The former presidential candidate of the Young Progressive Party, Kingsley Moghalu, once shared a story about his experience working with the United Nations. He made the brief account while proffering a solution to the challenges confronting the Nigeria Police Force. He said a Nigerian police officer deployed abroad for a peace-keeping mission, told him he would never stoop so low to collect bribes on the streets, considering his level of remuneration abroad.
That is the perfect mindset of a member of a progressive society and a working system. The opposite is obtainable in Nigeria. Nigeria has a long history of suggested solutions and innovations becoming death traps or bigger problems due to mismanagement, selfishness and corruption.
Look at the foremost antigraft body, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission EFCC, for example. All the past heads of the agency have been enmeshed in dirty politics and corruption which they were appointed to combat. When we felt things were changing, the trial of the suspended acting Chairman of the commission, Ibrahim Magu began.
The allegations against him could kill an already dead man. Look at the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, it has aggravated the already existing challenges in the Niger Delta region. Tomorrow, one will not be surprised if another gargantuan heist is exposed within the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC at the end of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Special Anti-Robbery Squad was founded in 1992 to tackle the spate of armed robbery in Nigeria. The unit has been able to combat crimes to an extent since inception, but in no time, it was massively accused of torture, harassments, extrajudicial killings, human right abuses and brazen acts of corruption. All efforts to sanitize SARS have failed. It easily suffers a relapse after showing initial signs of recovery.
Reforms are burdensome in Nigeria, the more things change, the more they remain the same. In 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari was a beacon of hope to Nigerians. It is 5 years of his administration now and many believe Nigerians has never had it this bad.
The advocacies against SARS are good. They are steps in the right direction. But I see no hope in sight. I am not a pessimist in any way. This is my first time of writing about the issue of police harassment and brutality, even though, I have followed the developments for years.
The challenge is systemic. We have failed to tackle the real illness but we have decided to adopt symptomatic treatment as if the disease has no cure. The foundation is already faulty, any building erected on it will suffer and endanger lives. When the ratings of the police drop below the barest minimum, the government pretends to work.
Constituted agencies release official statements, pictures and parade a few scapegoats to calm the nerves of the people. After a while, the bad actors go back to business. SARS is a product of a bad marriage. It will only take a miracle for such a by-product to stand out.
Scrapping SARS isn't the panacea to the challenge like musician Naira Marley said. In fairness, there are still some good eggs within the unit.
Where do you think the SARS officials will go to if the unit is closed down? They will not be sacked, they will be re-absolved into the system with the same mentality, and the crimes will continue. Only the targets/victims will change.
Here are some questions we failed to ask that have led to foundational and generational stumbling blocks within the police unit:
Who conducts background checks on applicants during police recruitments?
We have all heard stories of police officers collaborating with armed robbers as well as others engaging in internet fraud. Most of these people have been outlaws for long. They only joined the police to cover their tracks and gain protection. With adequate background checks, such eggs will be weeded out.
How many police officers joined the NPF to serve?
We have over 21.7 million unemployed people in Nigeria. Millions of others are underemployed with no job security guaranteed. Hunger and poverty force people to take up any job opening that comes their way. I have friends that have shown interest in police recruitments simply because they have nothing doing. With this mentality, such individuals will turn the security system to a business enterprise from which profits could be illegally generated and also maximised.
Who pays attention to the mental health of the police officers?
Security jobs are gruelling in nature. It isn't easy to take the life of a fellow human being in combat. We have heard of soldiers across suffering depression and committing suicide. Any security operative involved in an operation that entailed blood-shed needs to be debriefed after the exercise.
A psychologist needs to check his mental state and put him through a basic process of therapy to prevent him from developing a thirst for blood. Do we have such facilities in Nigeria? Over here, most psychologists and therapists end up eating sand or going into other businesses for survival. So, there is a possibility that we have enough mentally-unstable security operatives bearing arms in Nigeria.
Lastly, why is the rate of remuneration so poor?
Police officers are at the bottom of the food chain in Nigeria. Most of them have take-home pays that can never take them home. They also amass needless responsibilities and bad habits that will ruin them. Greed is also part of the problems. For example, a police officer that earns N60,000 monthly as salary will have a wife, 6 children, 2 side-chics with a chronic drinking habit. How is he supposed to survive? He will simply look for loopholes at his workplace and feed off them. He will say "shebi na where person dey work, person dey chop"
This kind of attitude cripples the system. Such a police officer will take bribes, extort money from innocent citizens and Yahoo Boys. When the suspected Yahoo Boys deny him of his 'cut', he gives them a hot chase, brutalizes them, and takes it by force. These crumbs he gathers here and there makes up lump-sums that are used in augmenting his earnings at the end of the day.
When his bank account turns red, such a police officer becomes hungry, angry and desperate. He might even arrest an innocent goat taking a stroll around its neighbourhood. Anybody who resists is severely assaulted, brutalized or even killed.
Do I see any light at the end of the tunnel? I am sorry that I don't. I am only watching the drama to see how it unfolds for the sake of history. The SARS operatives have seen their superiors exploit the system corruptly from the top, thereby motivating them to do the same at the bottom.
The conversations, advocacies and protests against SARS will come and go. The bad boys will also return to work as usual until their activities become unbearable again. This is not the first time the term 'ban' is associated with 'SARS', and it will certainly not be the last. The NPF statements are similar to what we have seen before.
As for the answer to the question on the headline, only the government can stop the killings, but nobody wants to undertake the herculean task. We prefer managing the problem and passing it on to the next administration.
Writer: Osayimwen Osahon George