Should the IGP #EndSARS?
The police is your friend. Bail is free. The SARS stories are fabricated. All perspectives of the Nigerian police that are completely unfamiliar to the people they supposedly serve and protect.
This is why it was hardly a surprise that many Nigerians agreed with the assessment of the 2016 World Internal Security and Police Index Report, which ranked the Nigerian police the worst of the 127 national forces on its index. The Nigerian police rejected the report, declaring itself, at least, the best in Africa.
Last week, something quite powerful happened, as Nigerians online recounted the horrors that they had experienced at the hands of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, with the hashtag #EndSARS. Through all the accounts ran the similar thread of extortion, harassment and brazen unprofessional conduct by a special task force whose primary purpose is to combat armed robbery.
According to the accounts, SARS teams regularly mount roadblocks, armed, in plainclothes and without any form of identification. They shred ID cards, threaten to kill if they are not ‘settled’, bragging that there will be no consequences for the murder. They routinely seize mobile phones and laptops, and force any owners traveling cash-light to withdraw as much as cash machines will permit. If I did not know better, I would say it looks very much as if the Special Anti-Robbery itself sometimes commits armed robbery.
At first, someone in the police hierarchy thought the smart thing to do was to completely deny the validity of the complaints and allege that those behind the online campaign were perhaps armed robbers themselves. However, the Inspector General of Police very quickly after that announced a programme to reform SARS and run courses educating the entire police force about civilians’ rights.
For many of those behind the campaign however, nothing short of disbanding SARS was an adequate response to the outcry, leading to the debate of whether or not reforming the police is an achievable objective.
It is an issue that my friends and I have considered, very loudly no doubt, at our local watering hole – where does the process of reforming the Nigerian Police Start? I have had a policeman examine my licence upside down at a checkpoint before.
Many of my colleagues know several ‘elite’ police units that will not begin routine investigations until a ‘mobilisation fee’ is paid and a ‘reward fee’ agreed. It is common for policemen to arrest people for no other reason than the complainant naming them as suspects – no investigation whatsoever.
In fact, earlier this year, one of my partners was arrested at the behest of a female banking executive simply because he had driven past her on her way home on two separate occasions – both she and the police offhandedly dismissed his response that he lived a few doors down and refused to investigate it. No real charge was preferred against him yet he spent the whole day at the station and still had to be bailed! Would you like to guess if his bail was free?
The failure of the police and any of their elite or regular units is analogous to the failure of many parts of our society. There is still a huge hangover from the days of militarisation and any Nigerian you put in any sort of paramilitary uniform immediately develops a chip on his or her shoulder.
Public education is dying a slow, tortuous death and with them the general notion of civic education and the broader, more fundamental concept of human and constitutional rights.
On-the-beat officers frequently complain about their superiors redirecting operational budgets, right to the top of the force hierarchy, and how those illegal checkpoints are the only way they will get the funds to fuel or fix their patrol cars.
If the rank and file are to undergo re-education and reorientation on rights and service, the upper echelons must feel the consequences, and swiftly too, whenever they misappropriate funds.
In the meantime, there remains the clear and present danger that armed robbers and kidnappers present and the deterrent, however little, that the infamous brutality of SARS brigades constitute to them. Those menaces are vicious and they require a fierce and commensurate response whenever they strike.
SARS or whatever name it will be rechristened, as a special weapons and tactics team, is a necessity. However, they cannot be responsible for more grief and heartache than the hazards they were inaugurated to end.