SARS which is an abbreviation for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome as a viral infection gained much recognition globally in 2020 following the outbreak of the SARS COVID-19 pandemic which disrupted the world’s pattern in diverse manners. The implication of contracting the SARS virus is that it leaves a host cell with a respiratory downturn with the resultant effect being difficulty breathing as the most common form. It is no longer news that the #EndSARS hashtag has gained much traction nationwide with the Nigerian youths speaking in unison against the administrative highhandedness, excesses, extrajudicial killings, and incessant harassment associated with the Special Anti-Robbery Squad of the Nigeria Police Force which became choking for the citizens.
The endemic and institutionalised corruption rooted in the Nigeria Police is the major reason behind the negative episodes displayed in all aspects by its operatives. This institutionalised and eroding values that should ordinarily bring hope and help in the realisation of the major duty of the police which is to prevent and detect crime while also enforcing law and order for the preservation of lives and property of the citizens as entrenched in Section 4 of the Police Act in Nigeria has become a mirage. In an ideal clime, the police as a security body should be the closest to the people because while other security outfits of the government are trained to deal with major humanitarian crimes within and outside the country, the police should be the “friend” of the citizens and first port of call in any situation. But in Nigeria, year after year, Nigerians are left to experience the brutality of officers who should ordinarily be their friends and rescue heroes. While there is a divide in this circumstance, the police operatives over the years have not been properly remunerated in terms of the risk often associated with their battle against criminals. Their condition of employment is nothing compared to what their colleagues in other climes earn. While this meagre remuneration spreads to their outlook and standard of living of their family members, it is just a rationale for the officers to explore other sources of income from the citizens, given that they are uniformed and armed.
A recap of my internship experience in 2018 at the Lagos State Ministry of Justice- Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team (DSVRT), a unit under the office of the Attorney-General speaks volumes on one of our sexual abuse awareness campaigns to about eight police stations in a day. I had seen horrible police stations in Nollywood movies while growing up and also seen Charlotte Police Investigation Department in Mecklenburg on Investigation Discovery on TV. I didn’t believe all I saw on TV about the Nigeria Police stations until I witnessed them. The stations were dirty, stinking, and their barracks an eyesore. I could not fathom whether the police were poorly funded or their funds mismanaged. Where did Nigeria get it wrong?
With the ravaging coronavirus across the world, it is only natural for the police force inflicted with SARS, an infectious virus, to replicate itself in other social institutions and also spread its malignant virus to its citizens with the effects being extrajudicial killings, intimidation, bribery, and administrative high-handedness. It is hypocritical for the Federal Government that has as its focus the attainment of the 8th Sustainable Development Goal on Decent Work and Economic Development by 2030 for its own employees not to experience the tenets of decent work which posits fair income and social protection and integration for all.
The Nigeria Police is a creation of Section 214 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which is structured in a centralised manner rather than a decentralised form. This means that the Inspector-General of Police is accountable to the Federal Government and the Force is not within the purview of the state government to give directives. The implication then is this, if a crime is alleged to have been committed and an Investigating Police Officer has been assigned to the matter, that same Investigating Officer tomorrow will surprisingly inform you that he has been transferred to another geopolitical zone hence frustrating the entire investigative and prosecution process.
The Special Anti-Robbery Squad which has been disbanded and a new unit known as the Special Weapons And Tactics swiftly established has left many unanswered questions in the hearts of many Nigerians who are uncertain as to what will happen next if they cave in to this new unit. Nigerian youths do not want the ongoing protests to stop at #EndSARS but a complete overhaul of the entire police system.
The Federal Government should speedily visit the recommendations of previous reform panels from the archives. We do not want a half-solved problem but a holistic approach.
The viral Twitter video on October 12, 2020 of two girls named Treasure Nduka and Felicia Okpara who were taken across the road by the police and beaten left several reactions within me because it could have been anyone, myself inclusive. Treasure Nduka was an amazing coursemate of mine for five years during our undergraduate days. She had earlier informed us on our class group chat about her itinerary for the peaceful protest in the morning and a few hours down the line, she was subjected to dehumanising conditions constituting an infringement to her rights as a citizen.
While the world awaits a finite vaccine to cure COVID-19, Nigerians are also waiting for a lasting reformation to end several maladies confronting the police. The least the government can do is to dispense justice to families of victims of extrajudicial killings and police brutality to heal their wounds. I do not think this is too much to ask.
The #EndSARS hopefully will be a catalyst for change in all aspects of our national life particularly for victims of accidents orchestrated by unlatched containers and tanker explosion.
Ms Daramola, a law activist, wrote in from Lagos.