Public outrage over allegations of brutality, high handedness, extra judiciary killings and mindless extortions by officers of the Special Anti- Robbery Squad (SARS), unit of the Nigeria Police, have led to the recent massive protests by youths across the nation. The protest tagged #EndSARS have continued to gain traction across the country and all over the world with some notable personalities like the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Twitter, Jack Dorsey , American rapper Kanye West and some European footballers lending their support to the protests which have been raging for over a week.
SARS was created in 1992 to check the rising incidences of armed robbery then had since deviated from its mandate. Every day, the media are awash with gory tales of brutality and extrajudicial killings perpetrated by SARS in almost every part of the country. Unfortunately, youths have become the primary target of these trigger happy Police operatives who have taken extortion and extra judicial killings to unacceptable levels.
Already, the protesters have presented five demands to the federal government for immediate approval and implementation. The #EndSARS demands include “Immediate release of all arrested protesters, justice for all deceased victims of police brutality and appropriate compensation for their families, setting up of an independent body to oversee the investigation and prosecution of all reports of police misconduct (within 10 days), in line with the new police Act, psychological evaluation and retraining (to be confirmed by an independent body) of all disbanded SARS operatives before they can be redeployed and an increase in police salary so that they are adequately compensated for protecting lives and property of citizens.
The federal government, to demonstrate its willingness to control the situation, has promptly acceded to the demands of the protesters. The Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu has also announced the disbanding of SARS. He also announced, earlier in the week, the creation of SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics Team) to fill the gap that may have been created by the disbandment of SARS. However the protesters have rejected the formation of the new police unit which they described as a ruse, but the IGP has reassured that no member of the outlawed SARS will be integrated into the new unit.
In the opinion of this newspaper, while we agree with the demands of the protesters, we are also calling for a comprehensive reform of the Nigeria Police. In all reality, to say the Police need serious reforms is an understatement if the daily allegations of misdemeanour are taken into account.
Sadly still, according to World Internal Security and Police Index International, WISPI, in 2017 Nigeria was reported to have the worst police force in the world. Nigeria police performed worst on the index on all the four domains, with a score of 0.255 ranked 127 below Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Uganda and Pakistan. There are 219 police officers for every 100,000 Nigerians, well below both the Index median of 300, and the sub-Saharan Africa region average of 268.
There is no doubt that the working conditions of the Police are, poor but such is not peculiar to the force alone. The poor remuneration also applies to the civil service and even the private sector workers, which has been the reasons for constant agitation for salary increase that government has hardly addressed adequately. And so, it cannot be enough reason for the men and women of the force to vent their anger and frustration on innocent citizens.
We contend that the problem with the Nigeria police is a systemic one which requires a comprehensive reform. First, the recruitment method into the Police has to be seriously looked into The practice of recruiting cultists, political thugs which has reigned supreme over the past years should be discarded. Also, the practice of assigning police officers as escorts or orderly to VIPs should be discontinued. Since 1999, every Inspector General of Police had announced that policemen will be withdrawn from escort duties but it has always ended up as mere talk with no concrete actions taken. It is time to break away from this vicious circle.
Moreover, the country is facing its greatest challenges in terms of security and more policemen are needed to tackle the twin problems of banditry and kidnappings in the country. Indeed, funding of the police is a fundamental issue which needs to be seriously addressed too. The Police need to invest more in technology to tackle crimes as dictated by modern development, and such funds should be adequately provided by the government.
As we had canvassed in previous editorials, the time has come to decentralise the police and give room for the emergence of functional state police .While we admit that there could be teething problems at the beginning in setting up state police, we are convinced that it is the way to go.