SARS: Ending a systemic evil

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SARS, Nigeria’s recently disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad, was for many years labelled a ‘rogue’ police unit. It was notorious for bribe taking, oppression, brutality, and murder. Not until millions of the country’s young Generation Z said “Enough is Enough” with one voice, did the authorities do what should have been done a long time ago, which was to shut down the criminal enterprise!

Horror Stories

There is hardly a single Nigerian who does not have at least one horror story to tell of an ordeal in the hands of the Nigeria Police. Stories of physical and psychological abuse, arbitrary arrests,  fabricated evidence, a daily demand for bribes to compensate for real and imagined infractions, rape, or the murder of innocent loved ones. The list is endless.

One of my personal encounters in the hands of criminal Nigerian cops was published earlier. See https://leadership.ng/2020/10/16/brutalisation-by-the-nigeria-police-my-story/

The fact is, the rot in the Nigeria Police Force runs deep. SARS was simply a more visible manifestation of a systemic evil.

A Culture of Impunity

The impunity of rogue police officers has always been on public display. Countless reports abound of officers bribing superiors for positions and postings that provide better opportunities for graft. In broad daylight, officers solicit bribes and brutalize hapless citizens.

The illicit proceeds are said to supplement meagre monthly pay checks; help fuel and repair police vehicles; fund the purchase of fuel with which to power electricity generators in poorly resourced police stations; and a portion of the extortion racket goes up the chain, to superiors.

In 2005, Nigeria’s chief cop, Tafa Balogun, was jailed for stealing in excess of $100 million from the police treasury during his three short years as Inspector General of Police. For his crimes, he bagged a mere six months in jail.

The disgraced police chief amassed more money than he could spend in a whole lifetime, while many of his police officers earned less than $100 a month.

Reforming The Nigeria Police Force

For decades, police reforms in Nigeria have had little or no impact on the quality of recruitment, remuneration, or public service.

Reform will require extensive surgery and time.

Currently, three government agencies control, supervise and provide oversight for the almost 400,000 strong Nigeria Police Force. They include – The Police Service Commission, the Nigerian Police Council and the Ministry of Interior.

The Police Council includes the President of Nigeria as Chairperson, Governors of the 36 Federating States, the Minister of Interior and the Inspector-General of Police. The Council’s role is to provide general supervision of the police, oversight of its administration, and advise the President on the appointment of the Inspector-General of Police.

The Police Service Commission, is the civilian oversight body responsible for the appointment, promotion, and discipline of all police officers except the Inspector General of Police. Its membership includes nine members of the community including a retired judge, a senior police officer and representatives from the chamber of industry and commerce, media, women and human rights organisations. It is supposed to work closely with the Police Council.

Ministry of Interior

For decades, all three agencies – the Police Council, the Police Service Commission and the Ministry of Interior, have failed to bring about meaningful reforms. They have failed to curb daily human rights violations by law enforcement officials. And they have failed, for the most part, to maintain security nationwide.

1. First, reforming the Nigeria Police Force must begin with a reform of its supervising agencies. Anything less, will be an exercise in futility.

2. Second, reform will require a critical assessment of the recruitment, remuneration and retraining needs of the rank and file of the Police Force, as well as political will to bring about change.

3. Third, aside from yet-to-be-identified youth representatives of the #EndSARS protest movement, reforming the Nigeria Police Force will require increased visibility for and the active participation of several external stakeholders.

These include, Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC); non-governmental organisations that provide external oversight of the police such as the CLEEN Foundation (formerly known as the Centre for Law Enforcement Education), the Human Rights Monitor, the Constitutional Rights Project and others.

Next Steps

For now, #EndSARS protestors and online activists are compiling names of innocent citizens murdered by the police. They have also begun identifying rogue police officers who have committed heinous crimes. These are steps in the right direction.

There are also calls for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. I disagree. What is needed to my mind, is a Truth and Prosecution Commission. A commission that is empowered with the forensic, legal, financial and prosecutorial resources to expose and end systemic decades-old human rights violations by the Nigeria Police.

No one should be under the illusion that reform or change will be easy or quick. It will not. Reform is difficult. Especially in law enforcement, and in situations where the rot is deep.

The current situation provides a golden opportunity  for external stakeholders and any newly reformed oversight agencies to do more to protect innocent Nigerians …  from the very same people who once swore to protect them in the first place.

What police reform is about is simple. It is about fighting the cause of the oppressed, the brutalized, the hurt, the terrified, and the humiliated masses who have no voice and no place at the table.

Nothing more. Nothing less.

  • Dr. Victor Oladokun is a media and communication consultant

Read the original article HERE

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