An adage says, “a child that vows not to let the mother sleep will likewise lose sleep.” This is beginning to be a trigger for the mobilization of the masses against police brutality, extortion, penchant criminal framing, killing and dehumanizing of youths by officers of Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS in Nigeria.
The mobilization and campaign have garnered momentum to becoming a top trend in the UK, US, and global coverage with the hashtag, “EndSARS, EndSARSnow, EndSARSprotest sparking in Nigeria to the world.
With little local mainstream media coverage of the protest across the country, the youths have demonstrated a worthy ingenuity by wielding power of unity, mobilization and uniquely technology;using social media to record the excesses of the uniformed men turned criminals, even murderers and majorly to harmonize voices to say a NO to the sqaud’s reform but demand a spontaneous disband. The hashtag continues to gain millions of tweets, impressions and importantly attention globally, making all to join in unison to reject the operation of SARS in Nigeria.
The ban of the Federal Anti-Robbery Squad and other tactical squads by the Inspector General of Police from stop and search and patrols at the hill of social media pressure and mass anger to the sheer demonstration of brute forces, shooting of unarmed citizens, and coordinated attacks of youths has gone beyond breaking the camel’s back, to turning the camel against its rider who controls. Nigerians continue to reject the gross indiscipline and evils perpetrated by men of Nigeria Police Force, NPF, SARS especially.
The EndSARS campaign started in 2016 but before then, cases of alleged misconduct, road-mounting for money, extortion and other illicit practices have wrapped the NPF, generating a peoples’ hostility to the men of the Force; due to the turn of the defenders to oppressors of the people. With the campaign gaining weight on social media then, the government promised to intervene and make changes, but you know just like the every 4-year promise of giving Nigerians unfailed power supply, they failed at effecting a meaningful change in the Force.
In 2018, SARS was changed to FSARS, Federal Anti-Robbery Squad. It’s however pathetic that the reformation affected only the name as the men of the Squad grew in muscle and punched Nigerian youths with full forces even taking away their last breaths if they failed to settle with a mobile fund transfer or cryptocurrency- a show of shame. Does such a unit still need to continue operations?
SARS is a unit of the NPF, majorly to work on intelligence reports to strike out crimes by tramping on criminals, syndicate and their rings in order to give peace to the people, making the society a safe place to work and live. But the present reality emanating from the streets of actions from men of the Force makes one really doubt a commitment to such responsibility; rather, men of NPF see every peaceful gathering for protest as a threat to them, tear-gassing, maiming, shooting, and arresting peaceful protesters at their exercise of constitutionally recognized rights. How do you justify using brute forces on peaceful citizens praying for liberty from your oppression? The mass-move is not only commanding global attention but shaping a route to liberty.
SARS Officers mostly operate in mufti, a norm that endangers the people, making it difficult for them to distinguish a police officer from a criminal. What do you call a person who forces you to transfer money to his account at a gun point? The answer lies in the strength of the campaign against police terror, demanding SARS disbanded, NOW.
A mass mobilization of people is a serious pointer to an issue. In 2015, Nigerian en masse protested against bad governance, terrorism, kidnapping and economic unrest. However, in 2020, despite the hardship in the country, the police extortion and maltreatment tops the pains of Nigerians, forcing them to protest against it- a demonstration of how tough, vile and fire-shooting the SARS operations have been for the masses. Regardless of attempts to break the people, the protesters are waxing stronger whether in LAGOS, BENIN, ABUJA, LONDON OR AMERICA, the messages remain “EndSARS, EndpoliceBrutality, Now.”
Why not a reform of SARS again, but a disband? A reform of the SARS in 2018 effected a change of name, a stop of their patrols and stop and search of which within blink of eye, their men were back on the roads running after youths and milking them off as usual. But, this tactic continues to remain the same yearly; same in 2017, 2018, 2019 and now 2020- an effective reform of the Force in 4-year span if truly functional should be visible to the world now, rather the reverse is the case. If you bought a dog to secure your house and it killed your children, one after the other, do you repaint the dog from brown to black as reformation?
The menace of SARS is a direct result of the institutional failure rocking the NPF. The failure houses police officers collecting tokens at every crossroads, pocketing bribes at every nooks and crannies. The NPF needs a wholistic reconfiguration with the ban of SARS.
The inefficiency of the NPF embodies the reckless use of weapons against armless citizens, unrecognized dresses and danger-ridden operations of officers. A direct solution to the menace would be ensuring that all officers are dressed in uniform, names boldly tagged, with their body cameras on; a suggestion which has been available for long time to no implementation.
In this dispensation, reforming the Force should embody merging units, transparent recruitment, humane funding, and a strategic orientation of officers on civility, technology, modernization, social media, human interaction and communication. The present structure reeks of odour forcing life out of youthful souls in the country.
Afolabi writes from Ibadan.