A panel set up by Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has recommended the dismissal and prosecution of a number of police officers for torture, extra-judicial killings and illegal detentions. The committee, set up in the wake of mass street protests against police brutality in 2020, has not said how many officers it wants to be dismissed or prosecuted but said it will communicate this at a later date. The panel headed by a senior judge, Sulaiman Galadima, has also ordered the payment of compensation to victims of police brutality. Earlier this month, dozens of victims or their families had received similar compensations totalling about $700,000 – the first of such payments since the federal panel was set up. The protests which took place nearly two years ago under the hashtag #EndSars were against a notorious police unit known as the Special Anti-Robbery Squad or SARS. The protesters forced the authorities to disband the unit – created to fight violent crime including armed robberies and kidnappings.

Following one of the seminal (and bloody) moments in Nigeria’s long protest-strewn, citizen-driven history, the National Economic Council (NEC) ordered the establishment of judicial panels of inquiry by state governors to investigate complaints of police brutality and extra-judicial killings. In compliance with the order, 29 states and the Federal Capital Territory set up panels. Many of these subnational panels have either concluded their assignments and submitted their reports with little or no implementation of the recommendations, while others have suspended their panels indefinitely. Seven states – Borno, Jigawa, Kano, Kebbi, Sokoto, Yobe, and Zamfara – did not bother to try. This is setting aside the fact that many of the cases brought before these panels were not concluded. This has blunted the effectiveness of using the panels as a tool for holding the Nigeria Police Force accountable for its actions. Beyond the panels, little has been done in attempting to reform the police system to make it, not only respectful of human rights but effective in service delivery. In effect, while the panels have given some victims of police brutality a semblance of justice, they have only but scratched the surface regarding the human rights abuses that have been and continue to be committed by Nigeria’s police. Consonantly, while the commencement of compensation payments is a welcome development, concerns about long-term sustainability naturally follow. Assuming the payouts are made from police coffers as some have prescribed, that would leave police funding in a precarious position. Conventionally, a tug on the purse strings should be enough to instil discipline among the police rank and file but the ascendancy of impunity in Nigerian officialdom has hardly allowed that to happen. The police rarely heed court orders to pay compensation to victims and often get bailed out by both federal and state governments. So far, the army has escaped responsibility for its actions in the Lekki Massacre despite indictment by investigative panels. What this does is create a parallel justice system where some animals are more equal than others. As we approach the two-year mark of the #EndSARS protests this October, very little progress has been made to ensure the full implementation of the 5-for-5 demands which include key proposals demanding immediate police reform critical to ensuring that impunity is eliminated. While it is expected that the conclusion of the panels’ sittings such as the National Human Rights Commission’s will provide the runway to the implementation sorely needed, the perennial debate about the legality of the panels is likely to be revived. Several Nigerian statutory provisions empower state governors to constitute judicial panels and define their powers and responsibilities. In this instance, the contentious issues have been the extent to which state-constituted panels can inquire into allegations of abuse by the police, which is centrally controlled, the legal bindingness of their decisions, as well as their capacity to enforce and compel implementation. All told, the implementation of the NHRC’s recommendations has the potential to reignite the conversation on securing justice for victims of police brutality, bring to the fore some of the forgotten panel reports and recommendations and make a star entry as a campaign issue as the elections approach.

The federal government on Monday withdrew an initial order mandating vice-chancellors of universities to reopen universities. In a circular issued, the National Universities Commission (NUC), had mandated vice-chancellors, pro-chancellors, and governing councils to reopen federal universities following months of closure due to the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU)’s strike. But later in the day, the NUC issued another circular, tagged NUC/ES/138/Vol.64/136, in which it withdrew the order. “I have been directed to withdraw the NUC Circular Ref: NUC/ES/138/Vol.64/135, and dated 23 September on the above subject,” the circular, signed by the Director, Finance, and Account of the NUC, Sam Onazi, read. “Consequently, the said circular stands withdrawn. All pro-chancellors and chairmen of governing councils, as well as vice-chancellors of federal universities, are to please note. “Further development and information would be communicated to all relevant stakeholders. Please, accept the assurances of the Executive Secretary’s warmest regards.” The letter was tagged “Withdrawal of circular NUC/ES/138/Vol.64/135 dated September 23, 2022”.

In this long-running saga, the federal government has evidently been put in a tight corner by the university unions’ insistence to continue the strike until all their demands are met. ASUU’s latest strike action has endured since February to press home its demand that an agreement it entered into with the government, first in 2009 and several times subsequently, is finally implemented. During the lifetime of this strike, both parties have met on multiple occasions but a resolution remains elusive. This led Abuja to approach the National Industrial Court for a judgement compelling lecturers to return to the classroom. The usually employee-friendly court held that the strike action was detrimental to public university students who cannot afford to attend private tertiary institutions. ASUU had since filed 14 grounds of appeal to challenge the order and vowed not to resume academic activities. Perhaps this appeal is the reason Aso Rock, acutely sensitive to the voting leanings of irate students, their incensed parents and frustrated tutors, withdrew an initial order mandating vice-chancellors of universities to reopen their schools. This continuing dance of shame between the federal government and ASUU is an ill wind that blows no one good. As long as both parties continue to skirt the real issue – the funding structure of tertiary education – it is students who have been at home for eight months that will continue to suffer. A resolution to this impasse might not bring much reprieve to all parties involved. A few cynics have begun to raise the possibility of the government (and a much less complicit ASUU) using the strike action as a tactical means to disenfranchise students, by getting them to register (at home) away from where they will be (in school) when it is time to vote. In the end, policymakers might be forced to sign (and struggle to implement) an agreement that is not really possible to meet in the short term due to the current financial state of the government. This was the same mistake made by previous and even this administration, thus highlighting the root of the problem: Nigeria’s current approach to public tertiary education might have worked five decades ago, but it cannot work now. There is a need for holistic reform in how we approach tertiary education in not just funding but also administration. It is disturbing that no one within the government or aspiring to get into the government, or ASUU itself has proposed any alternatives outside the status quo. This is due to a number of factors including a lack of ideas, and a lack of will to suggest what might be unpopular with the public. In the short term, one fundamental issue stands above the rest – the government needs to implement an agreement it willingly entered into.

As preparations for the 2023 general elections gain momentum amid a worsening security situation across the country, VIPs have increased their demands for bullet-proof Sports Utility Vehicles for special protection in the run-up to the campaigns and elections, The Punch has reported. Confirming the increase in orders for armoured vehicles, the President, Armor Max, Mr Mark Burton said his company had been getting orders from clients, noting that sales were very good in March. Burton however said that approvals for end-users certificates which enable the importation of armoured vehicles into the country take time. A sales manager at Inkas Armoured Vehicle Manufacturing, Mr Haresh Jethmalanito, also affirmed that the armoured vehicle market is presently booming, noting that dealers were making brisk business. But he lamented that his company was not benefitting from the boom because of the long time it takes to procure the end-user certificate from the Office of the National Security Adviser, ONSA. Two civil rights organisations under the aegis of Yiaga Africa and Transition Monitoring Groups said it was a dangerous signal and reflection of what to expect in the campaigns. About three weeks ago, there was an attempted assassination of the lawmaker representing the Anambra South Senatorial District, Senator Ifeanyi Ubah who escaped death as he was riding in a bullet-proof SUV. However, four persons, including police aides, were killed by the gunmen who opened fire on the senator’s convoy at the Enugwu-Ukwu junction, Njikoka Local Government Area of Anambra State while he was on his way to his country home in Nnewi.

While the attack on Senator Ubah’s convoy was a significant event in its own right, it is merely the icing on a cake which has been in the oven for a long time. In September 2020, Philip Shekwo, the Nasarawa State chairman of the All Progressives Congress was abducted in his house. He was found dead barely 48 hours later. In May 2021, a political adviser to former President Goodluck Jonathan, Ahmed Gulak, was shot dead in Owerri, Imo State. Several people that could be termed VIPs have been attacked and killed. The difference between Messrs Shekwo and Gulak is that while one was abducted from his home before he was killed, the other was shot dead on the road. The point is that bullet-proof and armoured cars can only offer in-transit protection. They do not stop home invasions, which are on the rise. This is a thinking that is often lost in the scuffle. The surge in demand for bulletproof SUVs is a clear expression of the kicking-the-can-down-the-road syndrome which militates against addressing the root causes of insecurity. It also creates a loophole for increased racketeering at the Office of the National Security Adviser which is empowered to grant licences for such imports. On the flip side, the security situation, while it has generally negatively affected businesses, has led to the growth of the private security sector. The sale of bulletproof SUVs is one aspect of a wider whole: security hardware, surveillance solutions, consulting expertise and a rising personnel pool have, and will continue to pick up the pace. On the latter, the police have been more visible because of the institution’s long-held tradition of loaning its officers to VIPs. As more of those officers are added to the list of victims of collateral damage, it may not lead to a shift in the police leadership’s operational and licensing strategy. Instead, it may inspire more security firms, some of whom are led by retired security personnel, to get in on the act.

Ondo State Governor Rotimi Akeredolu has accused the federal government of granting a security outfit in Katsina State the right to bear arms whilst denying the Amotekun Corps the same privilege. Akeredolu accused the federal government of double standards, saying its action means “we are pursuing one country, two systems.” He added that equity and justice are required in the federal government’s relationship with all the component units. On the government side, the Commandant General of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), Dr Ahmed Audi, has said Nigerians are not ripe to be allowed to bear arms. Speaking at the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) Forum in Abuja this week, he said that he “strongly disapproved of it” citing the issue of proliferation of small arms and light weapons in the hands of people. As campaigns for 2023 general elections commence on 28 September, the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Usman Alkali Baba has ordered the police commissioners across the country to arrest operatives of quasi-security agencies such as Amotekun, Hisbah, Ebubeagu, Benue State Community Volunteer Guards (BSCVG), Civilian Joint Task Force and others established by state and local governments who involve in election campaigns. The IGP who stated this while addressing Strategic Police Managers of the Force from the rank of Commissioners of Police and above at a Conference in Abuja on Thursday revealed that “all quasi-security outfits” have “no legal roles under the Electoral Act 2020 and within the electoral process.”

In an ideal federal structure, subnational units have jurisdiction over everything except foreign affairs, currency and the military – the three are purely central matters. Nigeria is several thousand kilometres from the ideal and practices its own version of federalism in an inverted manner. Nigeria’s political federalism (which also forms the basis for its fiscal federalism) is a hangover from the turmoil of the 1960s where in the first five years of that decade, the three (later four) regions had control over their own affairs which included security. The proponents of the unitarianism following the 1966 coups felt that too much regional power was to blame for the disunity that led to the Civil War, and felt that the anomaly must be corrected by creating an all-powerful federal centre (which must hold the constituent units with force) whose governance style is a top-down approach. Such thinking formed the tenets of both the 1979 and 1999 constitutions which established internal security as a mostly federal affair. The past few years have witnessed the continuing weakness of the centre and nowhere is this more pronounced than in the horrible state of internal security. When the governors of the South West came together in 2019 and 2020 to create a regional security outfit, it signified the death of uncontested federal might in a very important aspect of Nigeria’s federalism: security. The open defiance of the governments of Ondo and Benue further buttresses this point. Critically, the five state legislatures in the Southwest codified the regional security outfit in law, further complicating the legal chess pieces surrounding the issue. Although Aso Rock has rebutted claims that it has not authorised any state to procure automatic weapons for vigilantes–also adding that what was seen in Katsina is “a mere firearms training” for the state’s security corps – it is not likely to do more than just bark. The Office of the National Security Adviser is charged with making such procurements and given the showdown between federal and state governments, the latter can be expected to carry out such arms purchases by other means. It also speaks to how much the lack of coordination between government agencies and departments is affecting governance. While the NSCDC believes that the time is not ripe for Nigerians to bear arms, several state governors (Katsina and Benue for instance) have taken a different approach by not only calling on their residents to arm themselves but have gone steps ahead to make this a reality. At the federal level, although Aso Rock dreads the possibility of a citizen-led arms race, defence minister Bashir Magashi has advocated for individual and collective self-defence on multiple occasions. These developments coming on the eve of next year’s elections are not just agitating, but they also put the safety of the polls on pins and needles. This situation continues to bring into sharp focus the fear of possible abuse of such an outfit by state governors, the implications for the 2023 elections and the involvement of these outfits in election campaigns (hence the directive from the country’s top police officer on arresting operatives of these state-backed outfits who get involved in election campaigns) as well as the glaring failure of the Nigeria Police Force to carry out its constitutional duties. Questions on the future of policing and exploring state and community policing options will feature strongly in the campaign season as leading candidates will seek to score points in the various regions with their plans and support for or their stand against these regional security outfits. The ironic spectacle where a vociferous debate over security management could lead to the entrenchment of more insecurity is an unfortunate Nigerian staple that is likely to cost more lives in the months ahead.