By Sunny Awhefeada
One lesson to be learnt from the ongoing nationwide rage against the Nigeria Police is that no system, no matter how strong or powerful, can win against the people. Another lesson is that rot can blossom only for as long as the people allowed it to thrive. One more lesson is that the people can arrest drift and decay when they choose to do so. If a prophet had told the ragamuffins that constituted the infamous and now disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) that their own mene mene tekel parsin was near, they would have laughed so loud, threaten to shoot him and robbed him of his offerings for that day and even asked for more. The present outrage has been misread as umbrage against SARS. This is not so. The protest is against the Nigeria Police Force which has turned out to be symbolic of the worst of Nigeria. The police not only wear the gold medal of the nation’s most corrupt public institution, it is also the most repressive, most distrusted and most loathed. Many halfhearted attempts at rebranding including facetiously declaring “the police is your friend” merely compounded the image and perception debacle of the force.
What has happened to SARS, and put bluntly the police, is the case of the thief who has taken too much for the owner not to notice. The general thinking or idea that birthed the police was that of protecting the people. That essence was defeated in Nigeria from the very beginning. The colonial origin of the police in Nigeria in the 19th century was predicated on the repression of the natives. That destiny followed the police into Nigeria’s post-colonial experience. The police has since 1960 been a tool of repression. An older friend recently told me about how his father was framed up by the police and sent to jail around the time of Nigeria’s independence. The man went into exile after serving a jail term. The Nigeria Police killed Kunle Adepeju, Nigeria’s first student martyr, in cold blood. I also grew up to hear about how the police killed Dele Udo, the talented Nigerian sprinter of global acclaim. Many other gruesome killings too numerous to recount abound. My generation heard of “kill and go” the ugly sobriquet of the MOPOL unit of the police.
The #ENDSARS campaign bears semblance to the circumstances from which the Arab Spring sprung in 2011. The Tunisian police brutalization of a disillusioned fruit seller on 17 December 2010 led him to self-immolation. He set himself ablaze and died in early January 2011. The youths of Tunisia took to the streets and what followed was the revolution that swept through the Arab world and now known as the Arab Spring. Apart from police brutality being a catalyst in both cases, other similarities abound in the roles played by the youth and the social media. The #ENDSARS campaign which in hours metamorphosed into #ENDSRASNOW manifests the compelling urgency and rejection of the Police Force by Nigerians. The campaign, which is the product of a video shot and shared by Nelson Makolomi in Ughelli, is an apt response nay reaction against rogues in uniform. The originating video depicts the brutalization of a young man that was thrown out of a moving police vehicle during which the rogue policemen also made away with the victim’s vehicle not minding whether he was dying or not. As they say, “everyday for the thief and one day for the owner”, SARS became the thief and the people became the owner.
The incident captured in the video is what SARS operatives subject Nigerians to every day. But Nigerians were for a long time helpless as report after report failed to elicit the necessary corrective action from the police high command. SARS operatives are themselves worse that the armed robbers they were recruited to hound. The operatives abduct citizens, rob them at gun points, blackmail them, torture, rape and kill them in cold blood. The response of the police authorities have always been some halfhearted reprimand and pretence to enforcing sanctions on the scoundrels. It is on record that the police high command banned SARS operatives four times in four years! They always defied such orders and return to the highway and streets the next day prancing like drunken gangsters high on cheap weed.
The raison d tre for the establishment of SARS was to curtail armed robbery, kidnapping and violent crimes. Unfortunately, kidnapping and armed robbery spiked despite the ubiquitous presence of SARS. What the operatives did was to usurp the responsibility of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFFC) in going after internet fruadsters whom they arrest extort and set free. The opprobrious act degenerated into the arrest of every young and good looking fellow irrespective of gender.
For a young man or lady to own a car became an offence to SARS. To own a good mobile phone or a laptop became felonious to SARS. The mode of dressing also became an item on the list of offences. SARS criminalized the Nigerian youth. They arrest them, cock and point guns at them, abduct them, extort them, shoot them, rape and kill them at will. SARS simply became Special Advanced Robbery Squad. There were daily reports of such criminal and heinous acts by SARS, but the police hierarchy and government merely whimpered.
Then the youth said enough was enough and not only spoke out, but thundered. The youth went for the jugular of SARS and the hunter became the hunted.
Nigerians deserve to be blamed for allowing the madness of SARS to go on for too long. Nigerians are complicit in whatever SARS did. The SARS operatives didn’t come from hell. They are Nigerians. They lived among us and are conditioned by the society. There is an element of SARS masochism in many Nigerian in the public space. There is also the laid back attitude of most Nigerians against injustice and oppression. What you often hear in attempts to fight a cause is “forgive and forget”. This tendency encourages evil. Had Nigerians tackled the rogues in uniform headlong much earlier a lot of lives and limbs would have been saved. Those that were done to death or maimed, by SARS, and their psychologically fractured relations will remain as gory testimony to the scoundreldom that the police turned out to be.
Nigerians should press on for full police reforms. Already, the campaign has drawn everybody into its fold. The old, the young, the rich, the poor, the powerful and the powerless have all spoken that the police needed to be reformed. There is the fear being expressed that the reform like the previous ones would end up as a sham. If it turns out so, then Nigerians must continue the resistance until they get the ideal police. The IGP has announced the formation of a new unit to succeed SARS.
That was too hasty. What is needed is a complete reform that will put senior police officers on their toes. The criminal tendencies displayed by the junior officers are largely attempts by them to meet the monetary targets set for them by the senior officers. The DPOs, Area Commanders, CPs, AIGs, DIGs and the IGP are merely pretending. They know that the police rob Nigerians day and night and that every police checkpoint is a robbery spot. In reforming the police there must be an intelligent unit which should monitor the activities of policemen at all levels and bring erring officers to book. The divisions and area commands should be funded and well equipped. The recruitment process should also be looked into. It has been said again and again that the maladies inherent in the force are usually inculcated in the officers during the recruitment process at the Police College.
They merely practice what they were taught. The ultimate in reforming the police rests with the people. They must insist on the best practices in policing.
The takeaway from the present situation is that the momentum must not be lost. The people must begin the quest for a new Nigeria, the Nigeria of their dreams where their hopes and aspirations will be met and realized. A movement should arise that will eliminate bad governance, banish corruption, defeat ethnicity and other ills that have held us down. Such a movement should hoist the banner of freedom with social justice, equity and self-fulfillment emblazoned on it. Then this generation would have acquitted itself. It shall be well with Nigeria. For now it is not yet uhuru, but aluta continuaaaaa…..