The recent nationwide mass protests by angry Nigerian youths against police brutality and other extrajudicial misdemeanors by operatives of the force, which culminated in the proscription of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), was a watershed in relations between the country’s principal law enforcement body and the people it is meant to serve.
What started off as a call for the disbanding of SARS quickly metamorphosed into a shrill call for the complete reformation of the country’s entire system of policing; a call that became more stringent by the day.
It is instructive to note that despite acquiescing to most of the demands of the protesters, such as the disbanding of SARS, release of all detained #EndSARS protesters across the country, dismissal of some police officers, and assurances to look into other issues raised, public distrust of government continued unabated, prolonging the protests, which was unfortunately hijacked by misdirected elements, resulting in a violent orgy the swept through some the country’s major cities, leaving behind tales of sweat, blood and tears.
Until its proscription, SARS was a crime fighting unit of the Nigerian Police Force (NPF), which was set up with the mandate of preventing armed robbery and other related acts of criminality in the country. But somewhere along the line, SARS went rogue as some of its operatives began to act contrary to the letters and spirit of its operational mandate, attacking, maiming, harassing and, in some extreme cases, killing those they were meant to protect, especially some unfortunate youths who were mostly labeled fraudsters or armed robbers.
Thus, a unit of the Nigerian Police Force that was supposedly established to cater to the security wellbeing of the general populace unobtrusively transformed into a hideous Medusa that usually left its unfortunate victims (and in some cases their families) scarred for life from their encounters with this killing machine.
From several cases of Nigerian youths who were arrested on mere suspicion of being armed robbers or fraudsters, most of who were detained and forced to pay mouthwatering sums before being released; those detained indefinitely without being prosecuted, some of who are still languishing in jail; those killed within and outside the lines of duty; those maimed for life, alongside other extra judicial actions of the rogue unit, SARS operatives acted like Olympian gods – supreme, uncensored and seemingly above man-made laws, least of all the laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
An expansive overhaul of the country’s general system of policing is, thus, the best way going forward. The ongoing efforts by the authorities to carry out some form of palliative revamp of the police force, which began with the proscription of SARS by the IGP and its replacement with another unit, known as the Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT) team, alongside the setting up of judicial panels of enquiry by state governments to entertain petitions from aggrieved members of the public, are laudable steps that must be pursued with the vigor and sense of purpose they require.
The allegations – impunity, high-handedness, corruption, extra-judicial killings et.al – leveled against SARS operatives run deep in the psyche of most members of the entire police force, from the highest echelon to the base of the hierarchy; visceral cancers that must be expeditiously hewn out. All the units of the police are as guilty as SARS, which was only used as a scapegoat for the sins of many.
Nigerians ultimately want to see a born-again police force that is people-friendly and service oriented; not one that saps them of their humanity. Nigerians want a police force that is humane, responsible and responsive to their needs; not one that is beastly in its dispositions. Nigerians want to see a police force that is for all, not one that is meant to serve only the high and mighty. That is the kind of police force Nigerians want to see after the sacrifices in human lives and resources that accompanied the #EndSARS agitations.
The proposed reformation of the police force must not end up as another white elephant project. All aspects of policing from recruitment, training, welfare, promotion et.al, must be completely overhauled. Deliberations on the best way forward must culminate in concrete actions that will obviate the rank rot in the police force. It should not be another talk shop.
President Muhammadu Buhari owes it to Nigerians to ensure that the much vaunted police reforms are thorough. If not for any other thing, the president must work towards ensuring that history remembers him as the Nigerian leader under whose watch the country’s police force was transformed into a more efficient, service-oriented crime fighting body. He must develop the political will to make this happen.
God save Nigeria!