I have watched with keen interest the demonstrations and protests being orchestrated by some Nigerians to put an end to the operations of the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad easily known as F-SARS. I got worried reading the commentaries of some notable Nigerians adding vent to the discourse and advancing reasons on why the Police must disband the SARS operations.
First, I need to state the point that whatever that is wrong with the operations of SARS is a reflection of the society we find ourselves. Operatives of SARS are Nigerians drawn from different socio-political and economic milieu of the Nigerian society.
Throwing away the baby with the bath water is not, to me, the road to travel, because of a few bad eggs in the Police. What we desire is a complete and holistic overhaul and reform of the Nigeria Police Force. It is a Force that has become a ragtag organisation, where corruption has eaten all its fabric, exposing its nakedness in the eyes of all.
Those who are shouting ENDSARS, should also be bold enough to carry out ENDYAHOO-YAHOO protest too, ENDCORRUPTION, ENDVOTE-BUYING to eliminate the disturbing scenarios that have dragged us backward. You can disband SARS to rebound and rebrand it, but to outrightly eliminate it is going to be counter-productive. The men of the Nigeria Police are not entirely bad.
There are some fine gentlemen officers and God-fearing order ranks who have shown so much of professionalism in the course of carrying out their duties. There are police operatives that diligently execute their assignments with huge breakthroughs and uncommon exploits against crimes and criminalities. But just like the irony in life, a sore thumb often prevents the hand from effective use. This is where SARS comes in.
Since Nigeria is becoming one “shithole” of a country, it gets to a point at times when you begin to wonder if there is leadership in place. The corruption in the Nigeria police takes away the integrity from those who should lead and often times deny them the opportunity to challenge junior officers. The reason is obvious.
Most times, bribes and gratifications are handed out to seek juicy postings. Policemen often times pay for their uniforms and boots. You often see police vans and trucks by the road side without fuel or good tyres. You also see police officers on checkpoints with ragtag uniforms. Some wear bathroom slippers to complement their uniforms.
Some have no name tags. Others are permanently on checkpoints because of the money they collect on a daily basis, and not necessarily to combat crimes. When you see some policemen, you would almost throw up. That exactly is the archetypal representation of the rot in the larger Nigerian society.
It is a country of rot upon rot, corruption upon corruption, destroying the very soul of a country overwhelmed by incompetent leadership. SARS, just like Nigeria, is a mixture of the good, the bad and the ugly. Pray not to fall victim of SARS or Police high-handedness. At the Police Station, a complainant easily becomes an accused, if you fail to grease their palms.
Operatives of SARS often come out with indecent dressing, looking like the dregs of the society, bandying AK 47 with questionable look. Do you blame them? How much is their take home pay on a monthly basis?
What are their conditions of service? When they die in the course of their duty, what do they get from the Police authority? What happens to their families? Have you visited any Police Barrack to see the condition of the homes of those who have been armed to protect you and I?
Most Police barracks stink to high heaven, comparable to pigsty. It is often not because there is no funding, it is simply a function of misplaced priority and corruption at the highest place. When ex-IGP Solomon Arase introduced the Safer Highways with brand new vehicles positioned in strategic locations instead of barricaded checkpoints, a lot of those operatives didn’t like it. It robbed them of the opportunity to exploit the public.
That initiative was the first, deliberate, strategic, result and knowledge-driven effort to apply a different approach to combating highway crimes. That initiative left with him, because in Nigeria, there is hardly continuity. Checkpoints came back in full swing to exploit Nigerians. Imagine from Lagos to Onitsha, over 60 checkpoints dot the road. When a passenger complains about high fares, the driver is quick to remind him that Police will collect a fraction.
There is this particular checkpoint on Okene to Okpella road, at the Kogi end, that has permanently featured the same personnel in the last four years. That checkpoint must be a very lucrative one, no doubt. I have had cause to encounter them a couple of times. At some point, they made me to do a detour to Okene Police station, where they had threatened to deal with me for using a properly allocated official vehicle plate number when I was Edo Commissioner.
Despite all my explanation, these two Constables that were improperly dressed, dragged me back to Okene, when I was almost entering the Edo boundary and close to my community of Okpella.
Unknown to them, I had informed the Deputy Commissioner of Police then, who took personal effort to physically come to the police station. On arrival, the constables jumped down from their ragtag hilux, and sauntered into their office to report me, but unlucky to meet the DCP.
Seeing the friendly way the DCP greeted me, they were now wondering what was amiss. I narrated my story, and the DCP ordered them to be put in the guardroom having listened to them, and seeing that it was a case of deliberate abuse of power. I thought that would be the end of those guys at that particular checkpoint. Alas! a week later, when I was returning, lo and behold, the same guys had resumed. They stopped me and seeing my face, they turned the other way, and simply told me to carry my “wahala go”.
Those are the bad eggs in the Police. Till date, those guys are still running that checkpoint like ATM. Even with their presence, kidnappers and armed robbers still operate on that road without hindrance.
So, what the Police generally needs urgently is a complete overhaul, operational re-orientation and attitudinal orientation that would enhance its confidence level between it and the civil populace. Presently, there are many “yahoo-yahoo boys” who have taken this protest to the ridiculous height as a way to vent their anger against SARS operatives who have become a thorn in their flesh.
Agreed that some SARS operatives could be very funny, ridiculous and overzealous on duty, thus leading to unconscionable brutality but a lot more have consistently checkmated the unwholesome activities of “yahoo-yahoo boys” and other form of crimes and cybercrimes.
The “yahoo-yahoo” boys are the ones shouting the loudest. What we desire is a new approach. In other climes, when you see the combat readiness of Police operatives, it is enough to caution a would-be criminal to be careful about crime. Back home, the moment you see a policeman, you will immediately know he needs help. Poverty, hunger and deprivation are all written over him. From the top to the bottom, they are as corrupt and rotten as a rotten egg.
Their indecent conduct pollutes the air. When the “Ogas” unleash their “boys” on the streets, they give them targets. Postings in the police these days are often a function of how much you are able to raise to influence them. There is nothing like meritocracy.
Mediocrity rules the air as the society continues to grind to the abyss of corruption and financial crimes. If the Nigeria Police are reputed to be corrupt and brutal, it means they are deriving their inspiration from a decadent society that has been so uncaring to its citizenry. The rot in the larger society is taking firm roots in the Police. Recruitment into Police Force is often by “man knows man”. Promotion is another kettle of fish.
There are many Policemen that are overdue for promotion, but held down by factors that are neither here nor there. From the top to the junior cadres, promotion is often treated like a sacrilege. What about their salaries and other conditions of service? You surely don’t want to hear what a Police Constable earns.
And these are the people you send out to the field, after spending hours under the scorching sun, he loses his mental calmness, and becomes aggressive towards the society he was sent to protect. How many of them have been given training on anger management? How much of care is being extended to them when they are on duty?
Do you feed them? Are they being allowed to go on break and refresh? The tales we hear about the operations of the Police are not stories that could ignite patriotism. You may blame SARS, but blame the system that produced SARS the more. Our Police generally need rebranding and repositioning. As much as some protesters are asking for end to SARS, we must begin to look at the bigger picture.
We can reduce incidences of police brutality if a deliberate effort is put in place to holistically repackage the operations of SARS, but to ask for total disbandment will be a handshake beyond the elbow. The protesters may celebrate now, I hope it won’t be another celebration for armed robbers later. We need a new SARS to inject new thinking into our consciousness as we continue to find solutions to combat growing crimes and criminalities.
Any government that dances to mass hysteria needs to be properly re-examined. Like the popular saying, it is government that should determine where it is taking her people, and not the people that should dictate where it is taking the government.