The Police and #EndSARS investigation panels
By ordering the withdrawal of a suit challenging the propriety of the judicial panels investigating alleged police brutality and the aftermath of the #EndSARS protest, authorities of the Nigeria Police embraced wisdom and probably averted another round of tension in the country. Instituting the suit was patently wrong in the first place, considering that the initiative of the panels was that of the Federal Government in collaboration with the states, as part of government’s response to the #EndSARS agitations. Besides, the situation in the country, after the riotous end of the protest, was such that only a dissemination of truth, hidden and open, could assuage the frayed nerves of all Nigerians. In any event, the panels were set up not just to collate the information from all stakeholders, but to make lasting recommendations to government in order to finally lay to rest all bruised feelings; and of course, to prevent a recurrence of such agitations nationwide.
The Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) may have been disbanded following the demands by Nigerians during the #EndSARS protest. However, victims appearing before the various state panels of enquiry continue to recount their ordeals with the squad and other police units. Nigerians are in shock over stories of brutality, unlawful detentions, extrajudicial killings, extortion and outright robberies carried out on average citizens, by the very agency set up to ensure their safety and protection and from whose taxes officers of the Police force are paid. The situation begs the question, who will guard the guards?
The suit instituted at a Federal High Court in Abuja, by the Police, sought an order restraining the various panels of enquiry from investigating police activities, and, as it were, cases of alleged police brutality. Was that an attempt to forestall further revelations of the atrocities of officers and men of the Force, even though it was concealed under the grounds that state governments lacked the power to constitute the panels to investigate activities of the police force and its officials in the conduct of their statutory duties?
Although the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu was quick to distance the force management from the suit by ordering its withdrawal and a query of the head of the force legal, Nigerians saw his actions as a mere charade. Could the head of the police legal section institute such a landmark case without the approval and authority of the highest echelon of the police hierarchy? That is a big question which the police should, in answering, apologise to the public, as the venture was entirely miscalculated. If anything, the whole episode merely gives further credence to the notion that the country’s police units lack the discipline expected of a 21st century police force as well as proper supervision to ensure professionalism.
In the first place, there is no statute that empowers the officers and men of the police force to carry out the atrocities for which some of its officers are now being accused. If the officers and men of the force had lived up to their statutory responsibilities, perhaps Nigerians would have been spared the troubles of the nationwide protest that led to several deaths and the destruction of properties worth billions of naira. In so far as it does not compromise the safety and security of the state, persons or their property, Nigerians have the right to be informed of the activities of the Police, as it is with other public institutions, demand for and receive justice where same is deserved.
The daily policing activities in the country constantly reinforces advocacy for the operation of true federalism in Nigeria, to enable a decentralisation of the operations of key government institutions, such as the Police Force, and to engender efficiency in its administration. It has become abundantly clear that the idea of an Abuja authority overseeing the administration of the nation’s 36 state formations is not working, as policing communities requires close proximity to the area to facilitate quick, preemptive and preventive actions at all times.
While the police force undoubtedly requires adequate funding to undertake periodic trainings and psychological evaluations for its personnel, provide sufficient equipment to combat crimes, recruitment of personnel and improvement on their welfare, all of these however will only amount to temporary palliatives, until the issue of the force’s operational structure is addressed.
The current security situation in the country should be a cause for concern for all, as Nigerians are daily subjected to senseless killings, kidnappings, armed robberies and other security menaces across the nation; and it is obvious that the current security architecture, particularly of the police, actually constitutes a clog in efficient and effective service delivery.
The Police play a pivotal role in the socio-economic development of any nation, as their efficiency helps in securing investors confidence. No investor is keen on investing in a society that cannot guarantee the safety of its investments and the lives and properties of its employees. Government needs to do more than pay lip service to the subject of police reforms. President Muhammadu Buhari and members of the National Assembly should save Nigerians further embarrassment in the international community by facilitating the amendment of the 1999 Constitution to activate state policing. The time to act is now.