The Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria, (CBCN) has declared the #EndSARS protests as morally justified and worth its support of the youths who have taken the step. The body is cautioning against intimidating the youth from exercising their right of peaceful demonstration.
The Bishops spoke through their incumbent president, Most Rev Augustine Obiora Akubeze, the Archbishop of Benin-city who added in the statement the pride of well meaning Nigerians about the cause of the youth (end to police brutality) as well as failure of government. Calling brutality degrading of the image of God in every individual, the Archbishop put two quick demands. One is the end of the SARS and the system that enabled its growth into a Frankenstein monster while the second is the Federal Government moving beyond tokenism to substantive reforms capable of guaranteeing justice and lasting peace in the country.
About the first major constituency with moral authority to add its voice categorically in endorsement of the protest, the position of the Catholic Bishops is certain to shape positions of other key actors, with a likely floodgate of similar standpoint, particularly the Bishops’ sense of what the youths are out against: being profiled as criminals by those who are supposed to protect them.
#EndSARS protest, according to the Bishops Conference, is a cry for justice for all victims “and a call for the prosecution of all those responsible for these crimes against humanity and their superiors under whose leadership such heinous atrocities were committed against innocent Nigerians”.
Stretching the argument further, the clerics are saying the protest is a microcosm of the fundamental problems in Nigeria, pointing out how the audacity and impunity of SARS operatives can only be a manifestation of the failing state in Nigeria. Describing as knee jerk, the reaction of the Federal Government in disbanding SARS but immediately setting up Special Weapons and Tactics, (SWAT), the Bishops argue the move is a manifestation of either a lack of understanding of the depth of the problems or lack of sincerity in its resolution, asserting that what is at stake is “a system that will be hard on crimes and criminals in the society within the ambience of the law while at the same time treating every human being, citizens and visitors alike, with respect and dignity”
The CBCN asks the Federal Government to fulfil its primary constitutional responsibility of securing life and property, saying the protest has acquired a life of its own because it is spreading across the country, a reality it interprets to arise from the situation whereby “there are hardly any Nigerian who has not, directly or indirectly, encountered the crude and inhumane manner of SARS officials deal with citizens of this country”.
The body goes further to list such encounters as extra-judicial killings, unlawful arrests, profiling of youths as criminals, invasion of their privacy by searching phones and laptops … and the incarceration of many of the youths in the SARS custody without trial, all of these transforming the protests into a demand for justice as a condition for peace.
But the Bishops’ statement is not reprimand but also a considerate conceptualization of #EndSARS as also a cry for better welfare package for policemen, drawing attention to the contradiction of putting arms in the hands of poorly paid police operatives, with horrible barracks while being ripped off by the top officers. The body mentioned briefly how centralized policing is what has been implicated, posing restructuring of the country as a desirable way forward.