No doubt, the viciousness of officers and men of the Nigeria Police has attained notoriety over the years. Sordid details of brutal ordeals of defenceless citizens in the hands of police operatives are most times incredible. Being a crime busting organisation, the act of policing is neither a playground for the weak mind nor an altar for the innocent; every so often, it is a hard-hitting job that requires a little bit of soiling of hands. In performing their jobs, the ultimate objective of every police force of a nation is to secure the lives and property of citizens.
Like in many countries, our police personnel are often accused of collaborating with criminals for favours. To the average Nigerian police, there are no laws that can’t be altered to meet some set ends. Writing a statement at the police station most times requires the complainant to part with money for sheets of papers and pen. Bailing an accused at the station, though said to be free, is never free.
The wife of a policeman in 2012 narrated to me how her husband, a police officer, had thrown the family into a quandary of financial hardship. Her story foreclosed my hope for reforming the police noted for crippling corruption. According to her, life took a worse turn when her hubby resolved to forsake the old ways of the devil and refused taking bribes. Soon, his new doggedness manifested quickly as the four kids were transferred from a highbrow school to a backyard mushroom school.
“For now, our hope is becoming forlorn as I am resolved to call for the intervention of his elder to ensure his return to the old ways. After all, that is how others have been surviving,” she said amidst teary eyes.
When Nigerian youths and other human rights activists recently poured into the street to protest the horrors unleashed by the now scrapped Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), the memory of the dreaded police operatives flooded through our national consciousness as victims and their relations reminisced on the anguishes associated with the excesses of these SARS men.
Brutal stories detailing hair-rising terror unleashed by SARS agents on mostly young men in possession of unfathomable wealth had quickly turned SARS into one of the most hateful units in the police. In line with demands by the #EndSars demonstrators in several state capitals, the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Mohammed Adamu, recently scrapped the unit and immediately replaced it with the Special Weapon and Tactics (SWAT). The replacement of SARS with the new group has rekindled the flame of remonstrations as the protesters now insist that the actual meaning of the acronym for the newly formed police unit is: SARS With Another Title (SWAT).
The creation of the SARS unit dates back beyond the inauguration of this unbroken democracy in May 1999. In a digital economy characterised with electronic transfer of funds, the movement of physical cash is almost eliminated, and thus the incidence of armed robbery greatly reduced to the minimum, if not eliminated. Without being told, SARS operatives should have been trained to redirect their dreaded terror on blood-thirsty insurgents and other criminal elements wreaking havoc on Nigerian communities.
Just like in many public organisations taking the plunge down the valley of shrinking performance, the sacked SARS unit was no different. We all have the version of SARS units in many floundering public organisations taking advantage of weak structures to perpetrate and perpetuate insider abuses.
Take for instance, our politicians now see leadership as a fortune-hunting expedition and not to be deployed for national growth. Our educational sector is still being ruined by half-baked academics and students who are too willing to game the system by avoiding to walk the staircase of hard work for academic development. The Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) is still corrupt and continues to be a cesspit of sleaze despite various reforms at tackling fraud.
Not even the change of name from the Nigeria Prison Service (NPS) to Nigeria Correctional Service (NCS) has changed the sordid stories of prison inmates. Many government organisations are still battlegrounds between forces of integrity and dishonesty. While we may have heaved a sigh of monetary relief for the scrapping of the SARS unit, we should also not lose sight of the patriotic efforts of men and women of the disbanded police unit who refused to be overwhelmed by the bad eggs amongst them.
Must we for fear of some unbridled corrupt few in government agencies resort to outright choice of scrapping? Much as we continue to decry the brutality inflicted on citizens by some SARS operatives, it does not in any way justify the need for the setting up of a similar unit to rein in activities of armed robbers, kidnappers and bandits running riots in our besieged communities. As a nation that seems content in running a rental economy, the government’s incapacity to pursue industrialisation threatens the survival prospects of about a million graduates who yearly join others before them to roam the streets in search of non-existent jobs.
It should have been easier reviewing the operations of SARS operations and deploying their agents against enemies of the Nigerian state. Identifying the excesses of SARS agents and working towards checkmating insider abuses could serve our long term interests than returning to the starting blocks.
If we’ve not been justifiably persuaded to scrap public agencies over their failings to deliver on their mandates, disbanding SARS and replacing them with new operatives dressed in cassocks in new names won’t resolve our nightmare of citizens. I am on the same page with those calling for an investigative body to unearth the chilling atrocities of SARS agents. Justice can only be fully served on this matter when victims and their families are adequately compensated. It is obvious even to the most undiscerning mind that the #EndSars protests have thrown up unnerving scenarios as the loathing of police brutality by our youths reveals a diminishing hope for the future.
Throwing the baby with the bathwater as demonstrated in the scrapping of the SARS unit by the police top command may not end the recurring brutality. Our leaders must find keys to unlocking our nation’s full potentials by empowering our youths who are now sitting on the edge of despondency. Only through this can we avert looming dangers staring us in the face.
The police force should deploy operatives of the scrapped SARS to violent-prone zones in order to confront dare devil insurgents, kidnappers, bandits and other criminals that have turned our communities into killing fields. It is presently dangerous to relieve them of their jobs when we are being confronted with murderous insurgents and criminal gangs threatening the corporate unity of Nigeria.
I recalled the fruitless attempts by former President Olusegun Obasanjo to replace the entire police workforce over a period of time with new officers and men. However, this laudable vision never saw the light of day as it was truncated by those benefiting from the sickening rot of the force.
We must insist as a nation that no policeman should be allowed to unleash any form of minimal torture on any accused for no justifiable cause. At the crux of reforming the police, the minimum educational requirement needed for entry into the crime-busting outfit should be the National Diploma (ND) or National Certificate of Education (NCE) or its equivalent. When we recruit law officers from swarming groups of thugs and street urchins who possess dubious academic records, we should expect nothing less than anarchy and chaos for our nation.