#EndSARS protests: What is next?
4What we run is a policing system that protects against the people. They achieve this by recruiting officers that are mostly poorly trained, poorly remunerated, and are thus prone to sadistic use of power. There lies the problem.”
Abimbola Adelakun. The PUNCH on Thursday October 19, 2020
My opening quote captures some and not all the problems facing the Nigeria Police in the discharge of its constitutional responsibility. In my view, the greatest problem has been the continued resort to the strategy adopted in the country even at independence to police the country. The resultant effect is that policemen, no matter the professional instinct they put to bear in the performance of their duties, become disillusioned. And when they carry the additional baggage of operating in a very hostile and unappreciative environment, your guess as to their behaviour to the public they serve is as good as mine.
In the next few days, it will be the anniversary of that novel occurrence which shook Nigeria almost to its foundation particularly in the Southern States, leaving in its track tears, sorrows and blood, deaths and destructions; the extent to which the country may never be able to fathom.
The original intention of the protest popularly called “End SARS Protest” was to draw the attention of government and Nigerians to the untoward, unprofessional and unethical conducts of the operatives of the Federal Special Anti Robbery Squads otherwise known as SARS; which had become a source of embarrassment to the Nigeria Police, government and Nigerians. Unfortunately, a few days into the protest, and because it was poorly managed, it lost its focus and turned into an orgy of violence, losing its essence and the opportunity to prove to Nigerians and the government that truly ultimate power resides in the people. When the dust of the protest settled, many Nigerians were adversely affected and some are still licking their wounds even to this day. We may never, as a country, know the exact consequences of the days when the youths in their thousands poured into the streets in solidarity to vent their anger at the continued alleged harassment by the dreaded SARS.
There is no doubt that Nigeria since independence had witnessed protests with different intensities and outcomes. For example, Universities – students, academic and non-academic staff; Labour Unions, Political, Religious, Community-based groups etc., have had reasons to call out their members to draw the attention of the government to real or imagined causes of complaints. But no protest in this country has, in terms of its mobilization, determination of the protesters and its shut down effect on the nation and her economy, the rattling effect on government and the people as the “End SARS Protest”. Just as Nigerians were going to say that the protest was on course and would force the government to take some necessary actions, it was allegedly hijacked by hoodlums. The violence that followed brought out the worst in humanity, savagery and unconscionable conduct by all. Persons including policemen on duty were brutally and senselessly killed, properties of undeterminable values wantonly destroyed and some looted. Everywhere came to a standstill until the government woke up from deep slumber and some semblance of order was restored. The Federal Government thereafter directed the State governments to set up a Judicial Panel in all the States to look into the End SARS protests and make appropriate recommendations.
Before the protest, there had been loud calls by members of the public for the disbandment or reorganization of the SARS formations all over the country. As the calls became more intense, the Police were able to make a few changes that they felt were necessary to douse the tension that continued to rise. The then Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu announced a new outfit code-named SWAT but the change did not assuage the protesters who insisted that the alleged scourge persisted or increased. There is no doubt that some of the conducts of the personnel as regularly reported by members of the public are condemnable, obscene and unprofessional. As a retired senior Police officer, I always feel terribly embarrassed and sad each time I come across each malfeasance because I was part of the coming into being of the Special Anti Robbery Squad, Adeniji Adele Road, Lagos. I was then the Assistant Commissioner of Police (Administration) at the Force CID, Ikoyi, Lagos.
Sometimes in the mid-1980s when the rate of the occurrence of armed robbery and other violent crimes surfaced in the country ferociously, particularly in the defunct Bendel State (now Edo and Delta States), a special outfit, the Special Anti Robbery Squad was put together at the Force CID to tackle the menace in the country. Hitherto, there existed an Anti-Robbery Section in all the State CIDs countrywide. They dealt with all cases of armed robbery in the States. The sections were strictly under the direct supervision of the Assistant Commissioner of Police in charge of the CIDs and the Commissioner of Police in the States. In setting up the SARS at Force CID, bold, dependable and hardworking officers and men were drafted to form the nucleus of the Section. Within what was available to the Force at that time, and in a fire brigade manner, facilities were assembled to ensure the take-off of the outfit. I make bold to say that since then no substantial and visible technology-driven approach, appropriate capacity building and result-oriented upgrade has been put in place by the government to strengthen and lift the spirit of the operatives of this all-important outfit to enhance its efficiency and effectiveness to justify its existence. One would have expected customized vehicles, combat helicopters, drones, installation of cameras in SARS offices and other suitable equipment consistent with the 21st Century technological advancement and in tune with global best practices, to strengthen the outfit.
To be continued tomorrow.
Adetuyi is a lawyer and retired Commissioner of Police.