File photographs of some Catholic Bishops in a protest march
Following the #ENDSARS protests across the country, which has entered into its eleventh day, the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) has thrown its weight behind the ongoing anti-SARS protests saying the youths are standing in the gap for the entire country, demanding justice and peace for all from the extra-judicial killings, unlawful arrests, profiling of youths as criminals, the invasion of youths privacy by searching phones and laptops without any warrant or any just cause, and the incarceration of many of the youths in the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) custody without trial.
A statement signed by its president, Most Rev. Augustine Obiora Akubeze said the conference is fully in support of the ongoing action by Nigerian youths who are seeking end to Police brutality and general reform of the security system. He said the #EndSARS protest is a true representation of the problem in the country and is morally justified adding that almost everyone in the country had been a victim of police brutality and the injustices perpetrated by officers of the SARS.
The statement further said, “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.”
The bishops further stated that disbanding SARS and setting up the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) shows poor judgment on the part of the federal government saying it is either they are not willing to allow peace and justice prevail, or totally lack understanding of the enormous problems at hand.
“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,” CBCN said. According to the Bishops, Nigerians were demanding a total reform of the nation’s police force, adding that there was hardly any Nigerian who has not directly or indirectly encountered the crude and inhumane treatment of the SARS officials.
“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 fulfill its primary constitutional responsibility of securing life and property of every Nigerian and provide opportunities for our children to realise their God-given potentials.
“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,” said the CBCN.
The bishops blamed centralised police force in Nigeria for being primarily responsible for the lack of grassroots accountability for the crimes perpetrated by the SARS and the likes. “We reiterate that restructuring this country is a desirable path to be towed given the various developments in this nation. 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,” it added. The CBNC further demanded justice for all victims of the SARS and police brutality, a review of the welfare of the policemen who have been badly deprived by the system, infrastructural development of police barracks, investigation of fraudulent practices by past and present top police officers especially payment of entitlements to families of deceased officers.
Meanwhile, the Catholic Archbishop of Lagos, Alfred Martins, has asked the federal government not to deploy soldiers to crack down on #EndSARS protesters across the country. Martins said the deployment of soldiers in protest grounds will lead to injuries and deaths, as well as escalate tension. “Such a measure, if adopted, can only lead to injuries and possible deaths, and an escalation of the protests. It has the tendency of turning the largely peaceful protests into a violent one,” he said.
“We therefore urge the federal government to toe the line of engagement in dialogue, listening to the demands of the youth and other well-meaning Nigerians. We commend the government for acceding to the demands of the youth. Now, the whole country looks forward to practical steps that would be taken to implement them. We believe that a sincere and transparent response to the demands of the young people would go a long way in resolving the present impasse,” the cleric said in a statement. The Catholic priest also urged the protesters to be peaceful and avoid engaging in violence, as “the whole world is watching us to see how we handle this situation.”