There have been sporadic protests across Nigeria over the past week in response to the recurring atrocities by the Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS) unit of the Nigerian Police Force. Last week, I wrote about the previous protests against SARS and how the government has failed to implement any promised changes over the years. In that same article, I also wrote about the recurring cases of unlawful arrests, privacy invasion, humiliation, extortion and extra-judicial killings that have been attributed to SARS officials without any known consequences to these officials.
There have been several reported cases of police killings in the last few years, including those of Chibuike Anams, Tiyamiu Kazeem, Ifeoma Abugu, Christian Ugwuoke, Aneka Okorie, Tina Ezekwe, Fredrick, Solomon Eze, Ayomide Taiwo, Godspower Edoha, Kolade Johnson, Chima, Aleruchi Wobo, Biliki, Izu Joseph and many other unknown people. These names are real names of people – Nigerian citizens – with parents, families and friends. I am not aware of the prosecution of the police officers that were involved in these killings. The lack of real consequences for such illegal actions continues to reinforce such acts of brutality.
There has been a strong demand from many people for the government to #EndSARS. In my discussions with many people, the call for #EndSARS is primarily to ensure that SARS officials are withdrawn from the routine “stop and search” from the roads and that police brutality should end. I am pro-Policing and several of those I talked to had nothing against police work if done with professionalism and respect for the citizens. They are all great professionals and entrepreneurs that desire a safe country where we do not exhibit fears at the sight of a police official – who is supposed to be protecting the citizens. While there might be a debate on the #EndSARS tag, the concerns and expectations of everyone appear very similar. So, let us leave the argument about the #EndSARS tag, call it whatever you like, and let us face the real issues – police brutality, illegal arrests, detention and extortions.
The people are tired and frustrated about the continued police brutality. In the last week, the protests across the nation have been fierce. As the protests were going on, some of the Police units are still exhibiting the same behaviours. Nigerian Police has been using teargas and live bullets on protesters demanding an end to police brutality across the country. The resulting deaths and injuries have not deterred the protesters. The President met with the Inspector General of Police during the week and tweeted that he is determined to end police brutality, introduce reforms and bring “erring personnel… to justice“. The government has also announced the dissolution of SARS and would be redeploying the SARS officers to other police commands, formations and units.
The government should not just #EndSARS by moving most of the SARS officials to a new group with a different name under the Force Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department (FCIID) since the government can’t just disengage the SARS officers from the Police Force without a real cause. While such a political move to #EndSARS might excite the citizenry, the #EndSARS campaign should not lead us to have old rotten wines in newly packaged bottles. We must not leave leprosy to treat trash. We need to focus on the real problem and not the symptom. Therefore, the Federal Government should immediately review the activities of SARS with all seriousness to ensure that these incidents of illegal arrest, harassment, detention and extortion are no longer occurring.
The common theme for the ongoing protests is the need to #EndSARSbrutality immediately. SARS squads should be withdrawn from the roads. I am not aware of anyone that has been arrested and prosecuted for armed robbery or kidnapping based on a routine “stop and search” operations. If the focus of SARS includes those who commit online frauds, they don’t need to be on the road to police them. The Police Force only needs to have a dedicated team of computer experts and auditors as part of their dedicated investigation teams instead of deploying a group of computer illiterates to the streets to harass anyone with fancy mobile devices. So, there is no need for SARS to be on the roads and the police leadership needs to enforce this – in reality. There must be a clear consequence for any officer that violates this rule – from prosecution to dismissal, as part of the disciplinary procedures of the Police Force.
The second thing is for the police leadership to review the cases of everyone currently in SARS detention camps across the country. There are reported instances where people are hauled into SARS cells and have been denied access to communicate with anyone for several months. In some cases, such people have been declared missing or dead by their families while they are languishing in SARS cells. People that have been illegally detained should be released while officers involved in such illegal detention should face necessary disciplinary actions.
SARS is a unit of the Nigerian Police. These atrocities that have been attributed to SARS are symptoms of the entire policing system in Nigeria. The other police units and divisions are not saints. While the above two actionable steps should be implemented immediately to #EndSARSBrutality, there are other actions that would have long term positive impact on the entire police organization.
As part of the immediate response to the protests, the police leadership needs to implement an expanded program for the regular testing of its officers for drug and alcohol, along with mental health and psychiatry checks. There have been several reported cases of domestic abuse even by spouses and families of police officers. During the week, a police officer shot his wife in the mouth and absconded. There have been several reported cases of heavily drunk police officers in police uniforms. I have also had personal experiences where the police officer talking to me during a “stop and search” event on an expressway was oozing of alcohol while holding an AK-47 gun. These wellness programs should be managed by independent organisations. Any organization that issues falsified reports should be prosecuted along with its directors and key officers. Also, the drug and alcohol policy of the Police Force should be published so that citizens can report suspected violations by the officers.
There is also a need for the Police to ensure that its key processes are documented and accessible to the police officers and the general public. The various process manuals such as the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP), Code of Conduct, reporting on usage of ammunition, Violation Reporting Process and Disciplinary Procedures should be available on the Police’s intranet for easy access by the police officers. Forms for public use such as incident reporting forms should be available on the police website while also providing the option for e-submission of such forms. Forms that are submitted online could auto-generate a case number after which such cases could then be assigned to a specific police department or unit. This process would ensure that everyone is kept abreast of the necessary processes and procedures, while also minimising the extortions at the various police stations.
Policing is a serious job and should attract and retain great talents, not ex-convicts and the unemployable portion of the populace. The recruitment process should be enhanced by making the criteria for employment eligibility to be comparative to other countries like Ghana, South Africa or India or Malaysia. In order to retain great talents in the Police Force, the recruitment and promotion processes need to be clear and merit driven. The career ladder from the lowest rank to the highest rank should be clearly defined, along with the requirements and criteria for each level. Also, there should be regular training on topics such as emotional intelligence, communication, community policing, crisis management, and general policies and procedures.
The welfare of the police should also be a focus of any police reform program. The pension, housing programs, education coverage for children (up to 4), medical coverage for police officers and their families, housing programs and life insurance programs should be enhanced. Benefit payments should be timely, including the payment of the end of service gratuities. In the case of police officers that lost their lives in the course of duty, the benefits and other support programs to their families should be timely done. Enhanced welfare programs would improve the motivation and morale of the officers. It would also encourage great talents to join the police.
The above summarises my proposed agenda for police reforms in Nigeria. I know that there are possibly many other things that could also be done, but the above ideas are possibly a good place to start. This is not the time to do nothing. We need to urgently reform the Nigerian Police Force.