#EndSARS protests: What is next? – part 2
To a large extent, the outfit under the supervision of CP Fulani Kwajafa, a retired and quintessential officer, who was the pioneer Head of the Section, led the outfit successfully. Notorious armed gangs like Anini, Osunbor and others of their ilk who had terrorized the States, were arrested, prosecuted and convicted.
The activities of the criminal elements in the States were relatively halted and Nigerians heaved a sigh of relieve. Buoyed by the success of the outfit, same was replicated in all the States of the Federation, giving birth to the Federal SARS in the States but without corresponding and adequate wherewithal to do their job professionally. Besides, the Federal SARS operatives in the States were not within the administrative and operational control of the State Commissioners of Police. This arrangement thus weakened the direct supervision of the operatives. In addition, no further efforts to strengthen and enhance the professional competence and attitude of the detectives were ever robustly contemplated or put in place. Truly, the squads were left on their own to fend for themselves. Whatever upgrade each Commander designed for increased efficiency and effectiveness was financed by his initiative. Gradually, in the use of this initiative and discretion, it became difficult to draw a line between what was acceptable and professional, and what was not.
I honestly believe that the above scenario led to the erosion of the level of professionalism, conduct and output of the operatives. And all these put together, landed the SARS operatives to the inglorious position they found themselves.
Over time expectedly and unfortunately, the output of these gallant men took a downward turn and, that brought in their wake several failures and of course, unprofessional conducts as are daily reported against them in the electronic and print media. These led to calls for the outfit to either be scrapped or reorganized. The End SARS protest in October, 2020 was the climax and it exposed the ability of government to effectively curtail and deal with all these negative tendencies and the activities of SARS operatives and the protest in its magnitude.
Desirable as the call to end the reign of terror of the SARS operatives may be over their alleged unprofessional conducts, I believe that to package all SARS operatives as one and consign them to the cleaners is unfortunate. Let us not forget the activities of the outfit at its inception. And let us remember that to deal with armed robbers require a lot of guts. Certainly it is not a business for the chicken-hearted or the lily livered. And it is not a tea party either. Any application of inappropriate discretion, gut or operational dexterity can lead to instant death, disaster or failure. That is why government’s action in creating adequate capacity for the operatives of SARS or SWAT (as the replacement is called), must be holistic, down to earth, and sustained. I do not think that the manner of re-organisation or the scrapping of the outfit as is being envisaged, is what is required. Come to think of it, since the introduction of SARS in 1989, apart from occasional supply of Hilux vans which have no combat utility, no other equipment of repute has been designed or introduced to the SARS capable of putting them in a position to effectively curtail armed robbery and other violent crimes in the country.
For us as a country to properly understand the intricacies woven around violent crimes, intervention by the Police and the level of successes or the lack of it, it is important that we look at the Nigerian environment where SARS outfit and indeed the Police operate. To be frank and sincere it is negative and hostile. It is ironical that all over the world the Police and the people they serve and protect are not the best of friends. This is natural as the role the Police play in the society is unique and sets them apart and against the people. But the Nigerian experience can be likened to what a friend described as “nursing a baby and carrying pregnancy at the same time”. Although the aspiration of Nigerians to have an efficient and effective policing is legitimate, no society can get a level of policing that is above what her government has planned for, is prepared to finance and support. And because security provision is a shared responsibility, the place of citizens in the arduous task of sustaining efficiency and effectiveness of policing in any society cannot be overlooked.
In Nigeria today and quite unfortunately, there is free movements of arms of various calibre all over the country. The seeming ease of these movements is worrisome. Despite the approved road blocks, checks and searches conducted by the Police and other security agencies, the proliferation of arms still pervade the entire country. The reason in my humble view stems from the fact that the present offensive against crime derives purely from strategies of stop and search that were designed for curtailing similar crimes over fifty years ago. How do you for instance, in trying to check the content of bag or loads in a vehicle resort to physical checking of items concerned in a digital age? What can the operatives see? I dare say, absolutely nothing! And that is why I believe that nothing will be achieved if our concern is only about either scrapping or reorganizing the SARS or the Police without clamouring for an upgrade in the facilities and equipment at the disposal of the operatives. For example, in the use of appropriate equipment, vehicles with criminal content can be easily identified, isolated and stopped for discrete search while allowing other vehicles to pass. This should be supplemented by exposing the operatives to regular training programmes in and outside the country. Certainly the resultant effect on crime prevention and detection will be awesome.
To be continued tomorrow
Adetuyi is a lawyer and retired Commissioner of Police.