I will kill you here and nothing will happen.”That common refrain in the gamut of the disturbingfootages that Nigerians shared on Twitter last week,to protest what has become a perennial human rights crisis in the country, simply put credence to the long-held viewthat there was violence in the fabric of theNigeria police.
Without mincing words, the Nigeria policeis brimmed with the worst of the country’s citizens. Unlike what obtains in the civilized world, where patriots scramble to serve their fatherland in uniforms, in Nigeria, joining police is primarily a consolation for unsuccessful job seekers and a font where former criminals and political thugs bathe in the river of legitimacy.This explains the unflattering lens through which the majority of Nigerians view the security institution as well as the reasons behind itsaggressive and violent tendencies.
Unarguably, nounit has exemplified this culture of violence, intimidation and human rights abusesin the Nigeria police morethan theSpecial Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). Little wonder there is wide acclaim in and outside Nigeria to the news of the disbandment of the infamousunit of the Nigeria police.
SARS was established in 1992 to nip armed robbery, kidnapping and other related crimes in their buds. Unfortunately, its operatives went about this mandate in adiametrically opposite way, in the process,routinely perpetrating acts of extrajudicial killing, torture and cruel, inhuman acts against citizens in their custody.
But, can the disbandment of SARS end police brutality? Will the defunct SARS operatives, now redeployed to other units of the police,change overnight? The SARS menace must be seenas a just a part of the rot in the Nigeria police.The security agency simply needs overhauling.
Meanwhile, the inspector general of police, Mohammed Adamu,in the press release thatdissolved the rogue unit observed:
“As part of measures to prevent a reoccurrence of events that gave rise to the dissolution of SARS, a Citizens’ and Strategic Stakeholders’ Forum is being formed to regularly interface with Police leadership at all levels and advise on police activities as they affect.”
In concurrence, President Buhari, speaking at the launch of the Presidential Youth Empowerment Scheme (P-YES) for creating 774,000 jobs across the local government areas (LGAs) in the country,reiterated that “the disbanding of SARS is only the first step in our commitment to extensive police reforms in order to ensure that the primary duty of the police and other law enforcement agencies remains the protection of lives and livelihood of our people.”
Surprisingly, even with protesters still in the streets, demanding justice for victims and punishment for thenotorious SARS operatives,Adamu announced theestablishment SWAT – Special Weapon and Tactics – to replace SARS all over the federation.
According to the statement on this, operations of the new tactical team would be strictly intelligence-driven andnot be run by thedefunct SARS operatives. It went on to say that theteam would not embark on routine patrolsor indiscriminate and unlawful search of phones, laptops, and other smart devices.More importantly, its personnelmust be those known to be free of any pending disciplinary matters, especially those bordering on misuse of firearms and abuse of human rights.This, however,did not go down well with many protesters as they stayed putbrandishing placards with inscriptions like “SWAT = SARS With Another Title” “Disbanding SARS and establishing SWAT is like robbing Peter to pay Paul” “We demand justice for the victims.”
Correspondingly, Barr C. F. Ifeabunike,an active participant in the Awka protest,speaking with Orient Daily, observed that“the federal government, by now, should have shut down SARS offices all over the federation and the detainees transferred to other police facilities and a special panel set up to look into the cases of detainees. People with trumped-up charges should be set free while those with serious cases should be charged to court.”
However, to understand why wanton brutality and violence have become the modus operandi of the Nigeria police in general, one needs to understand the psychological makeup of the personnel of the security apparatus. In arecentstudy on the violent and aggressive tendencies of Nigeria police, Nwankwo et al (2020) investigatedthe role of empathy, psychological wellbeing and emotional intelligence on the aggressive tendencies of the personnel of Nigeria police. Relying on extant literature and data elicited from 230 respondents from the Force, selected through cluster and incidental sampling, the study concluded that the low empathy, psychological wellbeing, emotional intelligence of the Nigeria police personnel significantly leads to the personnel’s high aggressive tendencies.
Correspondingly, Ahmad Lateef noted in his Walden Ph.D thesis that “Over 90 percent of police officers in Nigeria are confronted with psychological illness and injuries as a result of occupational stress, which is compounded by a lack of attention to police officer welfare by government, insufficient annual leave, and poor salaries that contribute to poor performance.”
What all these imply is simple: Nigeria police is in dire need ofreform. Thank goodness, the agitationin the streets has moved from #EndSARS to #ReformPolice. But one important caveat that Nigerians should bear in mind is that reformation cannot be a day project. It can only take an incremental process. Before now, theNigeria police hadundergonemany reformations. Fromthe days of Musiliu Smith to the present leadership of Muhammad Adamu, many inspectors-general of police introduced one reform or another to ensure seamless operation of the security agency. Tafa Balogun pursued 8-point agenda when he assumed office after the compulsory retirement of his predecessor, Musiliu Smith, who, in his time, offered a blueprint for reform designed to address the legacy of military rule when he assumed office in 1999. Sunday Ehindero talked about community policing and secured international support from countries. The United Kingdom, UK, funded a programmeof community policing, the United States of America, USA, donated anti-riot equipment while Spain offered anti-terrorism and forensic science training, and Ukraine.
Needless to say,all these reforms,despite theirusefulness at the time,couldnot endthe endemic corruption within theNigeria policenor were they able to foresee the monster that SARStransmogrified into. That said, for us to restore or perhaps imbue professionalism and integrity in the Nigeria police, personneland human resources management of the agencyshould betaken seriously.If wedon’t close our doors to cretins of our society during recruitment, they will brim the force and expectedly dominate the system.
We, therefore, suggestthat recruitment into the Nigeria police,for now,should be limited to graduates. Graduates who intend to join the Force should first undergo a one-year compulsory training at the Police Training Institutewhere only those that distinguish themselves should be employed. Often, reports of the plight of police widowsare shared in the print, electronic and new media. Such stories and images that remind us of Ehindero’s 2005 annual report that revealed that some police personnel ‘live in a kennel … The conditions in some barracks are, to say the least, nauseating (NP 2005: 26).”All these contribute to low morale of the operatives of the Nigeria police. They are not oblivious of the fact that no one will take care of their family when they die.
Apart from the entitlementsof widows and children of deceased police officers as guaranteed in their conditions of service,the Nigerian government should go the extra mile to better the lives of the families of fallen operatives of Nigeria police. There should be lifetime free medical and education schemes for their families.
Jonathan, a public affairs analyst, wrote in from Enugwu-ukwu, Anambra State