 of 5 demands of protestors may likely suffer setbacks in northern States.
Upon the news that the Northern Governors have turned around from the NGF’s agreements, security agents in the north have resorted to using brute force to quell protests.
In Jos, the plateau State capital, there are reports of police firing live ammunition into crowds of protestors, and many have been killed. Taraba State shares the same situation which defies the logic of central police and tells terribly on the IGP’s promises to change the dreaded status quo.
With the state governors’ divided stand on SARS, and the police personnel’s defiant breach of IGP’s orders, state police has become a choice in the police reform menu.