All the world over, security of lives and properties of citizens is the raison d’être of government. In Nigeria, The Nigeria Police Force, an agency of the executive arm of government undertakes this duty. Which for effective operation, established the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) as a unit under the Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department in 1992i to nip in the bud upsurge of robbery activities that pose a threat to our lives and properties. Sadly, this special unit, SARS, now uses its powers as a stick against the citizens it exists to protect.
Against this backdrop, there have been past and ongoing passionate calls for abolishment of SARS. Especially as past efforts towards reformation proved abortive. However, an abolishment of SARS like past reforms I fear will amount to a paper tiger and at worst, a futile exercise.
How so? Here’s a logical explanation; upon abolishment, SARS officials, being members of the Nigeria Police Force won’t suffer dismissal, rather, resume duty in other extant unit (s) of the mainstream police and the decay continues albeit, under an unfamiliar name. Which will not bring to halt the problem of police brutality, extortion, human rights abuses and extrajudicial killings SARS officials perpetrateii. Hence, what we need is a holistic reform of the entire Nigeria Police Force so that SARS and other units within the force can conduct themselves under international best practices if we must achieve the change we passionately desire.
Every student of history will recall that prior to the reform announced few days ago by the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, we had failed reform of SARS in 2015, 2017, 2018 and 2019iii. In fact, sometimes in 2018, Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, started a reformiv which saw the unit rechristened F-SARS (Federal Special Anti- Robbery Squad) but, without gainsaying only the name changed, the terror continued. A thorough reform that takes into account these crucial points will make a difference.
The genuine reformation of SARS and by extension its umbrella body, Nigeria Police Force must begin with reorientation of the entire member of the force. The deep-seated rot in the system exposes the lackluster training received at police academies across the nation. There is need to inculcate in the police officers’ values such as Patriotism, decorum and empathy among others. Officers need to realize they’re not a machinery of the state who functions at the beck and call of few high and mighty in the society unwavering in oppressing fellow citizens. A classic example is how police escort of Senator Abbo conducted himself as accomplice to the assault meted out by his principal against an ordinary Nigerianv he serves to protect.
Decorum among the police will also mean deviation from flagrant breach of codes of conduct like, request for bribes from commuters which often culminates in sad turn such as shooting at innocent citizens when they resist such request for bribe or illegal arrest.
Likewise, empathy as a value upheld in the police force will go a long way to endear victim-citizens to report crimes of stealing, rape, murder, etc. To the police, as against resorting to jungle justice. While they can conduct this reorientation for extant members of the police force as part of periodic trainings, new recruits must undergo this orientation and show to have imbibed same before admission into the force.
In addition, the menace of police brutality is rife because there is a low level of internal accountability system within the force. Today, a typical SARS official in Nigeria wakes up and hits the street with a gun dangling around his or her shoulders, exploit citizens and close for the day. There is no superior who receives daily report or any system of monitoring police conducts. Drawing inspiration from practice in other climes, an effective reform would warrant adoption of a technology driven monitoring system in the force. Like the customary Walkie Talkie, police officers should have attached to each one of them body camera to capture every of their daily activities religiously monitored by an efficient monitoring body and failure to attach the body camera or detach during official duty should attract strict penalty perhaps a dismissal.
The place of policies and legislations is pivotal to a successful holistic reform. And without prejudice to the recently signed into law Police Bill 2020, which provides for certain laws in tandem with global practice, there is a need for an urgent constitutional amendment.
Section 215 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) allows the Governor of a State or commissioner to direct the commissioner of police to deploy police machinery for maintenance and securing of public safety and public order within the state as he may consider necessary subject to the approval of the President (or any minister authorized).
This is however subject to abuse by power drunk government officials as sub-section 5 of the same section 215 ousts the court’s jurisdiction by providing that “The question whether any, and if so what, directions have been given under this section shall not be inquired into in any court.” To illustrate, it then means that a power drunk sitting governor who deploys the police to teargas and round up peaceful protesters exercising their rights to peaceful protests and assembly can use this constitutional provision as a shield from prosecution. Thus, to achieve an effective reform, we must amend this constitutional clog in the wheel of effective judicial review of policing in Nigeria.
Careful study of the trend of the rots in Nigeria Police Force suggests introduction of random drug and alcohol test as part of an effective reform. It is no longer news that police officers engage in substance abuse. Repeatedly, images and videos have surfaced on the internet, capturing uniformed men in this unbecoming act. At other times, they have attributed police brutality to non-sobriety State of the perpetrator.
It will be instructive to establish a drug test department within the force which will conduct pre-employment test for recruits (failure of which leads to disqualification), and periodic test on serving officers of the force especially after a report of accidental discharge, illegitimate conduct and so forth. With a measure like this, there’s no cat in hell’s chance officers won’t be on their toes.
Last, an effective reform should factor in an admixture of retributive and restorative system of justice. It implies that although police-perpetrators face trial and justice manifestly done, it shouldn’t end there. The victims of police brutality, extortion and harassment should receive commensurate compensation. No amount of money is worth cruel, degrading and inhumane treatment victims suffer, yet, a monetary compensation to victims or family of victims in unfortunate situation the victim pass away, give a sense of justice further than merely seeing the perpetrator dismissed and serve time in jail.
In fact, we should not restrict compensation sought from court to monies. We should extend the scope to cater for health-care of victims, education and welfare of children and spouses of deceased– victims and any other reasonable compensation commensurate to each circumstance.
In conclusion, the reform cannot but begin now! Enough of extortion and harassment by the body meant to serve and protect us. It is prime time the leadership of the Nigerian Police Force take cognizance and implement the effective reform strategies afore discussed in this piece and those proposed by other concerned Nigerians. The consequences of continued deafening silence of government or reluctance to implement effective reform are better imagined than said.
Bolaji Alade is a 400 Level law student of the University of Ibadan with a keen interest in International Criminal Law, Journalism and Media & Entertainment Law. He can be reached through firstname.lastname@example.org