It is important for innocent Nigerians to be cautious, look, see and understand the undercurrents of the various voices and associated ambitions behind the #EndSARS campaign. We must do this by disaggregating the voices in order to separate the grain from the chaff, otherwise this protest will degenerate into a mob rule, where impunity and lawlessness would begin to reign over law and order in the land.
Yes, there is a need for a protest, if it is meant to raise awareness about the unbecoming nature of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and what to do about it, more so, now that this is largely induced by a sense of frustration arising from the age-long situation of uncertainty and the unpredictability of the future of Nigeria, both in the areas of economy and security. #EndSARS, therefore, is supposed to address the issue of government and governance in relation to the need of the masses as guaranteed by the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, particularly as it pertains to one important fundamental duty or obligation of government towards the citizenry: the protection of life and property of the people. It follows, therefore, that how the Federal Government and its institutions respond to this call to action will largely determine whether or not we will have an orderly society following this development.
First of all, government must be willing to give the right interpretation to the current situation of anger and rage being expressed in the course of the ongoing protest rather than wishing them away with prejudices. This is because there are those waiting on the verge to decode any undue interpretations, in their own way, with the motive of exacerbating the anger and rage on the streets.
Secondly, we the general public, must understand that there are predatory forces already existing in this country that want to keep Nigeria in perpetual fear and panic. Such people could easily hijack the protest. They are not the politicians or the trade unionists, as some may think, except that these groups are also potentially available to use elements of the protesters as handy tools for various reasons, very conveniently, if they really want to. The predators in this context, however, are those who have defied all amnesty gestures of the government, together with the love of God for them. They are the ones who, as predators, are currently preying on law-abiding citizens and hardworking Nigerians and foreigners living in Nigeria. They include the following:
a) Armed robbers, who parade the highways and human settlements in Nigeria, who are kidnapping, robbing, raping, maiming and killing their victims. These predators, believe it or not, have joined in the #EndSARS campaign, disguising as protesters.
b) The sea pirates obstructing trade and commerce, robbing merchant ships and attacking official sea patrol vessels of the Nigerian Navy. They too are present in the streets as protesters that want the end of SARS.
c) The jailbreaks that are currently on the loose. They are there on the streets to communicate their excitement in the deal against the SARS.
d) The highly populated criminal junta called Boko Haram, operating with a military sophistication and intelligence, bombing and overrunning villages, communities, churches, mosques and military camps at will. They too are Nigerians and you cannot stop them from joining the protest because the end of law enforcement in the land will favour them the most.
The organised and highly coordinated multiple groups of criminal gangs on a self-serving mission in the Midwest and the Niger Delta, who are constantly vandalising our commonwealth to the detriment of this nation are also happy with the protest, so long as the movement will result in total damnation of law enforcement in the land. These people are also involved in night time and daylight robbery. They mostly habour their weaponry in the bushes where they also dwell most times, along with their kidnaped victims, while demanding or waiting for ransoms. Because the society, Nigeria, in which they live is becoming seriously overwhelmed and totally intimidated with such challenged perturbations, their population in Nigeria keeps increasing as more and more youths are now keying into criminality daily, bearing illegal arms and ammunition. They are notoriously growing in the East, Middle Belt, Jos and Kaduna roads, South-South and North-East domains, including the mining sites of Zamfara State. Most of these people are also on the streets to tell you that they are now your good friends in the fight against the “bad SARS.”
The list of criminal elements in Nigeria is not limited to the aforementioned. This is just to alert law-abiding, innocent Nigerians, who are obsessed with the #EndSARS campaign, you are to note that the protesting voices also actually include the dominant voices of the hitherto dreaded criminals who are now disguised as peace-loving protesters, like me and you, under the ongoing protests. It is to also alert that such voices are indeed capable of eclipsing your genuine voices as a means of fostering their inordinate ambition to use the opportunity to cause chaos and create the chance to loot, steal, rob and kill unsuspecting innocent people.
The problem these criminals have with SARS is not the same with your problems. Armed robbers are usually very successful in their unchallenged business of armed robbery and kidnaping, except that members of the Nigerian Police Force or SARS are their only obstacles. It is properly evidenced in the daily news as stories abound about successful and failed attempts by armed robbers to buy off some members of the force and how they could kill policemen when they feel frustrated in achieving such goals. Under this #EndSARS agenda, therefore, we must be wary of what becomes of this protest when the voices leading the campaign are not properly disaggregated and a choice not made on whom to recognise and on which issues in the matter to address. Let it not be that we are only serving those who kill or kidnap us on daily basis. That is to say, that we don’t have to “End SARS” in utter damnation of the legitimate duties of SARS to this country.
The police force must wake up right now, otherwise, this smoke screen called peaceful protest will take them by surprise! What we should be fighting are those that are against us, wherever they may be found, even if they are in the body of the Police Force or SARS or even among protesters. Those against the peace of hardworking innocent Nigerians are the murderous criminals who should be caught and factored into a functional judicial process.
Unfortunately, no one talks about this that and there is never going to be a protest against the heinous crimes they commit every day. The civil societie groups do not believe that there is a job to do here. They must agree with the reality that, if we must deal with the issues in the matter of SARS, we must accordingly be careful not to make it look like the issue of armed robbers killing and kidnapping Nigerians in their numbers, on a daily basis, is now preferable to the carelessness or wickedness of a few rotten apples in SARS harassing some of us daily. No, we should prefer the opposite while still believing in dealing with the stench or odours of the rotten apples. This protest must be focused on some tangible things to be done immediately by governments at all levels.
The following considerations are relevant:
a) Decentralisation of the police force
Decentralisation will generate the awareness that would decrease the level of docility of the primary and secondary level governments. It will make the state governments to wake up to their statutory constitutional obligation and duty of security of their states.
b) Funding the state police command
The security vote for states will be more accountable, with a defined mode or pattern of expenditure that would be focused only on result, depending on the peculiar security problem and risks of a state. Add this to the fact that there will be a Special Security Commission for the administration of the fund. It will involve representatives of the various security formations, with the police at the centre of this arrangement, functioning as State Police Inspectorate or Command. This shifts the unilateral control and uncountable expenditures from governors to a dedicated and accountable commission answerable to the state governors.
c) Incentive for police/policemen’s families
There should be enough barracks and police quarters to accommodate policemen. Settlements built and adapted for beneficial occupation with basic amenities and utilities should also be made fortified to stand emergency attacks. We can achieve this within a space of one year, if there is prudence in the way and manner states and federal resources are handled or dispensed in relation to such target. This should be a priority in the police reform/decentralisation agenda. It is a very responsible way to ‘End SARS’ or change SARS, if you will.
• The method for police transfers should be developed and anchored on a consistent mechanism, built on the principle of equity and justice.
• A minimum of two children per policeman should study on a specially managed scholarship upon gaining admission at secondary and tertiary institutions in any federal/state university or secondary school. The identity of such children must be established by registration with the board of such scholarship at the time of birth of the child or upon completion of primary school.
d) Decentralisation of the prisons:
As the judiciary is decentralised, so should the prisons be decentralised. It doesn’t make any sense to have state courts and state-tried cases and convicted persons pushed to Federal Government prisons. Right now, the Federal Government is busy chewing more than it can swallow but still has the chance and opportunity to save itself from choking.
e) Breeding of a new police force (training)
There should be a specialised secondary institution for a two-year law enforcement training from where future police officers would emanate with a Special National Diploma (SPD). Enrollment criteria will include the bonding of such prospective students. Such candidates must have a secondary school certificate or a minimum of three credits upon completion of five years secondary education. The tertiary level of their training would be in a dedicated Police Force Academy for maximum of three years to graduate with a Higher National Diploma. This happens after the officer might have served for a minimum of five years in the police force as officer.
f) Law enforcement
Reduce discretional approach to both police investigation and law enforcement procedures. This can change when cutting-edge technology is embraced. Working in defiance to the beckoning opportunity for increased efficiency in police investigation and or law enforcement will further diminish the impetus of the police force and that will continue to generate acrimony between the security operatives and members of the public when they are actually supposed to work together and share intelligence to support each other.
This protest should profit Nigeria and that will happen only if it generates a collective understanding that the institutional arrangements of government, designed for investigation and law enforcement, require strengthening and a higher impetus to perform their statutory functions. For now, the police must remain awake in order to avoid the total breakdown of law and order.
•Awute is a double Paul Harris Fellow, a Rotarian and member of the NIPSS. He retired as a Federal Permanent Secretary in 2015