On Tuesday, the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, announced a new police outfit to replace the disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad of the Nigeria Police. Given how vehemently the police had previously argued that it was impossible to dissolve SARS before they capitulated to public pressure, the haste with which they have replaced SARS is worrying.
What exactly has changed within the 48 hours between when Adamu disbanded SARS and set up its replacement named SWAT? Most likely, SWAT will still employ existing SARS personnel and their existing infrastructure.
The rather hasty switch from SARS to SWAT suggests that the IG and his cohort do not appreciate the depth of the problem. What we run is a policing system that protects against the people.
They achieve this by recruiting officers that are mostly poorly-trained, poorly-renumerated, and are thus prone to sadistic use of power. There lies the problem, and it is hard to believe that the IG reflected on the issues long enough within the 48 hours when SARS was dissolved and SWAT set up.
Even if Adamu had been thinking of the problem of the bad policing system in Nigeria all his life, they would still have needed some more time to dissolve the part of their existing infrastructure that needed overhauling. At the same time, they also spend quality time refining other aspects of their operations.
Take, for example, an ex-commander of SARS, one Vandefan Tersugh, who defended the police’s unintelligent profiling on television on Monday. If any Nigerian ever needed material proof that the malevolence that manifests through the action of the men of SARS was official policy, Tersugh gave more than enough. In response to the interviewer’s question, he noted that his suspicions arouse when he sees a young person driving a car worth N7m. As a policeman, he believed he had the duty to stop such a person and interrogate them on their source of income and even their family background.
In the narrowed world where Tersugh lives, young people are supposed to be destitute. Anyone that can afford small luxuries such as a car, therefore, warrants immediate suspicion. Tersugh’s illogic must be, among other pathologies, also a psychological problem.
A young person driving a N7m car that Tersugh likely could not afford when he was at a similar age spells crime to him. Having primed his instincts to see a criminal, Tersugh, by his own admission, would pounce on the person without recourse to the law that grants such a person their rights to privacy and personal dignity. God help you if you encounter a policeman like Tersugh and he asks to run through your Facebook account. If you refuse to let him violate your right to privacy, his ego would not only be further bruised, but things would also go down from there.
In saner places, Tersugh’s madcap admissions would be enough for all those arrested under his watch as SARS commander to file a class-action lawsuit. He is an embodiment of Nigeria’s bad faith policing system. Such myopia has been enough reason for people to remain unimpressed with the sweeping reforms promised by the IG and the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.).
Neither the IG nor the President is famous for operating with good faith in their dealings with the public. Their promises are hardly bankable, and it is hard to trust they will see any of their promises through this time.
The #EndSARS protest itself should have been an opportunity for the police to demonstrate their commitment to the reforms they said they would implement. Instead, the same effusive show of power that has always driven their interactions with the public still defined their handling of a tense situation. According to Amnesty International, about 10 protesters have been shot dead so far.
Many others too are injured. How come the police managed the protest so poorly that many people ended up dead? Why did they deploy live bullets against peaceful protesters? Considering that the police and the army officers are the only side in the demonstrations legally allowed to carry weapons, the protesters’ death must be on them. If they could not handle the protest with the grace of an organisation that has finally learned to police with integrity, how can anyone be reassured that SWAT would do anything differently from SARS?
Whether SARS or SWAT, any attentive observer to the protests can tell that Nigerians’ angst goes well beyond bad policing. Nigeria has wounded so many people, that to be socialised as a Nigerian is to be traumatised. Ours is a country whose malevolence against its people is unrelenting. SARS is the trigger point for many because their official policy has been tantamount to stealing, killing, and destroying people.
Those on the streets are not just tired of a police system that operates in bad faith, they are also tired of a country that kills them before they can even grow.
They are frustrated with the endless cycles of endemic poverty, corruption, and insecurity that have ruled the country all their lives. In Nigeria, you cannot get the quality of education that sets you up for life. You are not guaranteed quality healthcare, and your life is quite easily discounted. Overall, you have very slim chances of upward mobility, and yes, the police can still shoot you on the streets.
One has to be a morally blind and disingenuous leader to assume that what is at stake in the #EndSARS protests is all about the policing system, and people can be merely placated by switching the names of a notorious death squad. It is about people who are thoroughly tired of a sterile leadership that uses their sweat and blood to nourish itself. It is about a dead-end government that has no agenda for social flourishing.
It is about Nigerians finally done with circling the same mountain of incompetence and mediocrity, while all that detains our leaders’ attention is winning elections and concomitant self-enrichment. People are tired of multi-generational dysfunctionality, and they want to finally live as humans with realisable potential. What has been the point of all the suffering Nigerians have endured all these years?
When does life finally get to start? Underneath the #EndSARS call is indignation against a broken system. It should not take setting up a panel or committee to understand the protesters’ disillusionment. If our leaders are sensible, they had better start speaking to the issues.
On #EndSARS, first they need to own up to the murder of people. There is no better way to demonstrate that than firing the police IG, Adamu. Nobody should make excuses for him that the rot in the police system precedes his leadership. He is the one presently invested with the moral responsibility to oversee the system. If he has not lived up to that duty, he should be dismissed. Hopefully, someone with a fresh vision can be appointed in his place. Second, they should open a register of those they have killed. By taking a proper account of their crimes, they will realise the magnitude of the problem. Such a log is not only useful for accountability on behalf of the police, it will also memorialise their victims. There should also be a memorial monument built and placed in the police headquarters in the Federal Capital Territory.
On that monument should be inscribed the names of everyone they ever killed, with an apology appended. Every day the IG and his men report to work, they need to see the monument and be reminded of how much debt they owe to society. Third, there should be adequate compensation for the victims. On this, I must acknowledge the initiative of Lagos State governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who announced he had set up a N200 million fund to compensate families of victims of SARS killings. That is a good start, and even a demonstration of good faith. However, that sum is paltry. The government should commit to a minimum of N25 million for each life violated. SARS victims’ families deserved it and even more. Unless, of course, the argument is that Nigerian lives do not matter.