By Tahir Ibrahim Tahir
On the 7th of April, 2019, I put up a piece titled, ‘The brutality mentality’, which exhaustively discussed the situation citizens of the country were facing, in the hands of a few brutal elements in the Nigeria Police Force. These few bad ones are giving the entire force a bad image, a terrible name and a disapproving status, as a crime fighting organisation. In my previous piece, I had noted that, “police are treated with disdain and loathed intensely. Over time, policemen have been pettily brutal in their interactions with the general public. The rise of insurgency, the spate of Kidnappings and the farmers-herders clashes, as well as cyber-crime, have escalated police activity, over stretched them – and is perhaps the reason why police brutality is becoming more rampant, where innocent citizens are treated like condemned criminals”. The Special Anti Robbery Squad tagged SARS, has been the unit that has continually drawn the ire of the general public, which gave birth to the hash-tag, #ENDSARS. This trended tremendously online, as bloggers and everyday social media users campaigned for an end to SARS and their operations, as they targeted yahoo boys and other online criminals, whose numbers were on the rise, just as kidnapping and banditry were.
At the time, a clamp down on online crime was the justification for targeting youths simply seen with a laptop or an expensive phone or similar device. Sadly, this war on cyber crime, being handled by the SARS units, has become an abused avenue for maltreating, molesting, extorting and dehumanising sometimes innocent youths.
I came across a statement by the Koguna of Katagum, Bauchi, Alh. Bello Mustapha, which said, “any position you place a Nigerian into, as a boss in an office, an elected official with executive powers, a mother-inlaw to a young spouse, an employee of a maid or other domestic workers, being the rich man in a community among poor people, or even a buyer to a seller; just any position of power or privilege you put a Nigerian into, you will see some elements of the SARS character in him. The character of exploitation, intimidation and maltreatment of those weaker than he is”. This is the truth of what is happening to the SARS units in certain states. The units were necessitated by the type, rate and dominance of certain kinds of crime that was bedevilling the country, which was carried out by youths mostly. There are very exemplary officers of the police force that are doing marvellously well and are even quite popular on social media, such as the Deputy Commissioner of Police, Abba Kyari, who heads the Inspector General of Police’s Intelligence Response Team, IGP-IRT. He once headed the Lagos unit of the SARS outfit before heading the IGP-IRT.
Police brutality is a globally recurring abuse which continues to claim innocent lives. When I wrote the brutality mentality in 2019, it was just at the time that Kolade Johnson was killed by officers of the Special Anti Cultism Squad, SACS, at Magodo, Lagos, just as he was coming back from a viewing centre, where they had watched football. This year’s outrage is coming from a host of killings and the maltreatment of innocent youths in Nigeria. A 21 year old footballer, Tiamiyu Kazeem, was killed by police in Ibadan, back in February. Five days ago, another young lady, Joy Isioma Ndubueze, was shot in the face, by a personnel of the Nigeria Police, who is now at large, running away from the hands of the law. She was shot at Salvation Bus Stop, Opebbi Ikeja, Lagos and images of her face are circulating online, which is very disheartening and frightening. These are just a tip of the iceberg, of victims of police brutality that is becoming a rampant activity, round the SARS formations we have in certain cities like Lagos, Benin and Ibadan.
#ENDSARS is trending once again, this time, not just as an online voice of outrage, but as protests in certain cities, especially those hit most, by the SARS brutality of some of its officers. The protests are in order and are right to seek redress and a reform that can bring an end to this menace of a few bad eggs in our forces. Some other irredentists and ‘revolution now’ headline grabbers, have hugged the anti police brutality protests, in an effort to adopt them as a means of causing instability in the country. We can only hope that the stars and musicians, as well as other social media influencers, are wary of the antics and games of these so called revolutionists, and don’t fall prey to their heinous agenda. When there were calls to protests against removal of fuel subsidy, many Nigerians shunned it as it wasn’t a genuine adventure, and the ‘revolutionists’ were left alone to lick their disappointments and ‘disenfranchisement’. Mr. President has re-iterated the rights of Nigerians to freely protest, while being law abiding. It is worthy of note to see that all those that were arrested in Abuja, at the Maitama Police Station have all been released.
#ENDSARS has been recurring and this is the 4th year running, that the campaign has trended, even though this year’s has been the most profound. Statements calling these officers to order, have been made by the IG of Police in each year, that those protests were made and those orders do not get carried through, or are carried through briefly, and then it’s back to square one. This has created doubts in the minds of the protesters, and that is why they are demanding affirmative action this time around, once and for all. A subsequent detailed document was released by the IGP with specific and much more stern directives, to address the menace that is giving the police a bad name.
Mr. President has met with the IGP and the Vice-president who seems to be seriously disturbed by the SARS misadventure. I believe this time, the Federal Government will do something worthwhile, to mitigate this brutality matter that is giving all sorts of problems nationwide. It is very important to take decisive steps about it, as it can become a demon that becomes a catalyst for the unrest that some agents have been trying so hard to precipate by hook or crook.
If for example we have a proverbial other DCP Abba Kyari to head the Federal SARS outfit, to whom all the state units are answerable to, then we can have a clear picture of the behaviours and activities of each unit or sub-unit. You cannot eliminate a whole crime fighting unit just to cut out the misdemeanor of a few. That is the baby and the bath water, with the baby ‘bather’ all thrown away!
A reform is the most realistic approach and the clean slate start is the immediate withdrawal, completely, of all special units in those troubled states. Then a special training, not just in weaponry, but in detective skills and approach to suspects and other surveillance and operational activities of the units. Each proverbial DCP Abba Kyari in his domain is responsible for the conduct of his officers and his ‘a**’ should be on the line, should his officers be of any immoral or unprofessional behaviour. The units should be very professional, hugely equipped, and have special renumerations for their special activities that are beyond your regular police duty.
Governemnt must earn the trust of the people by means of a practical approach, with visible changes – townhall dialogue if you may, so that the police can be our friends once more. Not trusting criminal looking elements and at the same time not trusting the police, is a huge no no!
Tahir is Talban Bauchi.
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