On Sunday, 11th October 2020, the Inspector General of the Nigerian Police Force (NPF) in a live broadcast announced that the Federal Special Anti Robbery Squad (F-SARS or SARS) has been dissolved with immediate effect. Howbeit, this is about the fourth time SARS is banned with "immediate effect" (depending on the language used. You know?). This directive from the IGP, came after almost a week of serious simultaneous protests from youths across the nation and on social media. The hashtag - #ENDSARS trended in the world all over with a lot of celebrities and international bodies lending a voice to this course. Nigerians however, refused to accept the IGP's directive and have made it a point to only accept actions and not just talks. For most Nigerians, they do not only just want the scrapping of the unit but also that these officers of this squad are brought to proper justice.
The F-SARS in recent years, has been guilty of same crime all other units of the NPF have been known for - extortion. There is not a single unit in the NPF that doesn't extort from citizens they should protect. A knock on one's door in the middle of the night by either the authorised men in black (the police) meant to protect the masses or the "unauthorised" men in black (thieves) feel just the same to the average Nigerian. Of all units in the NPF, the F-SARS are the most notorious. Their job is to apprehend robbers but instead they harass any and every citizen that is young, looks good, uses high end tech gadgets or drives a good car, such and such. Their excuse - they are after "yahoo boys". And as such everyone who falls into their category of what an Internet fraudster looks like is a prime target and prey for these "Scorpions". An arrest is made before a reason for arrest is found. Victims are harassed, detained and extorted and those are the lucky ones, some victims are shot and killed. While most of the real ‘Yahoo boys’, move around with their friends in the military or move with hired "Mopos" and/or are easily willing to "play ball” with these SARS officers so that they can go ahead with their normal lives. The law-abiding but "yahoo boy looking" citizen is in trouble with these men especially when one refuses to "play ball". They go all rogue on you and in some situations they turn themselves into executioners. There's hardly any normal looking young man who hasn't had an encounter with these men or knows someone who has.
The Government by all means must go after fraudsters but they need to stop profiling young men and women, and obviously this isn't a job for people who should be preventing and countering the robbers that are so much in our cities. What most Nigerians (even those who do not know how to properly articulate their desires) want is that this unit shouldn't be engaging normal citizens but should focus on why they were created. If these men channel their training, energy and capacity to the right quarters there will be a drastic reduction in high end robberies in our cities. What most citizens want from this unit is competence, the truth is every Nigerian knows that if there is a need to apprehend a proper Kingpin of some drug or kidnapping or robbery gang, the regular police cannot do a thorough job and if attempted there might be so many casualties that one would wish they were never sent in the first place. There is a lot that is expected of the police in general, and only a proper reform of the entire NPF with a serious preference on the realities on ground can grant us the results we so desire from the Nigerian police.
Police brutality and especially extortion has always been the rule rather than the exception in the Nigerian Police, and there have always been filtered rumors that these officers are required to remit some specially stipulated amount of money to their superiors. So either it is the police officer at the counter, the one on the road, the SARS officers in their "Korope", or the SARS officers in their "Danfo", they all seem to have one mission - extortion. Their methods vary but their goal is the same and they are willing to go to any lengths to achieve this. What I am saying in essence is that; SARS is a symptom of a bigger disease. Treating for symptoms doesn't automatically cure the disease. And as long as the disease remains we are all sure to "die" in the end, one way or the other. Hence, regardless of what anyone thinks, if the police is not reformed we are just going to keep going in circles and it would make all our efforts of the past few weeks go to waste as there will be worst days ahead.
There are definitely good guys in the Nigerian Police Force, but these good guys are largely outnumbered by the bad guys who are shielded by the system. And as usual there will always be bad guys but that's where the system comes to play, so if the system rewards bad guys and punishes good guys, we all know that the results will be catastrophic and no proper progress can be made. It's just the case of taking one step forward and thirty steps backward, hence, we end up in a position far worse than where we started. The police can be made to work properly, the Lagos State RRS proves this fact. But how many states have security trust funds? How many states that have these security trust funds can command donations from well meaning organisations and individuals? Then, most importantly how many systems can be trusted? If the system fails, then every other thing fails.
Our police need urgent reform and the president said on Monday, 12th October 2020, that the disbanding of SARS is the first step to extensive police reform. The truth is, the government seems to have bent over backwards to our demands , we have requested for the disbanding of the Federal SARS and they have yielded to our pressures. We have demanded to be addressed by the President and he has done so. What the average citizen doesn't want is the usual "all talk and no action" - and understandably so. There is no way citizens can be calm or take the Presidents words for it if there is no considerable action shown and this has to be shown swiftly. As long as there is no commitment on the part of the government, citizens will never be convinced as to why they will do what they've said they would do this time around. One simple way of showing commitment is ensuring the police do not fire live bullets during peaceful protests.
I cannot tell anyone how to react or not react in situations like this, all I can do is hope that all the innocent peaceful protesters who have died as a result of these protests will not die in vain. I can only hope for comfort to their families and friends. I can only hope that all those who have died wrongfully in the hands of these rogues will not die in vain. I hope all who have died in their hands and the news never got to the media will not die in vain. I hope the police is reformed as swiftly as possible. Until the country is truly safe for us all, not some of us "BUT ALL OF US", we do not have a country, on this note I leave you with the words of Maya Angelou: "the ache for home lives in all of us. The safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned". At the same time, I believe this is the point where we the citizens gave this process a chance. The government has dissolved SARS, the President has yielded to our demands and even confirmed the same in a video, many protesters who have been arrested have been released and the government has promised that all misbehaving officers will be duly prosecuted. When do we give the process a chance? If you've been following the ENDSARS campaign from when it started - years ago, if you've been following the police reform campaigns, you'll know that this is the most serious the government has been with these discussions. Where is the point we realize that relating with humans isn't a socket switch where you just turn on or off as you wish? So, I ask one more time, when do we give the process a chance? Like I said, I cannot tell anyone how to act or not act.
Written By: Babagbale David King.