Activist, Aisha Yesufu, in this exclusive interview, speaks on the clampdown on #EndSARS protesters, saying Nigerians should not be silent in the face of what she describes as intimidation of young people by the government. She also shares her perspective on ongoing inquiry into the activities of the disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS, the outcome of which she believes would be a nullity so long as President Muhammadu Buhari fails to constitute National Human Rights Commission Governing Council.
What do you make of the clampdown on #EndSARS protesters?
The arrests just showed how insincere Nigerian government is. Imagine the President’s countenance on camera when Lagos State governor presented the five-point demand to him. Protesters were killed before, during and after the protests, but there is no sincerity on the part of the government. Their action says more. Many people still ask why the protesters remained on the streets when the government said they had accepted their demands. But I need to remind them that the Nigerian government lies. There is nothing this government says that is trustworthy.
In 2017, SARS was disbanded. In 2018, 2019, and 2020, the outfit was disbanded. It shows that the government has never been sincere regarding SARS. In 2018, the President set up a panel to look into the allegations of human rights abuses and police brutality. In 2019, they brought out their findings and reported to the President. The President said within months, the government was going to implement the recommendations. It is 17 months after the report was given to him and nothing has been done. When #EndSARS protesters stayed on the streets, they knew that this government is always saying one thing and doing another thing. Amid all these, protesters were the ones who showed leadership. Yes, they didn’t have the traditional type of leadership we are used to, but they displayed organisational skills which are leadership. On October 11, 2020, the Inspector General of Police, IGP, said he had disbanded SARS. On the same day, the #EndSARS protesters brought out their five demands. On October 19, they explained how the government can implement the demands because they knew government was not showing leadership other than mere rhetoric and blaming the protesters.
Since the arrests of protesters and those termed promoters have continued, what do you make of the situation?
Instead of implementing the demands of #EndSARS, the government is arresting and profiling them. They are going after them and seizing their passports. The accounts of many of them were blocked long before any court injunction. They went as far as going to their houses to pick them. Some were picked for just being in a WhatsApp group. This is the persecution that is going on. The youths demanded in their presentation to the National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, to have Governing Council because, without Governing Council, the legality of all these panels set up will be questioned. Of what use is it for people to go through pains of testifying, relieving their pains and the horror they went through in the hands of SARS and people are indicted but, at the end of the day, nothing would come out of it just because the legality of the panel is in question. They also asked that those who have been indicted by the first panel to be prosecuted. There are police officers and SARS members who have been indicted but they have not been prosecuted. One of them allegedly tortured Hassan Alfa to death in 2014 in Kano. He has been promoted and he is in Abuja. There is a systemic abuse that the Nigerian government doesn’t want to address. Instead, the government is actively supportive of the abuse. Today, we have seen what the Police meant when they tell you they will kill you and nothing will happen. “I will waste you and nothing will happen,” is their common phrase. Indeed, nothing will happen because the people who came out and cried to their government are being killed under the cover of darkness. What happened? The absence of sincerity of purpose on the side of government was the reason youths decided to continue the protest in the face of attacks.
On the roads
EndSARS protesters were on the roads because they were being killed. Even when the government said they were meeting their demands, thugs were brought to attack protesters. They used police to attack protesters. They also used the military to attack protesters. Thugs were carried around in Abuja in vehicles belonging to security agencies. In Lagos, they attacked protesters at Alausa. Some of the protesters were able to get the attackers and handed them over to the Police, but they refused to arrest them because they actually supervised them. Of course, as I said earlier, the government lacks the sincerity of purpose and the protesters wanted to see action and not mere rhetoric. As I speak today, there has not been any action from the government.