Some 24 hours after President Muhammadu Buhari vowed to hold the police accountable to Nigerians, armed officers, ostensibly acting on the orders of their superiors, fired live rounds at peaceful protesters, hitting some and injuring several others.
Demonstrators are marching across Nigeria against widespread police brutality mainly targeted at young people. They are urging the authorities to disband the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a police unit blamed for illegal arrests, extortion and extra-judicial killings.
Protesters are using the #EndSARS hashtag which is now trending globally on social media.
In Ogbomosho, an officer attached to the Oyo State Police Command shot Jimoh Isiaq who, at some point, was standing some 200 meters from the peaceful demonstrators the police violently targetted. The young bystander was later pronounced dead at Bowen University Teaching Hospital.
Protesters who gathered around the University of Lagos (UNILAG) were violently dispersed as night fell. The demonstrators were planning to camp out at the scene and remain on the streets until the government enacted visible police reforms.
In Abuja, where demonstrators were adopting a similar strategy at the force headquarters, armed police officers fired teargas at protesters, witnesses said. They also fired live rounds when some demonstrators showed defiance.
There are similar reports across Nigeria with several peaceful demonstrators sustaining injuries in their flight to safety.
These fresh reports of police brutality come on the heels of President Buhari’s announcement to uphold the rights of peaceful protesters.
“I met again with the Inspector General of Police tonight,” President Buhari said on Friday.
“Our determination to reform the police should never be in doubt. I am being briefed regularly on the reform efforts ongoing to end police brutality and unethical conduct and to ensure that the police are fully accountable to the people.
“The IG already has my firm instructions to conclusively address the concerns of Nigerians regarding these excesses, and ensure erring personnel are brought to justice,” the president said in a statement shared on his official social media handles.
But the reality on the streets stands in deadly contrast to President Buhari’s online update. And that is not the first time the Nigerian Police would defy their democratically elected commander.
In January 2018, the president ordered former police chief Ibrahim Idris to relocate to Benue where a herdsmen militia had murdered over 70 villagers on New Year’s Day. But Idris, who only performed a three-day tour of the state, retained his job long after Buhari learned of his disobedience.
Few will, therefore, be surprised if the president’s latest “order” to reform the police falls like it always has.
President Buhari had remained silent days after the latest demonstrations began. When he was finally pressured into speaking, the president’s assurances were followed by police brutality.
But protesters say they would not retreat until SARS is disbanded, the police force is overhauled and Muhammed Adamu is relieved of his duties as the inspector-general.