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Opinions of Tuesday, 20 October 2020

Columnist: Pulse

SARS and SWAT: Can the 'old wine in new bottle' end police impunity in Nigeria?

Barely five days after Nigeria celebrated her 60th independence anniversary, an event that is positioning itself to be the biggest for the West African country hit the scene. It’s a protest against police brutality in the country, which is gradually shaping itself to be a movement against bad governance that has birthed most of the challenges the Nigerian citizenry has since been battling with.

It all started on Tuesday, October 6, 2020, when a footage, showing operatives of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), then an active unit of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF), shot a man at close range, after which they drove away in his car, surfaced the internet. This video, which went viral, rekindled the #EndSARS agitation against police brutality in the country.

With the hashtag, members of the public took to social media to highlight their experiences with SARS, as they unanimously claimed that the notorious police unit is known for extra-judicial killings, wanton arrests and dispossession of properties through physical assault and other intimidation tactics against targets.

Police brutality in Nigeria is age-long
For many years, Nigerians, particularly the youths have experienced hell in the hands of policemen who were employed to basically provide security for them. For having tattoos, dreadlocks, and trending gadgets, a person might lose his or her life to policemen’s abuse and extra-judicial killings, or in some instances, get robbed by the men in black uniforms.

It is noteworthy to assert that when SARS was formed in 1992, it was for the sole purpose of combating armed robbery and other serious crimes in Nigeria. But since its establishment, the police department has been indicted in a series of human rights abuses, which include -arbitrary arrests, unlawful detention, and extortion. In the past years, particularly of recent, members of the public have been expressing their feelings that SARS operatives have deliberately profiled and targeted young people, especially those with tattoos, dreadlocks, and gadgets such as iPhones and laptops.

Failed promises’ romance with new police reform
Recall that just a few days after the #EndSARS protest began, the NPF announced the dissolution of SARS. However, in view of the activities that surround the sanctions and measures put in place to restore normalcy in the Nigerian society, it won’t be erroneous to assert that the Nigerian police can’t be trusted for any kind of reform.

Between 2018 and this year (2020), the police force has banned, disbanded, and scrapped the notorious SARS unit. And in the cases that have happened, it’s mostly due to public outcries triggered by extrajudicial killings and human rights violation of the Nigerian citizenry.

For instance, earlier in the year when Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu ordered the disbandment of satellite offices of the country, it was during the time that Tiamiyu Kazeem, a player of Remo Stars, was killed by members of the police unit. Again, SARS was banned after a public outcry following an attack on a 22-year-old, Joshua Ambrose, by members of the unit.

From the aforementioned instances, one can easily deduce that the reason #EndSARS protesters have refused to back down in spite of the dissolution of the notorious police unit, is because of the police authority’s failure to effect its announced past decisions, which has made Nigerians lose faith in the leadership of their country.

But is better policing possible in Nigeria?
Unarguably, security of lives and properties is the bedrock of economic and political stability of any country. It is in this light that the central government is saddled with the responsibility of internal security by establishing and sustaining its police outfit.

Standard policing is crucial to societal orderliness, and how standard policing is for any country is a determinant factor for the country’s development. Sadly, Nigeria has failed in this regard. In Africa's most populous nation, poor policing has turned many women into widows, made many children orphans, and at the same time, inflict life threatening injuries on individuals.

A total overhaul of the Nigerian police force is required for impunity to become a problem of the past in the system because poor policing in the country isn’t associated with the defunct SARS alone. Since the police system in the country is seen as an oppressive tool against members of the public, the need to carry out a wholesome overhaul of the system cannot be overemphasised.

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