It is not new that Nigerians have called for disbandment of the Federal Special Anti Robbery Squad (from now, FSARS), a unit in the Nigeria Police Force. Sometime in 2015, the presidency led by President Buhari made a statement to eradicate the brutality that were being perpetrated by this police unit. Anyway, it is not today that we have our politicians with such a mythomania promise.
With brutalities ranging from extortion, torture, extrajudicial killing from the men of FSARS especially the not too long murder of Remo Stars Assistant Captain, Kazeem Tiamiyyu on Saturday 22nd of February, 2020 have been the order of the day for the men in police uniform. Tina Ezekwe also got killed by a supposed drunk (NPF tried to alleviate the outrage of the masses by providing an untenable excuse for the offender) officer on Thursday, May 28, 2020. Chibuike Daniel who became a victim of this ungodly act on September 19, 2020 also died from the brutality of the police. Kolade Johnson was shot dead in broad daylight on the 31st of March, 2019 just to mention but a few of the extra judicial killings of these not very needed officers turned offenders. The most recent killing that culminated into global outrage being the killing of a young Nigerian in front of Wetland Hotel, Ughelli, Delta state on Saturday October 3, 2020 by a police officer who further went ahead and drove away Lexus SUV belonging to the victim.
On Thursday October 8 2020, protest started in different cities majorly in Abuja, Oyo, Ogun, Lagos, etc. The allegations levelled against the FSARS aren’t cooked up tales, and it is a conundrum to the development of the Nigerian nation-state. To the detriment of the police itself and very shocking to Nigerians home and abroad, despite the international and national demonstrations, it was still reported that tens of protesters have been gunned down while duly utilising their democratic and constitutional right to demonstration. Few of them being Jimoh Isiaka killed in Ogbomosho on Monday October 12, 2020. It was reported that two other protesters were killed even after the announcement of the dissolution of the FSARS. Having said it earlier that the unit known as FSARS has been disbanded, it is no more a case of FSARS brutality but the brutality from the Nigeria Police Force.
Dissolution of FSARS is not enough to assure Nigerians that the unit has indeed made way into thin air. In previous years (2016, 2017, etc.), this same unit was verbally dissolved. The first basic responsibility of any democratic government is the protection of Human Rights as well as human life and property. When this responsibility cannot be properly carried out by our government, then it is safe to say that the government has failed and so, should step aside from power. The protesters are fully aware that the officers of this disbanded unit (FSARS) will be redeployed to other police commands, units and formations and will subsequently continue their inquitous and scrofulous acts. We need to prendre la balle au bond (cross the Rubicon) and stop a leapfrog measure. Any serious government will know that the dissolution of FSARS in not the only right thing to do; it has to be complemented with suspension of the members of the unit by keeping them off posting til the needed reform is done. A serious government needs to constitute a committee involving retired and serving judges, members of the civil societies, serving and retired police officers, lawyers, criminologist, etc that will be given a mission to study the activities and code of conduct of foreign police departments in UAE, USA, UK, South Africa, etc. The committee should understudy everything about manners in which those nations’ policemen carry out their professional duties. After this studies, the committee should then give recommendations based on their studies on how to properly reform the Nigeria Police Force. Abiding by the conclusions of the committee, the government should then embark on total overhaul of the police sector.
Meanwhile, the truth is that police officers are also not completely useless. They are out there risking their lives to protect Nigerians and our property. They are awake while we sleep and snore at the comfort of our loved ones. They are always the first targets when armed robbers strike. They are humans like us. Anyone who knows about police activities would not deny that the sector has no right to industrial action (I can not recollect how many times ASUU, NLC, TUC have gone on industrial action since 2000), protest or demonstration. Indulging in any of those activities is regarded as mutiny and punishable by death penalty. In short, we seem not to know what these men go through. I had the privilege to visit some police quarters in Sokoto, Kaduna, Niger, Kubwa, and Kano. Those places are not suitable for human habitation. Their conditions there probably take their better side because they are also victims of corrupt system in Nigeria. During these protests, I spoke with a friend who is an inspector of police by rank and he made it clear to me that their welfare is even far below average. As most of us know it, Nigeria Police officers perform excellently well in peacekeeping missions outside the country. Why? while on international assignment outside the shores of Nigeria, the officers get taken care of as expected. Allowances are promptly paid. Back home, our award-winning officers turn violent and corrupt. What has changed? Is there something about the Nigeria water that destroys their humanity? (As a friend rightly put it). Is it the culture of impunity pervading the Nigerian systems? Most officers get transferred without any plan for their accommodation and allowances. I have heard instances of transferred officers whose accommodation was not planned and they had to resort to sleeping in the police vans parked at various stations at night and wake up in the morning very early to avoid being seen in such an embarrassing situation; this happen most times to junior officers. They have refused to talk because they know the conditions of this nation’s policing system. They chose to look the other way. This may even be a reason for them demanding bribes on our roads. The general notion is that the bribe received by these officers goes to as far as DPOs (who knows if it gets to the commissioners and IGP?). These uniformed men are paid pitiable pittance as allowances and most times, are not even paid. In fact, sometimes, I am privileged to some information that some police officers ask complainants at stations to “mobilise” officers to investigate tabled cases. There are hardly any funds made available for investigation. Some officers go on drinking while on night duty to gain “Dutch courage”. The question now is “where are the funds meant for executing policing in Nigeria?”
The Role of the Culture of Impunity in Nigeria Police Force[LA1]
Yoruba culture? Well! I do not want to call it our culture but rather our attitude. Ninety percent (90%) of the Yoruba have the attitude of “not deriving happiness in the success of a fellow human”. This is not far fetched in the police force as well. When the officers see you using what they cannot afford with their meagre salaries, they get annoyed and sometimes assume you are a fraudster (I do not want to go into this topic) without having had a background check of your person. In fact, our (Yoruba) backwardness in Nigeria in positions is totally not attached to this egocentricism. This FSARS unit also operates in Northern Nigeria and they are doing very fine. They do not receive the derogatory reports like their southern counterparts. Let me remind you that the FSARS in the north east particularly in Borno and Yobe states have been performing excellently well. Prof. Babagana Umara Zulum, the executive governor of Borno state, was in fact rescued more than once by the operatives of FSARS. Borno state SARS has once rescued soldiers (YES! Military men), recovered their seized APC[LA2] from Boko Haram, the news went viral then.
The police department in the north part of Nigeria is known to some extent with integrity. I had my degree in English language from Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto. I lived throughout my studentship outside the campus and so know how officers there operate. I never saw a scene where policemen took bribes either from motorists, bikemen or citizens. Let me also narrate an experience; some time in April, 2020, I was driving on Asejire express, a border between Oyo and Osun states. Officers of the Nigeria police stopped us (there were three other people with me). Then, there was a ban on interstate vehicular movement due to the covid-19 pandemic. The policemen were collecting #500 per head at the border before anyone was allowed to pass. I was not having a dime on me having fuelled the car with the little I had. My own fellow Yoruba man who is a police officer never gave me a listening ear; he was hell bent on collecting two thousand naira or turning us back. There and then, I noticed an officer with Kanuri tribal marks on his face.. I quickly accosted him in Hausa. He smiled after observing my incoherent Hausa and moved closer. We talked in Hausa for a while; after I narrated my ordeal with his colleague, he pleaded with him on our behalf and freed us. He in fact told me to call his attention when coming back to enable us pass again freely. I then imagined what officers in the north would do in their territory if they could be that generous to other people not from their region. Do not forget that a fellow Yoruba man who was a police officer denied me a chance to even explain myself. One thing about many Yorubas is that we always want to extort from the needy at the slightest opportunity.
During my stay in Sokoto, I visited police stations a few times and on each time, I never saw more than three people in a cell. Does that mean people there do not commit crimes? NO! They do but they resolve it amicably without even trying to make money out of the lawbreakers except in few cases. There, indeed, bail is free! We should ask ourselves; why do the men of the same department operate differently in other regions? This is where culture comes in. In the southern part of Nigeria, especially western, everyone wants to reap where they did not sow. With this, we should all remember that those officers are first humans like us before becoming officers. So, they also have inherent trait of greed which is common to humans. They only show their greediness in uniform while we show ours every day and everywhere.
If we truly want to end police brutality and extrajudicial killings once and for all, the work starts from you and me. It is high time we eschewed the attitude of extorting out of the needy around us. There are a lot of benefits that await helpers who help without expecting anything in return. If you and I change, we can change the entire Nigeria. Why do we keep on having corrupt politicians no matter the party they come from? It is not because the party is rotten, it is individual’s corruption. If we #EndSarsNow and then sack the entire police force, soon, recruitment for police officers will be out and there is a high tendency that corrupt people are likely to be recruited, and same problems continue.
On this note, the federal government of Nigeria needs to revisit the salaries of the police force and improve the scales. There should be a group set up solely to ensure that the department of the police welfare is well taken care of and of course government officials high up should stop embezzling the funds meant for payment of police allowances.
In conclusion, to stop #policebrutality, our mind-set and orientation should change. Then, the government should ensure officers are regularly trained on civil conducts. In fact, no police officer should carry AK 47/49 rifle except those on crime fighting mission (on no circumstance should a police officer on traffic and domestic assignment carry any AK rifle) but rather a pistol/taser which must be well concealed. Each officer must have a functioning camera and every station must have CCTV cameras. There should also be appointment of non-police personnel such as lawyers with SAN, criminologists and psychologists as IGP. Once again, training and retraining of officers on civil rules, civil rights, human rights, human relations, safe policing, etc. are very crucial.
As a deterrent, any police officer found culpable of actions that violate any of those rules should be punished and suspended from the force.
Akindele AbdulQayyum Olalekan
B.A English language (UDUS, 2019)
Civil Law (in view, ABU)