By Muiz Banire, SAN
Let me start by stating categorically that this is the most tortuous piece I have written in recent times, not because of the need to search for materials or absence of relevant thoughts but for the singular fact that I have had to rewrite the content virtually daily in the last five days as events change by the minute, hour and daily. This continues to necessitate my revisit of the content as the dynamics change. I dare say that this is largely reflective of what an average Nigerian has to contend with in the country in order to survive the crippling challenges of the times. At a point that I thought I had concluded the writing, the Inspector-General of Police, on Sunday, the 11th day of October, addressed a press conference where he disbanded the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), the nauseating cynosure of public annoyance.
That was against the background of the virtually week-long protest that has been raging against the continuous existence of the squad. The agitation against the outfit has been trending all over the country with the IGP’s initial reaction directing the overhaul of the operations of the squad. The initial directive was that the members of the squad should cease to operate on the roads, or by way of checkpoints. Recall that this is not the first time the country is witnessing such disapproval of the squad by the public; it was almost becoming a perennial issue. The allegations against the squad range from high-handedness, to brutality, torture, mindless extortion, inhuman and degrading treatment and, at times, outright murder.
Several attempts at reforming the squad have been made in the past by the various administrations of the Nigeria Police, all to no avail. Events, however, peaked in the last couple of weeks when the harassment and molestation of the citizenry, particularly the youths, suddenly assumed a dangerous dimension. Also, in response to the agitation, the President summoned the IGP and directed that the concern of the people be addressed. This act, I must say, is commendable, as it marked a departure from the usual attribution of such agitations to the handiwork of the opposition or maintaining a deafening silence. In all of these, what stands out now is the beginning of the recognition of the people as the ultimate sovereign.
The men of the squad, if the statement by the police spokesman, Frank Mba, is anything to go by, are specially trained police officers for the purpose of combating heinous crimes. The veracity or otherwise of the skill is debatable, going not only by the delivery of the squad but also the unprofessional manner in which they operate. As indicated by the IGP, the men of the defunct squad are to be redeployed to other formations while working out arrangements towards a new structure that will cater for the supposed gap created as a result of their absence. With this development, will the redeployment change their nature or character? This, I doubt very much, particularly when there is no new training or reorientation to make them civil. No wonder, therefore, that the agitators still refused to leave the streets, calling for the sack of those who served in the unit. You can only take the monkey out of the bush but you cannot take the bush out of the monkey.
I understand that a new structure is being worked out with the commencement of training for the members, according to the police management. I am glad that the new team is undergoing training, otherwise, my challenge would have been that a replacement of the squad with a new one, with the same men of the police, will end up being an exercise in futility. I say this, speaking the mind of most Nigerians, that all the traits exhibited by men of the defunct squad are already part of the culture of the men of the Nigerian police.
Thus, transition is largely that of nomenclature than substance. What this means is that replacement without reformation will constitute a sheer waste of efforts. The implication of this is that the entire men of the police need re-orientation that will engender a new, civilised and professional culture. Too many things are wrong with the organisation. If the thought of an average Nigerian is to be weighed, the ongoing struggle surpasses protest against the squad, to the realm of the complete reformation of the police. It is, therefore, no surprise that the President and the Vice-President of the country came to pronounce that the dissolution is just a step among many to come in the reform of the Nigerian police.
The protest is still unceasing despite those assurances due to the fact that traumatised Nigerians are still aggrieved, and justifiably so. The message from them is realistically that of ending the police as an institution, hence the ashtag, #Endnigerianpolice. The truth, however, is that this is unrealistic and the push must be with caution.
In order for me not to be misconstrued, I am entirely for the struggle against any unprofessional mode of policing Nigeria, particularly the extortion, harassment, molestation, victimisation, torture, intimidation, maiming and outright murder of Nigerians. The civil and peaceful protest is a hallmark of democracy and is commendable. However, beyond the façade, I believe that there are so many other latent issues that must be addressed to have proper policing. They are too numerous to capture in a writeup of this nature but I shall endeavour to discuss as many as space permits.
The truth remains that, if we have to replace the entire workforce with new people, they still have to be from this same contaminated or polluted society. What this implies, therefore, is that government needs to go beyond the lip service being paid to the challenges of the police. Undoubtedly, there exist in Nigeria today several reports on police reforms, gathering dust, as usual, on the shelves without implementation. Hence, I am not convinced that any further diagnosis or prognosis of the issues with the police need be undertaken. What is desirable is only the implementation of the recommendations, which, without looking at the report, will involve some of the issues discussed below.
The following fundamentals must be addressed to have a people-oriented police. The first area of concern must be the recruitment process. The authorities responsible for the process, the Police Service Commission, as per the latest decision of an appellate court in Nigeria, must devise a new mechanism for the recruitment of the best into the system.
Beyond the paper qualifications that are now a debacle in the country, the recruitment process must start placing emphasis on the character of the candidates. The pedigree of the candidates must now substantially count. Background check is a must. There must be both psychological and drug evaluation at the entry point. People with mental health or drug issues must be avoided. This must go beyond the recruitment stage to being a routine and periodic exercise. A person can always develop mental retardation at any stage and time. The training process needs to be enhanced, particularly in terms of values, virtues and moral content. The teaching of human rights must be given the desired recognition, not by playing lip service to it. Monitoring of the activities of policemen must be scaled up.
I am aware of at least three units that are meant to be playing this role of monitoring but they are largely ineffective. The X-Squad, which is meant to police all policemen now busies itself with general investigation. Another unit created for taming abuses is IGP Monitoring Team. Rather than dealing with monitoring of the cases of abuse and supervising the men, they engage in all sorts of inanities, including land and contract investigation, among others. The only possible potent one is the Complaints Response Unit, which is incapable of dealing the deluge of complaints drowning it on a daily basis. It is, therefore, an understatement to say that policing of the activities of Nigerian policemen still leaves much to be desired. The IGP, who I know a bit of his pedigree as a role model, needs to address this lacuna urgently.
Following from the above is the disciplinary process. In this wise, the various organs responsible, including the Police Service Commission, require immediate overhaul of the disciplinary mechanism. Issues of discipline must, henceforth, be treated decisively and with dispatch. The “shame factor” must be introduced and, where necessary, prosecution of culpable officers must be done. In addition, officers must now be held accountable for monetary damages incurred against the institution. Such amount must be made deductible from the entitlements of the culpable officer. This, I believe, will introduce some measure of sanity into the system.
Furthermore, as hinted above, complete training and reorientation of the men need to be embarked upon in an aggressive manner.
The introduction of technology, more than ever before, into the operations of the police is imminent. The conventional system used by the police cannot but amount to torture as Nigerians, by nature, are tough. The antidote, therefore, is adoption of technology that will eliminate substantially some of the unorthodox styles of policing in Nigeria.
This is where government, including the National Assembly, comes in, particularly on point of funding. The conditions of service of the men must equally be addressed urgently. That most of these men live in squalor is no news to an average Nigerian. A person that lives in a zoo-like accommodation, pardon my language, cannot but have animalistic tendencies. The frustration at home and the harsh economic situation around him cannot but breed a frustrated soul that takes his vengeance on innocent citizens. Just like most Nigerians, their salaries cannot take them home, hence they resort to exploitation and corruption. With the attendant risk associated with their jobs, adequate compensation is necessary. Appropriate incentive and reward for good behaviour is not out of order. This is by no means exhaustive of what is required to upgrade their conditions of service.
By way of digression, the IGP needs to start addressing the misuse of policemen in executing briefs unconnected with police duty by retired superior police officers, particularly those with ‘emergency’ law certificates. They dabble into all manner of issues, ranging from land matters, chieftaincy to alleged breach of contracts, using serving policemen as willing tools. It is assuming a pattern and must be curbed urgently. Finally, if it is not out of place, men of the Nigerian police are overwhelmed already with the number of crimes surging up in the country and I believe we should start thinking fast about the resurrection of the aborted National Guards initiated by President Babangida then. The Guard will deal with issues of terrorism, banditry, kidnapping, arson and other such heinous crimes while the police concentrate on the civil duties in society. By way of conclusion, let all these issues be urgently addressed as I earlier musically alluded to Obesere, with the new surge of protests across the country, Egungun be careful, na express you dey go. The masquerade is already approaching the expressway. Caution!
Editors Note; Written By Muiz Banire, SAN and originally published in Sunnewsonline