(A press release of the President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN), Archbishop Augustine Obiora Akubeze on the EndSARS protest in Nigeria)
Addressed to all Catholic Bishops, Priests, Consecrated Persons, Lay Faithful, all Nigerian Youths, and Fellow Nigerians.
Dear fellow Catholics and Nigerians,
1. I send you greetings from the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) on this occasion of the widespread protest calling for an end to the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigeria Police Force. It is remarkable and quite commendable that this protest is being led by the youths of Nigeria who are tired of suffering from the brutality and injustices perpetrated by officers of the SARS and the Nigeria Police Force as a whole.
There is hardly any Nigerian who has not directly or indirectly encountered the crude and inhuman manner the SARS officials deal with citizens of this country. The youths are therefore simply calling for justice not just for themselves, but for the entire nation so that Nigeria can have peace. Whereas the Federal Government keeps asking for peace and calm in the face of every crisis, the present agitation shows that our youths have run out of patience and are tired of the lip-service paid by the government of the day towards a just and peaceful society. We unequivocally add our voice to those of our youths and that of every well-meaning Nigerian to condemn the excesses and the horrible operations of this police unit and the bad omen they portend to our democracy.
The Government of Nigeria must realise that anyone who desires peace, must work for and cherish justice since there can be no true peace where injustice is the order of the day as it is in Nigeria today. We need to also remind ourselves that peace is not the absence of war because wherever there is injustice, war has already been declared on the people. Thus, the cries of our children protesting against the brutality of the SARS that manifests in extra-judicial killings, unlawful arrests, profiling of youths as criminals, the invasion of their privacy by searching phones and laptops without any warrant or any just cause, and the incarceration of many of the youths in the SARS custody without trial, are all cries for justice.
2. We the members of the CBCN have followed the protests with keen interest and call on the Federal Government of Nigeria once again to listen to the cry for justice so that peace
can reign in our country.
The protest seems to have a life of its own and it is spreading all over the country; this shows that most Nigerians are facing the same oppression and brutality inflicted by the SARS. We urge the Federal Government to fulfil its primary constitutional responsibility of securing life and property of every Nigerian and provide opportunities for our children to realise their God-given potentials.
3. The EndSARS protest is a microcosm of the ftmdamental problems in Nigeria. The audacity and impunity with which the SARS officials have been operating all the while is a manifestation of the failing State of Nigeria. Various bodies and patriotic Nigerians have expressed the opinion that just ending the SARS will not solve the enormous problems of Nigeria, because it is futile treating symptoms of a disease when the root cause is known.
A centralized Police Force in Nigeria is primarily responsible for the lack of grassroots accountability for the crimes perpetrated by the SARS and their likes.
We reiterate that restructuring this country is a desirable path to be towed given the various developments in this nation. The knee jerk reaction of the administration by abolishing the SARS and setting up the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team portrays either the absence of an understanding of the entire problem or a lack of sincerity to address the problem. The Nigerian Government must realise that what the youths, on behalf of Nigerians, clamour for under the code name #EndSARS is a total reform of the entire Police Force and not a change of name; they call for a reform of all our government institutions and a reform of the entire nation. They are asking for a system that will be hard on crimes and criminals in the society within the ambience of the law, while at the same time treating every human being, citizens and visitors alike, with respect and dignity.
4. Moreover, the #EndSARS protest is a cry for justice for all victims of the SARS and police brutality, and a call for the prosecution of all those responsible for these crimes against humanity and their superiors under whose leadership such heinous atrocities were committed against innocent Nigerians.
We must not lose sight of the fact that #EndSARS is also a call for a review of the welfare of the policemen who have been badly deprived by the system.
How does a country with conscience and reason put arms in the hands of such poorly paid police personnel? Our police barracks are mostly dilapidated and the salaries of our police officers are very demeaning. Very often we have heard stories of past top Officers of the Police Force embezzling funds meant for the proper equipping of the Force and the welfare of the officers. Have these betrayers been brought to book? Where are the recovered funds? Have those deprived of the money been reached out to? It is a fact that many widows of deceased policemen are yet to collect the entitlement due to their husbands, and for those who have, it has been after very harrowing experience and very inhumane extortion by those in charge. All these must be sincerely looked into with a view of bringing the perpetrators to book and restoring justice.
In the cries of the youths, we see the call for reform that will take care of the proper training, equipping, and promotion system devoid of nepotism but based on merit and meaningful welfare package for the men and women in the front line of our security.
5. The cries for justice by our youths must be seen as a cry for peace in Nigeria. *The youths want a Nigeria where there will be education without industrial strikes.* They want *”a Nigeria society where the child of nobody can become somebody without knowing anybody.* *” They want a Nigeria where knowledge and skills will meet gainful employment.* *This cry is for a Nigeria where they are not treated as second class citizens but accorded equal opportunities to realise their potentials rather than being profiled as criminals by those who are supposed to protect them.* *Our youths desire a Nigeria they can be proud of and live in and raise their families and hand over to the next generation with great hope.*
6. #EndSARS goes beyond the SARS and it is morally justified. We support the youths who have taken this step and we caution that they are allowed without any intimidation to exercise their right to peaceful demonstration and should not be provoked or incited to violence.
And to our beloved Youths, we say, eschew every form of violence during this peaceful protest. Violence, looting and rioting will jeopardise the message you are promoting. Wellmeaning Nigerians are proud of your cause and generally against the failure of government.
The CBCN joins in calling for an end to every form of brutality and oppression as this degrades the image of God in us. The SARS and the system that enabled the SARS to grow into a Frankenstein monster must end. Now is the time for the Federal Government to move beyond tokenism and institute reforms that would guarantee justice and lasting peace in Nigeria.
May God bless and protect our Youths!
May God bless our country, Nigeria. Amen. For God and for youths…through Christ!
Sincerely Yours in Christ,
+Most Rev. Augustine Obiora Akubeze
Archbishop of Benin-City/
17 October 2020