No one had envisaged that the #EndSARS protest by Nigerian youths against police brutality which started peacefully about three weeks ago would turn out a nightmare for the entire country with the level of destruction that ended it after it had been hijacked by hoodlums.
At the initial stage, some state governors not only received the protesters and addressed them but even joined in the protest march to the police headquarters. But miscreants and hoodlums soon took advantage of the protest to molest and extort residents. The turning point was the shooting at the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos on Tuesday 20th October 2020 by soldiers where a number of protesters merely armed themselves with the national flags and singing the Nigerian national anthem.
This resulted in national and international outrage. Angry residents went on the streets to vent their anger by attacking both public and private assets.
The police withdrew from the streets to avoid bloody confrontation with the protesters while the hoodlums armed with cutlasses, axes and other dangerous weapons took over and had a field day breaking into shops, looting and burning.
The discovery of a government warehouse in Lagos where COVID-19 palliatives meant to be distributed to the people were kept and which were looted by the residents appeared to have opened the eyes of the residents of other states of the federation who went in search of such warehouses and looted them.
The looting and destruction reached a ridiculous level that even signboards of public institutions were uprooted and agricultural tractors carried away. It was a reign of lawlessness and by the time sanity returned, many lives had been lost, several police stations and other public buildings burnt and hundreds of vehicles set ablaze.
The victims have been counting their losses. They have been thrown into a state of hopelessness.
Their businesses have been ruined. They are completely at a loss as to how and where they would begin to put the broken pieces of their lives together again.
The major casualty in the whole crisis is the Nigeria Police Force. In spite of the directive by the Inspector-General of Police to policemen nation wide to return to the streets and maintain law and order, this has not been complied with.
Most of the policemen kept away from the public claiming that they could no longer walk freely again as their lives and those of their families were being threatened by hoodlums who pretended to be #EndSARS protesters.
Few of the policemen who summoned the courage to come out would rather hide their uniforms in their bags until they got to their stations for fear of mob attack.
In his account of the magnitude of the damage done to the police, the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu said 23 policemen were killed during the crisis and several police stations burnt.
He described as untrue report by Amnesty International that policemen shot at peaceful protesters while the #EndSARS protest lasted. Rather, the Police Chief affirmed that policemen acted professionally, by exercising what he described as commendable restraints, with some of them paying the supreme price for peace.
The IGP, in a statement signed by the Force Public Relations Officer, Deputy Commissioner of Police, Frank Mba, noted that “during the protests, officers of the Force used legitimate means to ensure that the protests were carried out in a peaceful manner and in most cases, physically protected and walked side-by-side with the protesters.
Even when the protests turned violent in some parts of the country, the officers still maintained utmost restraint and did not use excessive force in managing the situations.
“Available reports show that twenty-two (22) police personnel were extra-judicially killed by some rampaging protesters and scores injured during the protests. Many of the injured personnel are in life threatening conditions at the hospitals.
“Two hundred and five (205) Police stations and formations including other critical private and public infrastructure were also damaged by a section of the protesters. Despite these unprovoked attacks, our police officers never resorted to use of unlawful force or shooting at the protesters”.