This month, hundreds of thousands of Nigerian youth run to the streets to demand an end to police brutality, with specific reference to the human rights abuses perpetrated by the notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigeria Police, seen as a rogue unit charged with combatting armed robbery and criminal gangs.
The SARS is merely a symptom of the Nigerian law enforcement malaise. For long, our security institutions operate with gross impunity by putting themselves above the law, thereby turning themselves into institutions of repression instead of law enforcement.
Cases of torture, rape, extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances are too numerous to mention. Even as the government signed the Anti-Torture Law of 2017, enforcement still remains a problem and cases of human rights abuses continue uncontrollably.
The Nigeria Police has consistently ranked lowest on the World Internal Security and Police Index report, ranking 127 out of 127 in 2017 and 2019. The report assessed the police along 4 criteria of capacity, process, legitimacy and outcomes.
Nigeria is the most under-policed country in the world, with a police ratio of 219 police officers for every 100,000 people, far below the global average of 300 and the Sub-Saharan African average of 268. Yet what’s even more worrying is that 30 – 40% of Nigeria’s police force are deployed protecting the 1% VIPs, from politicians to government officials, private companies to wealthy individuals.
For long, the Nigeria Police is both under-staffed and under-funded, and the caliber of people being recruited into the Force leaves much to be desired.
Often, the police job is preserved for the worst of the society, for people of questionable moral character and integrity. This lapse continues to reflect on the image and behavior of the force, and therefore any reform must consider the Force’s personnel composition.
As protests run amok from Lagos to Abuja and across world major capitals as well as social media platforms, Nigerian authorities grapple with how to respond to the rising momentum around the #EndSARS protests. The initial concession to reform the SARS was met with outright rejection, considering how previous promises of reform were betrayed.
At last, the Inspector General of Police caved into the demands of the protestors by announcing the disbandment of SARS across the country. But protestors are still demanding that these pronunciations must be backed by concrete actions, prominent among which include prosecuting police officers implicated in human rights abuses, compensating victims of police abuse, and institutionalizing greater transparency in policing and law enforcement.
The Sahelian Times is lending its voice to the #EndSARS protest and is committed to leveraging its powerful digital platforms to support the struggle for responsible policing in Nigeria and across the world. The idea of policing is made by the necessity inherent in our human realities. Since all of us cannot carry arms or perform the job of policing, we relinquish those rights to bear arms to the police in exchange for our protection. It is a people’s police and Nigerians have every right to determine how the police should function.
The disbandment of the SARS by the IGP is an important step, but it is still not yet Uhuru for Nigerians. The reform must go far enough. The National Human Rights Commission must be strengthened to investigate and prosecute human rights abuses by law enforcement officials. The Anti-Torture Law needs to be rigorously enforced. Likewise, police authorities should be made to publish quarterly reports of all cases of human rights abuses and what they are doing about them.
More importantly, we must change or reform our policing DNA from hard to soft policing, from a force of crooks to that of men and women of courage, integrity and patriotism. That would require a new training doctrine, new recruitment criteria and new operating procedures. Any reform process that does not address those fundamental issues will end up like the ones in the past. But the reality is, the present state of the Nigeria Police is incompatible with our present reality and future aspirations and that failure to reform the police would only sow the seed of future chaos.
The time is now, EndSARS and reform the police!