By Ike Abonyi
“The Police are often as corrupt as the corporate government that employs them” – Steven Magee
The recent yawp against the Nigeria Police unit known as Special Armed Robbery Squad, notoriously called SARS yielded result last Sunday when the Inspector- General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu, announced the scrapping of the unit.
The IGP’s position expectedly elicited positive reactions from the public most of who have demanded exactly that. Some very critical minds however see the development as the usual Nigeria way, where babies are always thrown out with the bath water because we lack the depth and patience to look for far-reaching solutions to problems. The SARS operatives however are to blame for the sadist and monster image they gave to themselves in their rag-tag appearance in place of police uniform. In trying to disguise for covert intelligence operations, the SARS unkempt, disgusting and often provocative attire became a unique uniform of sort for them.
Over the years Nigeria Police has endured with the notorious tag of being the most disliked federal agency even though they have the curious slogan ‘Police is your friend’. Its operatives are indisputably the most hated public service personnel in the country. The other public service personnel that rank closely to them in this instance are the NEPA staff even in whatever name they go by today.
Nigeria went into name changes for electricity workers thinking its dent derives from name, but it has since been realized that the problem is not in the name but in the system. Ditto Nigeria Police, easily the most morally bankrupt federal agency in the country. Everybody has been celebrating the dissolution of SARS with little thought into the implications of the action on the society.
Can the lazy, weak, obviously lackadaisical and frustrated regular police operatives cope with the raging ruthless criminals in today’s society? The truth is that the entire Police force needed to be thrown out if we can afford it because they are rancid. But quickly to note also is the fact that we as a people do not deserve anything better than what we are getting. What is clearly wrong with us as a country is that we are a people who eat our cake and still wants to have it. It still baffles one how Nigeria wants to have a good Police force that they grossly neglect and have absolute discontent for.
There is not a single police station in Nigeria that is not stinking, none. The most neglected public institution in Nigeria is the Nigeria Police. You may say it’s their fault but we tolerated them for this long.
The various Police Colleges where the personnel are trained and indoctrinated remain abandoned and crassly dilapidated. The argument of increasing personnel salaries is not the solution, the problem is deep rooted and needed to be addressed squarely. Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), for instance, even with a lower remuneration will never allow themselves to go so low in psyche and demeanour.
The ravaging public have made noise and SARS have now been removed from our sight, but what of the tumble-down, dirty old police operatives in the villages who are permanently drunk, dirty and fetid of all kinds of roll-ups, hanging out with their guns in local roads harassing and intimidating poor farmers conveying food crops to local markets, extorting money from Okada riders.
What happens to them? If Federal Government and National Assembly are really interested in having a befitting police force, an emergency should be declared in the sector. Is there any SARS operatives who is not a drug addict at least by their mannerism? What kind of training did they give them? Who says you must have some heartlessness to be able to protect society from criminals? Is there any criminal den in this country that is not known to the SARS, is it not only when there is a problem in sharing or going beyond the terms of engagement like killing after robbing that we hear of shoot out or dying during a gun battle? Strangely, some of these notorious SARS operatives that we wasted some human lives protesting against the whole of last week and still raging across the country won award of excellence at peacekeeping mission aboard.
Where then is the problem? The truth of the matter is that what you garbage in is what you garbage out. This society as presently structured cannot produce a good police force, why because the society is itself living in denial.
The healthiest and most intelligent police operatives are crammed in government houses and homes of top public and private officers guiding them while the never-do-wells and the obviously frustrated in the service are left to guard the public space.
In other climes, the best of security outfits are put to man public institutions and markets where people are concentrated, but in our case, as small as five policemen can be sent to guard markets with thousands of heads while troops with clean operational vehicles are sent to guard homes of one moneybags or former ministers, former governors or as is the vogue now rich pastors and men of God.
It’s obvious that our police force as presently structured was not established to serve the ordinary people, but to police them and ensure that they are not nuisance to the rich. At the various Police headquarters at federal, state and divisional levels, unhidden bribery takes place regularly of personnel wanting to be posted to some lucrative areas especially government houses.
Sustaining such juicy posting is usually dependent on the kind of returns done to officers determining the posting. All the telephone numbers displayed by Police authorities to receive complaints against SARS operatives have either not worked or complaints treated with levity because the person you are complaining about already bought his location and you are oftentimes ignored.
Perhaps only the phone number of the Force spokesman, Frank Mba, goes through occasionally but do the commanders listen to him? Why should they, are we not aware of the scrambles that go on for Police operatives to be posted to Southern Nigeria instead of the North? Are Police Commissioners who go to choice places like Rivers, Anambra, Lagos, Abia etc., not officers of Police blue blood? All those who joined the #EndSARS campaign will soon realize that the problem is not in the SARS, but in the Police and the society. When you are harassing a thief whose father is also a thief to drop his way and the father calls him out, you have really achieved nothing but only engaged in window dressing the issue.
The thing to do is to find a way of changing the orientation of his father and also his environment that had all along encouraged and tolerated his father’s wayward ways. What am I saying, Nigeria should try to tackle her challenges holistically not haphazardly? If injustice is apparent in a society, you don’t expect institutions that enforce justice to be just and rational in their operations. SARS notoriety was not as apparent in the Northern Nigeria as it was in the Southern Nigeria, why because of the structural imbalance that makes one oppressor and the other the oppressed. North wants SARS because it helps them confront bandits, but South detests them because they hide under the cover of fighting crime to inflict further crimes on the populace. No society can get its institutions of state working optimally well if its political structure is lopsided and crooked.
When some discerning political minds are clamouring for the restructuring of the country, it would seem as if it’s only politics. But a restructured Nigeria operating true federal system will not have much issues with decentralizing its police force. Is it not the height of hypocrisy for the Federal Government to be running a centralized federal policing system for all, yet the states and local government administrations buy operational vehicles and other items for them to be able to function? So, the question begging for answer from the Police authorities and indeed the Federal Government is what next after SARS? What is police proposing as alternative? SWAT? Already sarcastically explained as (SARS with another Title). It’s not as easy as being populist by scrapping SARS just because the public wanted it.
The responsibility of securing the civil society still rests in the force. Something drastic need to be done to the recruitment policy and curricular of police training institutions. Not until these basic things are addressed alongside the political imbalance in the land, scrapped SARS might just be a baptismal name change with a little adjustment in operation and tactics.
Dozen times have previous IGPs scrapped Police checking points, dozen times have they returned. It’s therefore not yet Uhuru on SARS terrorism on us, it may still come in another form and name. We can only begin to feel safe from both Police and criminals when we start witnessing just police operative who practice justice even when nobody is looking at him. Is this society ripe for such yet? That’s the question President Bihari’s Police reform package will answer.