Lai Mohammed: It is unfortunate less attention was paid to barbaric, gruesome murder of security agents by hoodlums during #EndSARS crisis

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TEXT OF A SPEECH BY MINISTER OF INFORMATION AND CULTURE, ALHAJI LAI MOHAMMED, DURING A MEETING WITH EDITORS IN LAGOS ON FRIDAY, DECEMBER 4, 2020

1. Good morning gentlemen, and welcome to this meeting.

2. Today’s meeting is the latest in a series of meetings we have been having with stakeholders, in the wake of the EndSARS crisis. The purpose of the meetings is to review what transpired during the protest and the subsequent crisis and draw the necessary lessons, with a view to forestalling a recurrence, especially of the mindless violence that followed the hijack of the peaceful protest.

3. Gentlemen, what was EndSARS about? It was aimed at protesting police brutality and, consequently, to demand the disbandment of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). The protesters issued a five-point demand, viz:-

i) Immediate release of all arrested protesters.
ii) Justice for all deceased victims of police brutality and appropriate compensation for their families.
iii) Setting up an independent body to oversee the investigation and prosecution of all reports of police misconduct within 10 days.
iv) In line with the new Police Act, psychological evaluation and retraining (to be confirmed by an independent body) of all disbanded SARS officers before they can be redeployed.
v) Increase police salary so that they are adequately compensated for protecting the lives and property of citizens.

4. How did the Federal Government respond to the demands? I will give you a chronology.

On 11 Oct: The Inspector-General of Police announced the immediate disbandment of SARS across the 36 State Police Commands and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

On Oct. 12th: President Muhamadu Buhari addressed the nation, stating: ”The disbanding of SARS is only the first step in our commitment to extensive police reforms in order to ensure that the primary duty of the police and other law enforcement agencies remains the protection of lives and livelihood of our people. We will also ensure that all those responsible for misconduct or wrongful acts are brought to justice.

On Oct. 13th: The IGP ordered all defunct SARS personnel to report at the Force Headquarters, Abuja, for debriefing as well as psychological and medical examination. The officers were to undergo this process as a prelude to further training and reorientation before being redeployed into mainstream policing duties. The medical examination was carried out by the new Police Counselling and Support Unit (PCSU).

On the same day, Oct. 13th: The presidential panel on the reform of SARS formally accepted the five-point demand of the EndSARS protesters.

On Oct. 15th: The National Economic Council (NEC) directed the immediate establishment of State-based Judicial Panels of Inquiry across the country to receive and investigate complaints of police brutality or related extra-judicial killings, with a view to delivering justice for all victims of the dissolved SARS and other police units. The panel will include representatives of Youths, Students, Civil Society Organizations and would be chaired by a respected retired State High Court Judge. The panels have six months to complete its assignment.

Other decisions by NEC on the Demands:
– State Governors and the FCT Minister should take charge of interface and contact with the protesters in their respective domains.
– State Governors should immediately establish State-based Special Security and Human Rights Committees to be chaired by the Governors in their States, and to supervise the newly-formed police tactical units and all other security agencies located in the States. This will ensure the protection of citizens’ human rights. Members will also include Representatives of Youths and Civil Society, as well as the head of police tactical units in each of the States.
– Establishment, by the Special Committee on Security and Human Rights, of a Human Rights Public Complaints Team of between 2 to 3 persons to receive complaints on an ongoing basis. That team would be established by the Special Committee on Security and Human Rights.
– State Governors to immediately establish a Victims Fund to enable the payment of monetary compensation to deserving victims.

Finally, on the Federal Government’s response, the National Salaries, Income and Wages Commission was directed to expedite action on the finalization of the new salary structure of members of the Nigeria Police Force.

5. Despite meeting the five demands, the protesters continued with their protests while their demands kept expanding, until the protest was hijacked, leading to unprecedented violence characterized by killings, maiming, arson, looting etc.

6. The issue of how fake news and disinformation aggravated the EndSARS crisis has dominated our previous meetings with various stakeholders. We have no doubt that fake news and disinformation fuelled the crisis. But we are also not surprised. This is because since 2017, we have been raising the alarm about the dangers of social media abuse. In 2017, we dedicated that year’s National Council on Information to the issue of fake news, hate speech and disinformation. The following year, in 2018, we launched the national campaign against fake news and disinformation, partnering with a number of print and electronic media organizations

7. Now, our fears about the abuse of social media, and specifically the dangers posed by fake news and disinformation, have come to pass. During the protest and the subsequent violence, fake news and disinformation were the order of the day. Social media was used for mobilization, and it was also used to guide arsonists and looters to properties, both public and private, which were targeted for attack. Celebrities who were listed as killed at Lekki quickly dispelled the report of their deaths. Discerning Nigerians exposed the fact that pictures of some non-Nigerians were used to justify the hoax massacre at the Lekki Toll Gate.

8. This development has strengthened our resolve to work with stakeholders to stop the abuse of social media. It has also rekindled the debate on the need to regulate social media content, a debate that is not limited to Nigeria. Former US President Barack Obama has said the internet and social media have helped to create the ”single biggest threat” to democracy. Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg has called for more regulation of social media content. Other giant tech companies seem to agree. On our part, we will not sit down and allow a reckless use of social media to aggravate our fault lines and throw the country into turmoil. But in curbing the excesses of social media, rest assured, gentlemen, that we will neither shut down the internet nor stilfe press freedom or free speech, as some have insinuated. We also acknowledge that social media is here to stay.

9. Gentlemen, there is another issue that I will like to discuss with you today. It concerns how your newspapers reported the last EndSARS crisis, especially the attack on security agents. In the first instance, it seems you unfortunately fell for the hoax that there was
a massacre at Lekki Toll Gate. Almost all papers ran screaming headlines of massacre or killings at the toll gate the day after the Oct. 20th incident there, when soldiers fired blank ammunition into the air to disperse protesters. Did you also fall for social media manipulation of the events that transpired that evening? No group was better placed than you to lead the narrative of what happened that night, but it seems you ceded that authority to social media, which has no time for the rigours of gate-keeping or fact checking. I hope in reviewing your coverage of the whole crisis, you will rectify that anomaly.

10. Still on the coverage, gentlemen, less attention was paid to the barbaric and gruesome murder of security agents by hoodlums during the crisis. While everyone was fixated on the fake massacre at Lekki Toll Gate, few paid attention to the way and manner policemen and soldiers were killed. In particular, policemen were hacked down in the most gruesome manner that calls into question the sanity of their killers. Yet, these security agents were treated as sub-humans. Human rights organisations all but ignored the fact that six soldiers and 37 policemen were killed, some of them dismembered and cannibalized. The media report of the killings was perfunctory, at best.

11. Remember, gentlemen, that in addition to the killing of security agents, eight medium security custodial centres in six states (Edo, Lagos, Abia, Delta, Ondo and Ebonyi) were attacked, with 1,957 inmates, most of them dangerous criminals, set free. Add that to the fact that over 100 AK-47 rifles were stolen by hoodlums as they burnt police station after police station, and you will understand the gravity of the situation. The spectre of hoodlums, armed with AK-47, roaming the streets and our roads, will send jitters down the spine.

12. Now, this is hunting all of us. Wittingly or unwittingly, we have succeeded in scaring policemen off their beats. Today, many of them are even afraid to wear their uniform. And the result has not been pleasant, in terms of security of life and property. We all owe it a duty to empathize with and appreciate our security agents, and should resist the temptation to tar all of them with the same brush. No life is more important than the other, and respect for human rights should not be selective. I want to commend the state governments that have taken bold steps to shore up the morale of the police. While at it, I want to remind all of us of the saying that a society that makes war against its police had better learnt to make friends with its criminals.

13. For the record, six soldiers and 37 policemen were killed all over the country during the crisis. Also, 196 policemen were injured; 164 police vehicles were destroyed and 134 police stations burnt down. In addition, the violence left 57 civilians dead, 269 private/corporate facilities burnt/looted/vandalized, 243 government facilities burnt/vandalized and 81 government warehouses looted.

14. On our part, as a government, we have started a review of the whole #EndSARS crisis. As you are aware, and in accordance with the directive of Mr. President, Ministers have since gone back to their respective states to meet with stakeholders in the wake of the protest and its aftermath. This is in addition to what we are doing in meeting the media stakeholders. A Federal Government delegation has also visited the various zones to consult with stakeholders. The outcome of these consultations will feed into an overall review of the whole crisis by the Federal Government.

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