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Sequel to the recent national outcry on the brutal activities of the SARS (Special Anti-Robbery Squad), the Vice President’s firm resolution to check their excesses is quite reassuring, but it must be matched with firm and decisive executions.
Despite the Inspector General of the Nigerian police commitment to equally ensuring the cleansing of the police structure in the country, the executive arm of the government should ensure that one of the most important state machinery should not be seen as an agent of destruction, instead of preservation and maintenance of law and order.
Nigeria is a country where serious cases of abuse of police authority and human rights infringements by security agents often stimulate and generate an unending dialogue between the government and its disgruntled citizenry.
Though there have been barefaced denials always, by the leadership of the Nigerian Police Authority, on the excesses of their foot soldiers, statistical records of their serial abuse of power, torture, extra-judicial execution and many brutalities against the citizenry abound.
Undoubtedly, the police ought to be the conscience of the society by maintaining law and order. They should both serve as the moral judges and watchdogs of the society in whose presence every citizen is free to enjoy his or her democratic freedom of movement and association. In a common parlance, the police ought to be people’s friends, carrying all and sundry along, as Shepard watches over his flocks.
Yet, when the same state security agent tasked with the responsibility of preserving law and order, and protection of the lives of the citizens, becomes a threat to their existence, it becomes an existential necessity to call them to order.
Paradoxically, this is exactly what has become of the Nigerian Police Force nowadays. Not only that they abused the power entrusted in them, they often used it brutally and mercilessly against the very people they ought to protect.
Ironically, this unfortunate reversal of fortune comes at a time when the nation is experiencing the worst form of insecurities in the anal of its existence.
From banditry, broad daylight armed robbery, kidnapping and all sorts of brigands in the land, the spectre of fear and uncertainties are palpable. This is the sad reality of the situation and there seems to be no end in sight.
Expectedly, their overarching abuse of power draws a sharp criticism by the general public. Of particular concern is the activities of the SARS Unit; a branch of the Nigeria Police Force under the Force Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department (FCIID).
The squad deals with crimes associated with armed robbery, car snatching, kidnapping, cattle rustling, and all sorts of crimes associated with firearms.
However, recent reality check reveals not only their ineffectiveness in handling their responsibilities but their excesses in dealing with ordinary citizens they ought to protect
More so, countless ordinary Nigerians attempting to make precarious ends meet as drivers, traders, and shopkeepers are accosted on a daily basis by armed police officers who often demand bribes and commit human rights abuses against them as a means of extorting money. Those who fail to pay are frequently threatened with arrest and physical harm.
Meanwhile, victims of crime are obliged to pay the police from the moment they enter a police station to file a complaint until the day their case is brought before the authority.
While in the shadows, high-profile police officials embezzle staggering sums of public funds meant to cover basic police operations and often times enforce a perverse system of “returns” in which rank-and-file officers are compelled to pay up the chain of command a share of the proceeds they extort from their victims.
Regrettably, those charged with police oversight, discipline, and reform have, for years, failed to take effective action, thereby reinforcing impunity for the police officers of all ranks who regularly perpetrate crimes against the citizens they are mandated to protect.
Arguably, many Nigerian police officers conduct themselves in an exemplary manner, working in precarious and often dangerous conditions to ensure the safety of the citizens they were trained to protect.
Those meticulous and diligent patriots, often earn the respect and admiration of the citizenry, but for many Nigerians, the police force has utterly failed to fulfil its mandate of providing public security.
Unfortunately, several decades after its inception, members of the force are still viewed more as predators and enemies than protectors, and the Nigeria Police Force has become a symbol in Nigeria of unfettered corruption, mismanagement, and abuse.
These abuses range from arbitrary arrest and unlawful detention to threats and acts of violence, including physical and violent assault, torture, and even extrajudicial killings.
To restore sanity in the scheme, as assured by the Vice President, in collaboration with the Inspector General of the Police, an inward restructuring of the police force is necessary. Of particular importance is the demarcation of the roles and responsibilities of the various unit of the police force.
As a measure to curtail their excesses, the SARS unit should be made to focus strictly on their mandate; dealing with crimes associated with armed robbery, car snatching, kidnapping, cattle rustling, and crimes associated to firearms.
They shouldn’t be seen brandishing their weapons with impunity in public, creating an unnecessary atmosphere of fear in the midst of the people.
Such commando and combatant approach should resonate only with the necessity of their mandate. Thus, they should be made to wear their normal and decent police uniform until special occasion demands otherwise.
And where an armless civilian’s altercations are involved, a unit of a police force with such special training should be assigned.
In both cases, their presence and the expertise with which they handle such armless civilian cases can serve as both symbols of hope and sanity, in otherwise chaotic and disorderly circumstances. The police should be seen as a peacemaker, not conflict profiteers.
Most importantly, the authority, as promised by the Vice President must be ready to fish out offenders and ensure their proper punishment to serve as a deterrent to others.
Only then can the hope and mutual respect between the police and the general public be restored and preserved for the peaceful progress and development of the society in general.