A social media hashtag grew into a firestorm all around Nigeria as the people poured out their frustration with the lead anti-robbery unit in is the Nigeria Police. The campaign eye opening as a result of the testimonies that have come up since the campaign broke. The details are sordid and to make matters worse, police spokesperson did not help matters. It is calamitous that at a time like this that armed robbery, kidnapping and sundry violent crimes have become rife in the country, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigeria Police is enmeshed in crisis over the brutalisation and extortion perpetrated by officers against Nigerians in the name of fighting crime.
It all began when one man was allegedly shot by a SARS operative in Lagos, and many others went to town with their sad experiences and tales of extra-judicial killings by officials of the unit over the years. Within a week, the hashtag, #EndSARS, had generated unprecedented following on social media sites Twitter and Facebook.net, with pictures of scores of similar brutalities and dehumanisation of citizens by this police group.
After an initial denial, the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, ordered an immediate reorganisation of the anti-robbery squad, and placed it under the command of a commissioner to be based in Abuja. The envisaged reorganisation is expected to ensure that the outfit adheres to the global best practices in policing, and is repositioned for effective service delivery, with integrity.
But the I. G needs to go a step further. In fact President, Muhammadu Buhari needs to get involved. For SARS, it is a dangerous road to travel. The police is so critical in the work of maintaining the internal security of the country it has become imperative for the police itself to do a soul searching on its operations not homilies. It is, perhaps, time for us all to equally look in the mirror and see the results of our misplaced choices in the police. After all, the police and in this case, SARS operatives, are recruited from amongst the people and are a part of our society.
The highhandedness of our police, and invariably of SARS, goes way back to the military years when the force suffered its worst humiliations and deprivations. Many in the police today see the organisation as nothing more than a self-help vehicle to fight personal wars and for personal aggrandisement. There is unwillingness by the supposed law enforcement agency to adhere to the rule of law. The result is that a number of policemen take their frustrations out on otherwise law-abiding fellow citizens, at the least suspicion of crime or malfeasance.
In the case of SARS, the unit has lent itself to all kinds of shenanigans by the political authorities, which has led to a loss of public goodwill. SARS, as a security outfit, ought to be insulated from politics, but that is not the situation today. SARS need not be seen everywhere, yet these people patrol the place arresting people and making enemies of the same people that could have passed as informants if trust had existed. There is a clear abuse of the system which has allowed the security personnel to engage in unwholesome acts and maltreat citizens. These untoward activities partly contributed to the ranking of Nigeria Police as the worst police organisation in the world by the 2016 World Internal Security and Police Index (WISPI) released in November by the International Police Science Association and Institute for Economics and Peace. A total of 127 countries featured on the index.
Where will the proper reorganisation envisaged by the IGP start from? Some citizens, in apparent frustration and complete lack of belief in the possibility of reforming SARS, have called for an outright scrapping of the unit. But, that could be tantamount to cutting the nose to spite the face. The SARS has its own usefulness, and the fact that our security personnel often perform well at overseas assignments and come back with commendations, means that they are not intrinsically bad. They only need to be better trained on what the nation expects from them.
They also need to be taught the importance of adhering to the regulations guiding their operations through a system which provides rewards for good performance, and stiff punishment for misbehaviour. The bottom line is that we must find creative ways of reforming its operatives and positioning them for humane and effective service delivery.
The job of policing and securing the country is too serious to be left to ill-educated and ill-motivated persons, and citizens of dubious integrity. More so, the police should also resuscitate a monitoring system that will monitor what goes on with the police on duty. It is time enough to not only put cameras on our streets but also body or patrol cameras with microphones for our police. We have to get it right.