By Disu Kamor
The current situation in Nigeria demands some deep reflection and more importantly, decisive actions. Corruption and insecurity are both threatening the very existence of the nation, gnawing away at its foundation.
The new surge in these ugly incidents calls for the immediate and unrelenting attention of the government at the federal and state levels. Unfortunately, the Nigerian Police Force whose primary function is to safeguard lives and properties of Nigerians has over the years been enmeshed in corruption, unwholesome practices, naked brutality and most importantly, extra-judicial killings. Over the past five years, a division of the Nigerian Police Force called Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) which was founded to confront the grave challenges of increased cases of armed robbery and other related crimes have been accused of willful abuse of power, defining itself by its ability to wound and torment the underdog, targeting and profiling the youth (most of whom are released without charges after going through hellish treatments at the hands of SARS operatives and their colleagues), harassment, extortion, torture and extra-judicial killing.
The name SARS filled many young Nigerians with fright across the nation due to their crude methods of dealing with actionable and circumstantial intelligence or simply through impulsive actions. Earlier this year, the human rights group Amnesty International said it had documented at least 82 cases of torture, ill-treatment and extra-judicial execution between January 2017 and May 2020. The victims were mainly men aged between 18 and 35.
Over the years there have been many calls, and promises, to end SARS’ gross abuses and in fact a complete reformation of the Nigerian Police. Unfortunately, the calls have not yielded any results, and the promises have turned out to be false.
• December 2017: Outcry prompted Nigeria’s then-police chief, Ibrahim Idris, to order an immediate re-organisation of the anti-robbery unit in the aftermath of a viral video showing a young man allegedly killed by police.
• August 2018: Acting President Yemi Osinbajo ordered an overhaul of SARS, wanting a new unit whose officers would wear proper identification while on duty. He also asked the National Human Rights Commission of Nigeria to create a special panel to investigate previous wrongdoing by SARS.
• January 2019: The current Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, announced a comprehensive reform of SARS and temporarily decentralised the unit. Rights group Amnesty says the reforms did not go far enough for citizens to trust the police.
• February 2020: Police boss Mohammed Adamu gave instructions to disband SARS’ satellite offices (Source: BBC).
Early this month, the #EndSARS protests erupted when footage emerged of officers pulling two men out of a hotel in Lagos into the street and shooting one of them.
It is in the light of these that MPAC welcomes the announcements by the Inspector General of Police in relation to the demands of the protesters and commend the President for making commitments to ensure that far-reaching changes are implemented to completely overhaul the police and ensure all its taints are removed. Along with taking a stand against police brutality, corruption and extra-judicial killings by the police, MPAC calls for honest, broad and serious actions from the government, particularly the legislative and the executive arms of our government, to turn the Nigerian police force into a professional, well-motivated and modern police outfit that will for once operate at a standard at par with best practices and at the service of all Nigerians.
The charges against SARS are that it perverted its call of duty, flouted its rules of engagement without consequences and exploited a legitimate national security concern to become a dreaded unit of the police force mostly working for its own interests. But focusing only on SARS’ excesses or only on the deep rot within the Nigerian police force for that matter is all about fixing the mirror, not fixing the reflection Nigerians see in the mirror. As much as SARS has shown its grave negative impacts on the society, we should also not forget it was created for a purpose and that purpose is yet to be fully addressed and defeated. The systemic corruption, sense of impunity and legendary unethical practices in the Nigerian police force hamper meaningful progress on these fronts and, sadly, are symptomatic of the dysfunctional state of the wider society.
There is a subsisting culture that makes it easy for crimes to be committed in Nigeria with impunity and some people engage in crimes almost with a sense of entitlement. It is this culture and the tragic heritage of the past where safe havens have been created for known criminals and crime profiteers that are at the root of this and many other ills in our society. The responsibility to ensure that the public puts trust in the commitments made by the President to wholly change the Nigerian Police Force for good lies squarely on the shoulders of Mr President. The critical functions of the Police in any nation make it necessary for all of us, as stakeholders, to ensure that those Presidential commitments are followed through and that we all painstakingly and vigorously pursue those responsible to implement the changes to do their jobs in a timely manner.
Our prayer is that this ugly episode, will be a watershed event and a breakthrough to usher in a new era of responsible policing in Nigeria where the honesty, diligence, dedication and sacrifices (including loss of life on duty) of thousands of men and women in police uniform will not be rubbished by a wolf pack amongst them whose greed, selfishness, corruption and violent way of life have made the police force to become reputed to be a venal and brutal institution that works for everybody except Nigerians. Perhaps the creation of SWAT from the ashes of SARS might be the needed panacea to effective crime policing in Nigeria where the Police is truly your friend. We wait and see.
MPAC takes this time to remember and pray for the souls of those senselessly slaughtered, those who have suffered violence, oppression, fear and deprivation. We pray to Allah to guide our leaders aright, give them the courage and blessings to be God-conscious in managing the state affairs. We also pray for all those, communities and individuals, that are still struggling for peace, safety, security and justice.
MPAC calls on the government to continue to create “Safe Spaces” for those contributing intelligently to the public discourse on this important issue, and continue to engage with those genuinely interested in bringing about the change we all desire. These stakeholders must be viewed as a full partner in all areas of changes and improvements that will correct the mistakes of the past, and create a new future where all Nigerians will feel proud to be living in Nigeria where “peace and justice shall reign”.
Kamor is Executive Chairman Muslim Public Affairs Centre