Nigeria’s Catholic bishops have thrown their weight behind a nationwide youth-led protest against police brutality and corruption.
Thousands of Nigerians have demonstrated every day since October 8, protesting against the police’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
According to the bishops, SARS stands accused of “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”.
In a statement issued by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria, its president, Archbishop Obiora Akubeze of Benin, wrote: “There is hardly any Nigerian who has not directly or indirectly encountered the crude and inhuman manner [in which] the SARS officials deal with citizens of this country.”
The archbishop’s message, a copy of which was sent to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), continues: “The youths are therefore simply calling for justice not just for themselves, but for the entire nation so that Nigeria can have peace.”
The archbishop added: “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.”
It was announced on 11th October that SARS will be disbanded, but protests have continued with demonstrators calling for further reforms to police and other institutions.
Archbishop Akubeze said: “The Nigerian Government must realize that what the youths, on behalf of Nigerians, clamor 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.”
He also called for a review of the welfare of the policemen, noting the poor state of their facilities, and low pay – as well as the injustice of police widows not receiving full support.
The archbishop added: “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.”
But, despite the bishops’ call for peace, there were reports yesterday (Tuesday 20th October) that soldiers had opened fire on protesters in Lagos’ Lekki district on Tuesday, hitting at least two people.