The President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN), Archbishop Augustine Obiora Akubeze, recently declared that there can be no peace without justice and advised the government to so realize.
Akubeze who doubles as the Archbishop of BeninCity sent his greetings and solidarity to the angry youths on behalf of the CBCN during the widespread protest calling for a disbandment of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigeria Police.
The clerics noted that it was remarkable and quite commendable that the protest was being led by the youths of Nigeria who were tired of the brutality and injustice perpetrated by officers of SARS and the Nigeria Police.
The bishops advised the youth to eschew every form of violence, looting, and rioting which might jeopardize their message, and very instructively concluded that the audacity and impunity with which the SARS officials had been operating was a manifestation of the failing state of Nigeria.
He declared, “the youths were simply calling for justice not just for themselves, but for the entire nation so that Nigeria can have peace.”
Emile Durkheim established that religion provides social cohesion and social control to maintain society in social solidarity through shared rituals, beliefs as well as religious-based morals and norms.
The health of the congregation is crucial to God-worship. We therefore commend the Catholic clerics and other religious leaders in Nigeria for holding justice as virtue and rejecting poor governance in the country.
It is a development worthy of emulating by all religions of the world. The emphasis of the bishops’ speech is justice.
The knee-jerk reaction of the government abolishing SARS and setting up the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) portrays either a trivialist understanding of the entire problem or a lack of sincerity to address it.
This may be why the protest has escalated into violence. Government must therefore know that to achieve justice in Nigeria, policing must be decentralized to ensure grassroots monitoring and accountably of officers.
Police reform is necessary just as all government institutions need reformation.
It is through this process that we can arrive at 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.
Justice should mean justice for all victims of SARS and police brutality.
It is welcome that judicial panels of inquiries were set up and have started sitting across the nation.
They should be allowed to independently work, recommend, and dispense justice. Justice is also a call for a review of the welfare of the policemen who have been deprived of comfort by the unjust Nigerian system.
Social welfare is not negotiable for the police and every Nigerian. There is no sense in arming poorly paid policemen and women who take charge of our national security.
Treated in just ways, the police would reciprocate by respecting the rights of others. Based on this, we advocate that from barracks to salaries, welfare of the police, other security agents and entire Nigerians must be priority to the Nigerian State.
As the Catholic bishops declared, “in the cries of the youths, we see the call for reform that will take care of the proper training, equipping, and promotion system devoid of nepotism but based on merit and meaningful welfare package for the men and women in the front line of our security”.
For justice, officers who allegedly embezzle the funds meant for police welfare should be identified, tried, and punished.
As the Catholic bishops implied, justice means a Nigeria where knowledge and skills will meet gainful employment, where no ethnic nationality, group or adherents of religion are treated as second class but accorded equal opportunities to realize their potential.
Nobody should be profiled as criminals by those who are supposed to protect them. Justice means a Nigeria we can all be proud of and live in instead of seeking greener pastures in other parts of the world. Indeed, it is not only SARS that must end in Nigeria.
The system that enabled SARS to grow into a monster must end. Beyond tokenism, the Nigerian government should listen to the bishops and allow justice to prevail in the land.
The best way to do this is to institute reforms that will guarantee justice and lasting peace. We encourage the angry youths to be focused.
The protests have been hijacked by some hoodlums giving some military scoundrels an excuse to mow down innocent and harmless protesters in Lekki. It is high time they went back to the drawing board to map out new strategies that will help them realize their lofty objectives.
Justice should be the watchword of all stakeholders. As Wole Soyinka aptly summarized it, ‘justice is the first condition of humanity!