By Abdullah Abdulganiy
For the past couple of days, not a few Nigerians launched a fierce crusade for the disbandment of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). Though the Nigerian Police Force (NPF) generally is renowned for brutality, recklessness, unprofessionalism, extrajudicial killings, SARS, as a unit, has, overtime, been singled out by people as most notorious and vicious. The special squad, which was established in 1992, has masterminded a whole lot of extrajudicial killings, daylight robbery, harassment of citizens and other hanky-panky.
EndSARS, a movement largely fronted and supported by Nigerian youths who are mostly at the receiving end of the cycle of lawlessness and arbitrariness supervised by men of the SARS, first started in 2017. After assurances of reform by the police authorities, it piped down. But was any meaningful reform carried out as mouthed? The answer is not in the affirmative. What we saw years later was the continuation of the trend of harassment, extortion and slaughtering of citizens by SARS officers.
Young persons in the country have had to endure the overzealousness of SARS officers until they can no longer stomach it. The EndSARS movement therefore came back to public consciousness. The trigger was actually a video clip circulated online, showing the callous murder of a young man allegedly by SARS officials. It was a gory scene of terrorism and barbarism sanctioned by those paid to protect the lives of the citizenry.
As a result, many young citizens took to the internet to narrate their ordeals in the hands of men of the SARS, supporting it with the hashtag ‘EndSARS’. Others moved beyond the social media activism. They thronged the streets with placards, calling for the end of SARS in the country. In Lagos, Abuja, Oyo, Kwara and scores of other states, citizens turned out in their numbers, and picketed Government Houses.
What this says is that SARS officers have overstepped their boundaries. It’s been very long Nigerians spoke in unison. It was a struggle beyond party affiliations, religious beliefs and cultural identities. Everybody seems to agree that SARS officers have bitten more than they can chew and deserve to face the dire consequences. Though, a faction of the citizens, which I belong to, had the view that SARS should not be disbanded but only reformed because it has key functions to serve, it did not quite take away our judgement that the SARS was a dreaded monster.
Our argument was that beheading is not the solution to headache. Most of the charges against SARS are also shared by most police officers in other departments. So, if SARS were even scrapped, the mother organisation, Police still exists. And by that token, nothing might have really changed. We also asserted that if SARS were dissolved, there will still be need to create a unit to handle robbery and kidnapping cases which are the core mandates of SARS. And it’s a case of double-edged sword. It’s either the FG retains previous officers in the new unit, which is similar to what was done hitherto by merely changing SARS to F-SARS. Or new hands are recruited and trained to fit into the structure which will costs the government a whole lot.
By and large, those suing for the disbandment of SARS had their way. On Sunday, October 11, the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu announced the dissolution of the notorious SARS, noting that all officers attached to it would be redeployed to new departments. Many Nigerians were very happy about the move. It apparently sits well with them. It presents the government as responsible, and the scenario underscores the primacy of popular participation in governance. It taught us the implications of civil disobedience. And I’m happy the government did not make light of it. Such mob action could snowball into social conflagration or even balloon into revolution. You can even see the RevolutionNow comrades trying to draw capital from it.
My fear, nonetheless, is that the Force has not rolled out the directive just to score populist point. They understand that once most Nigerians on the streets get wind of the new development (disbandment of SARS), they are most likely to return to their homes. Should it however end there? The answer is a no. A conscious effort to sanitize the rot in the police, purge out the bad eggs and undertake complete reform should follow as promised. It’s important in order to save our country from anarchy. Disbanding SARS without a corresponding thorough reform of the police structure is scratching the surface. It’s basically putting an old wine in a new bottle.
According to the IGP, officers of the defunct SARS would now be redeployed to other units of the police. If drastic measures are not taken to check their excesses, it will only means that the business continues as usual. So, the most integral action needed to rein in the iniquities in the police is to build solid control mechanisms. There should be training and retraining of policemen. The internal punitive/reward system should also be invigorated. Most essentially, no erring officer, should for any reason go scot free. They should be penalized in the full glare of the public. This will send the right signal and redeem the already battered image of the Force with the citizens. As we say this, we should also talk about the welfare of the police. It’s surely a cause, but not a justification, for the brute and lawlessness our police officers are resorting to. Most of the senior officials corner welfare packages meant for the rank and file as multiple media reports have shown.
In any case, I am mostly glad with the reaction of the IGP. It’s brilliant and calculative. I seem to now agree that dissolving SARS was the right step. The unit had no more goodwill. So, keeping it will only promote public angst in the event of another violation by its men. Nevertheless, where the meat of the matter lies is in the real reform promised by the Police Chief. I just hope it’s not some gimmick and paperwork. It’s not over until it’s over!