Wednesday Column By USSIJU MEDANER
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I am always worried about the inefficiency of systems in this country. For decades, it has become a norm for institutions in Nigeria to malfunction. We are talking about SARS malfunctioning today, but look around, what has been the situation with almost every other institution in the country. Not long, we had a number of issues, including the energy sector and the operation of DISCOs in the country. So, what is happening to SARS is the expression of the rot in our administration of systems and institutions in this country; individuals and special interests bastardising institutions within the country for personal gains. We are today, on the street calling for the end of SARS, just the way we ought to have been angry with many other recklessness in the system over the past decades. But the outcry against a system should not be geared toward terminating the system, rather, we should be more preoccupied with forcing the hands of the managers of the systems to reorganise for effectiveness and control that we desire to see in the operation of such systems and institutions just like SARS.
The last few days witnessed the demand for the scrapping of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). This is not new, the call for the scrapping of the unit has been a reoccurring event over the past decades. The undeniable fact of the operation of the unit is the story of its excesses and abuse of the power given to it. Should Nigerians be mad at the unit and the needless innocents’ lives they have abruptly ended without recourse to the path of justice and formality? Yes. It is equally a fact that the silence of the populace would have only given wings to the uncouth element of the SARS operatives who have become blinded with the power of their position to the point of becoming a menace to the same society they are meant to protect.
The failure of the Police hierarchy to have acted on the many petitions against the unit over the decade is a more pertinent issue that we must also be worried about as Nigerians. The bad elements among the SARS operatives have been emboldened to become more reckless because they have more or less concluded that the silence of those they are responsible to and who can call them to order is an unspoken approval of their daredevilry. As such, the blame for the misbehavior of the SARS operatives must be rightly laid at the table of the police leadership in the country.
I wonder what else we expect of a unit carved out of a rotten system of decade long unabated corrupt police force. The Nigeria police force, as we all know has become more of a menace to the society than a protection. The good elements within the force have become overwhelmed by the non-civility and increasing corruption of the majority of the men of the force who care less about any other thing outside the money they are able to extort from citizens under every possible opportunity. You cannot make a complaint at any police station in Nigeria and be responded to without bearing some unbargained costs, and in most cases, the victim gets more punishment for not having as much money as their oppressors because the men in uniform answer only to money. We have for ages closed our eyes to the atrocities of the police on the roads and highways; the extortions and unprofessional disposition of the officers who are not interested in checking vehicle document or confirming the safety or otherwise of vehicles or the criminal statutes of the occupants, as much as they are interested in the money that would exchange hands.
The unnecessary killings were becoming too much and I sincerely enjoin all Nigerians to condemn the excesses of the unit unreservedly. Across regions and state, the recorded and unrecorded atrocities of the unit are enough reason to take a position on the continuous operation of the unit; but the questions that many Nigerians, at the moment of anger against the unit, refused to ask, or rather do not considered pertinent to the security of the country, are; what becomes of the official responsibility and assignment of SARS after its dissolution? What other security structure will carry on the assignments that SARS has performed in its glorious days in the past?
What do we need to know about SARS to inform our full judgement of what should become of the unit? The Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) was a Nigerian Police Force unit under the Force criminal Investigation and Intelligence department headed by the deputy Inspector General of Police. The unit was formed in 1992 in a desperate need by the police force to checkmate the increasing crime rates due to massive withdrawal of officers from active duties.
The unit’s official duty includes to detain, investigate and prosecute suspects involved in crimes like armed robbery, kidnapping, internet frauds, cultism in universities and other forms of related crimes. These duties were satisfactorily at the outset. It is equally a fact that with time, the Nigeria factor got into the operation of the unit, and we began to see a police force unit, using its position to intimidate the society on every possible conspiracy theory, such as equating wearing of deadlocks, piercing of ears, expensive phones and risqué means of expression to being a criminal suspect and in the process intimidate, arrest, torture, and even kill a number of innocent youths and citizens of Nigeria. Gory tales of such are all over the internet.
At a point when the unit began digressing to take advantage of a society bedeviled by corruption and the drive to make money by all means regardless of whose ox is gored, it became the responsibility of the police hierarchy to call the unit to order and effected structures and control that will keep it in its path of fighting crimes in the country. As at today, as it was in the last few decades, incidents of crimes and extreme criminalities against the citizens in a lot of ways have been on the rise and our streets have become increasingly unsafe which calls for the need of a special unit to rein in such criminality. However, despite the public outcry and anger against SARS, I presume we should have been more interested in forcing the much needed reforms of the unit and the injection of qualified personnel that are well trained, particularly on civil and humanitarian matters into the unit.
Throwing out the child with the bathwater shouldn’t be the way to go. We must clearly recognise that within the same SARS, there are good officers as much as the bad elements that perpetrate the evils we frown against. Should we scrap an effective special squad because of abuses by some of its men and officers? No. I will rather in my opinion suggest a grand reform of the unit. Today, as a matter of fact, thousands of armed robbers, kidnappers and internet fraudsters, who are the final beneficiaries of a disbanded SARS are marching the street with Nigerians with a louder voice for the scrapping of the unit; are we not pushing ourselves to more dangers if there is no replacement, especially increase crime of the order beyond the reach of the conventional police response.
In the police force and among the SARS operatives are a good number of fine officers and men of the force who constantly put their lives on the line for the security of our streets and the nation at large. Mr. Kyari is a police officer, just like many others like him who have been diligently doing good works for their country. We must be very careful, while we seek for changes in the evil we see in the unit, that we do not demoralise the officers of the entire police force.
We need to ask ourselves, if all we need today is the scrapping of SARS, what happens next? What becomes of the disbanded officers; the very ones we are complaining about? The fact is that they get drafted and posted to other functions within the police force and remain police officers who still interact with the society. If a new special unit is to be formed to take over the role of SARS, from where will the men of the unit be drafted from? From the same police force. If our systems and handling of institutions remain epileptic, how can we be assured that a newly formed special unit will be better in any way than SARS?
Now that SARS is no more, what becomes of the armed robbers terrorising our streets, the kidnappers and the yahoo boys at the corners of every street? Till a new unit is set up and unveiled, we should admit it is free days for crimes and criminals in Nigeria.
While everything I write remains my opinion, it only makes rational sense that rather than uniting to call for the outright scrapping of the unit, we should expend the very unity to demand and secure the reforms that are desirable for the proper functioning of the unit and every other similar ones in the country. Cases of police brutality and excesses are not limited to Nigeria, what other successful nations do to end or minimise such is what makes the difference.
In the United State of America, the recurring incidents of police excesses and extrajudicial killings of people of colour, especially the black became unacceptable and precipitated the Black Lives Matter movement, but the demand was never to disband the police force but to reform the force through deliberate measures. There is as much police brutality in America as we experience in Nigeria, yet Americans, even at the heart of their disdain for police misbehaviour, are well aware of the continuous need for police services. Suggesting the disbandment of a principal law enforcement agency or any functional unit of the force, regardless of whatever reasons does not make rational sense and cannot be in the final analysis in the interest of the nation’s security.
Unfortunately, as has always been the case with our system in Nigeria, we usurp every opportunity to a political cum personal advantage. The unspoken truth would remain that how many of the musicians who joined and led the ”ENDSARS” protest today actually care about the welfare of Nigeria and Nigerians; are they not more interested in protecting their major customers, the yahoo boys and criminals who make easy money they can spray without concern. How many of them consider it necessary to join protests against electricity tariff increase or the PMS pump price that were on the burner recently.
If Nigerians have become organised to demand for radical and beneficial reforms, that would be a big plus for the country; but if politicians, who cannot win legitimate contest choose to go underground to destabilise the government and gain undue footings in preparation for an election upset, then, we are the worse for it, as the outcome will only be chaos as the protest is already becoming with unnecessary attacks on Police formations, government properties and needless casualties on all sides. A protest that spells all elements of mob action is not what we should support and project; that would not speak well of us as a serious and committed nation.
Right now, it is becoming clearer that there is more to the ongoing protest than the rest of Nigerians are aware of. The demand was the disbandment of the SARS unit and its operation and the government has behaved unlike anyone before it to listen to the people and grant Nigerians their wish by announcing the dissolution of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad with immediate effect. It is expected that the protest would end and the government would be praised for being people-centric, but the reverse is the case as the protest takes on a new intensity.
The protest is now becoming a mob action, attacking police structures across the country and trying to provoke the police force to a reprisal attack on the protesters. Just like in many states across the country, in Lagos, the Surulere police division was attacked and three officers were shot and wounded. We are now seeing a direct call for war and to sacrifice lives and properties on a cause the government had already handled maturely by obliging to the demand. The organisers of the protest seem to want something drastic and they never expected the government to yield to their demand swiftly. Their plan is to create national chaos and perhaps seize the opportunity to stage a coup against the government on the back of the excuse of mass national unrest.
It has been days since SARS was dissolved yet the protestors are still in the streets. I learned their demand, this time, is justice for the victims of SARS which is understandable and reasonable. However, what appears to be unreasonable – and even suspicious – is that despite having educated persons, including lawyers and celebrities who are rich enough to fund noble causes, none deems it necessary to explore better ways to pursue this new demand. I mean, are they not supposed to articulate their position including listing alleged victims requiring justice and recompense duly submitted to the authorities for necessary actions. Where are the leaders of the protestor, as it appears some individuals are seizing the opportunity to claim limelight without substantial contributions like the preceding point I raised. How would the police know exactly what else they are demanding if they do not put them across. While democracy affords us to express ourselves, including protest, it is equally important that we apply discretion and be responsible at it. And in this case, doing the needful by engaging the authority, especially as they already scored a good point, by formalising their demands would save lives and properties. Otherwise, it may only mean either the protest movement has been hijacked by those hell bent to destabilise the nation or that they are behind the protest in the first place.
The federal government must recognise this shift and be wiser as well as prepare ahead to respond appropriately to the probable development of an attempt at disorganising the country by elements who want to thrive at the back of the unrest. The government must see the need to intensify its intelligence gathering and tightened security; a protest that is gathering donations is already metamorphosing to the original intention of the organisers. They should not be allowed to have their way. The Governor of Rivers State decision to ban all public protest is good, but the governor must equally be careful to not hand over to the organisers what they actually wanted; a direct confrontation with the police.
In the final analysis, what we should want of the government and the police hierarchy at the moment and going into the future should be a readiness to make every officers of the force accountable for their action to the full force of the law of the land and to create the sense of control and caution on the officers use of un-allowed methods in the discharge of their duties. What we should want from the government is the proactive readiness to change the module of administration of the entire police force, with the enshrined policy of producing well-trained officers that are subjected to regular scrutiny and checks that confirm their state of mind and mental fitness to relate with civilian communities. Rather than asking for the total scrapping of the unit, even though it has been done, we should want to see a list of punitive actions against elements in the unit that are responsible for the many atrocities already committed by the unit.
The need for control of crimes in a society already ridden by criminals surpasses the consideration for what we are demanding for now. Nigeria currently is overwhelmed by kidnaping, internet fraudsters and armed robbers. The system and approach of the unit might have been off limits and elements in the unit might have become uncontrollable and self-serving, yet the results, outside the misdemeanor of the few elements are a testament of reduced crime and enshrined fear in the camp of the criminals. We cannot take that away from ourselves either in the heat of anger or calculated affront and politically motivated protest.
The Nigerian Police Force needs to be holistically and pragmatically reformed to bring in the ideals of civility and professionalism in the daily discharge of its official duty to the nation and its citizens. We must get to the point, where the men of the force regardless of what unit they belong to will be happy serving their nation and Nigerians will not only feel but also have absolute confidence in the entire Nigeria Police Force.
This is what we should clamour for instead of the erroneous desire to see the end of the SARS operation in a society that needs the continuous services of the unit. Let us stop heating up the country and seek better, non-destabilising means of resolving burning matters that affect our collective interests.
Finally, power is transient. Politicians shouldn’t be as desperate as willing to burn down their own country to take over power. That is what periodic elections serve us with. In the interest of Nigerians and Nigeria, let sheathe all sword and not burn down Nigeria.
GOD BLESS THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA!