The #EndSARS protest of October 8, 2020 was a timely exercise but poorly protected and organized. It was long overdue, desirable and meant to change the narrative. It was targeted at ineptitude, greed, directionless and cluelessness combined. It was for good governance and to ginger the younger ones and to end police brutality, extortion and extra-judicial killings. The Nigerian Police has murdered thousands of innocent souls on phantom charges. The dreaded SARS was more of a killer gang than a trained public security outfit. Next for public attention should be the Criminal Investigation Units of the Nigeria Police and the Divisional Police Stations. SARS has gone for the good of the people. Bravo to those courageous protesters!
When the protests to disband the dreaded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) unit of the Nigeria Police started, not many in and out of government thought much could come out of it. On few previous occasions when protests were staged against government policies, they never lasted more than three days. Protesters always withdraw after deceived with mouth watering promises. On other occasions, strong-arm-tactics, by security agencies overwhelm the protests. The only occasion that resonated so much with people was the popular rejection of the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election that returned Egba High Chief, Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola (MKO) as the elected president. Even after people were murdered cold blooded by blood thirsty security agents that forced the protesters to retrieve, tactics changed for continuity as determined democrats in NADECO stood up to the military junta until the self-styled military president, Gen. Babangida was forced to step aside and Nigeria was put on hold. If Gen. Babangida had subscribed to the foolery of security agencies to stay on the bit a second longer that his welcome, there could have been a bloody revolution that could have disfigured Nigeria. He wisely stepped-aside to save the situation.
In the case of October 2020, young Nigerians quite uncharacteristically quickly mobilized against the government insisting that they would continue the protest until their demands for the disbandment of SARS was acceded to. They smoked out the Inspector-General of Police who first offered a reform. That was only music to the ears of the protesters that were unwilling to entertain or believe for loss of confidence. As more young and frustrated people, artistes and professionals, even corporate organizations joined, government thought it was a small group that would soon fizzle out. But it did not. At that point, the federal government had to bow and announce the scrapping of the dreaded security outfit carved out of the Nigeria Police in 1992 to combat and contain violent crimes.
The under estimated ‘small’ group grew into a full revolutionary movement who were not satisfied with tokenism. They remembered that the Police authority is usually quick to make token concessions they hardly honor. They therefore refused to vacate the streets that had turned to their duty posts. Some lives were lost in the process, but they remained undeterred in seeking firm assurances that the federal government, not just the Police authority would ensure wide-ranging reforms. President Buhari and his vice, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, spoke, but the protesters were not pacified.
Honestly, I agree with the protesters because that was the most ideal time to make the government stride in the right direction. The people, some who never even had an inkling of the objective of the protest but out of frustration, hurriedly joined the protest because of loss of confidence in government. As the issue has subsided, one hopes another protest may not sprout out for failure of the government to fulfill its promises. There are social, political and economic forces in the land crying for due attention. Many young people are frustrated, hungry; undergraduates who are grounded at home for several months because of ASUU strike can easily be mobilized. Graduates without jobs are always eager to join. The army of idle youths used and dumped by politicians, are warming up to join. Then the criminally-minded hoodlums are waiting for the right time to strike. One hopes the government would realize that the trust deficit that has been in the country for a while has to be closed immediately. Sincerity of purpose should be clearly seen in the promised Police reformation exercise.
It was on September 16, 2020 that President Buhari signed the new Police Act 2020 into law to replace the old Police Act CAP P.19, LFN, 2004.
Section 66 (1) of the new Act states that only a Police officer who is a legal practitioner can prosecute cases while operation of Private Detectives is now allowed but after the Police must have vetted and approved the registration of Private Detective Schools and Private Investigative outfits as stated in Section 4 (I ) of the New Act. We hope the registration will not be marred with the usual corrupt practice known as the trade mark of the police.
Section 32 (1) of the Act states that the Police is mandated to report its findings to the Attorney-General of the Federation or State as the case may be while section 32(2) prohibits the police from arresting any person based on civil wrong or breach of contract as has been the case where ordinary civil cases are entertained by the police for extortion and other corrupt practices.
Section 36 of the Act equally prohibits the arrest of any person in place of a suspect as was the case while Section 64(1) states that where a person is arrested and detained for more than 24hours, if the offence committed is not a capital offence, his lawyer or relatives can notify any court that has jurisdiction to try the matter about his arrest. The notification can be made in writing or orally as Section 64 (30 states. The court SHALL order the production of the suspect and inquire into the matter. Where it is convinced that the suspect should be released on bail, the court shall admit him to bail.
Section 69 (1) states that on the last working day of every month, an officer in charge of a police station must report to the nearest Magistrate Court the cases of all arrests made without warrant in his jurisdiction, whether the suspect has been admitted to bail or not.
Going back to the #EndSARS protests which had received global attention similar to that received by NADECO in 1993. World leaders, international human rights bodies, Nigerians in diaspora and major entertainment figures and sportsmen and women of repute condemned the development in Nigeria, taking sides with the protesters in the interest of good governance. The young people had cried loud and were heard all over the country and the world. It is therefore time that fundamental questions and contradictions are resolved in the interest of the people.
Majority of the people agree with the protesters that all those involved in the extra-judicial killings of others should be arrested and prosecuted. We have tolerated enough of shedding the blood of innocent Nigerians, torture, brutality and extortion by security agencies. Those who were ostensibly hired to attack the innocent protesters in Abuja must also be brought to justice including their sponsors as protest is one way of holding government accountable in a democracy. One is also in total support of the rejection of the new anti-crime formation, Special Weapons and Tactics unit (SWAT) by the Police authority. Apart from lacking in originality, since it was hurriedly copied from the United States of America where it has operated since 1964, no one knows the contents, rules of engagement and personnel recruitment methods. It was perceived to be a hurried exercise to deceive the gullible. It seems to be an old wine in a new bottle as opined by discerning minds. To them, that has no meaning at all, Mr. IG.
It is not just about announcing a change of name. Recruitment, training, structure, funding, doctrine and welfare provision are basic keys to effective performance that requires rigorous thoughts and planning. We are not talking about debates in the National Assembly where planning and thoughts are usually absent. Budgets are neither debated thoroughly nor properly understood because of selfish interest laced with sycophancy to the executive. In fact, what we have in the 9th National Assembly is a combination of jesters, praise singers and Kannywood actors while some are comedians, childish and primitive in thoughts and clownish in actions typical of their village characters. We have lawmakers that drive more of pleasure in blowing siren with heavy police escort for show of temporary authority without understanding why they are even in the National Assembly. Some of our lawmakers can best be described as bench warmers using the red and green chambers to source contracts from government and cannot even memorize recite the national anthem or pledge. There must be change in the journey to our National Assembly. 2023 is the most ideal time for the needed change.
The time is over ripe for government to embark on wide-ranging reforms of the security agencies, starting with the Police and its various tactical formations. This can include a change of the hierarchy. Other aspects of the security architecture that have overtime failed the people, and those whose leaders have always looked down on the people as second class, especially to the impoverished, should receive shake-up too.
The Armed Forces, Office of the National Security Advisor (ONSA), the Department of State Security (DSS), Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), National Intelligence Agency (NIA) and the other intelligence agencies should not be spared. There are several deadwoods and very unproductive elements in those outfits that deserve a flush out for the system to grow.
This is the time for the government to reconnect with the people. It is time to unite the various parts of the country to stand with the government. The outcry of marginalization, unabated corrupt practices and other criminal activities including purchase of appointments in government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) by politicians of mean stature should be addressed squarely.
Honestly, from my in-depth analysis, the ship of Nigerian state is tottering on the high sea at a very dangerous point in our history, and it is the responsibility of the President and his aides to rise to the occasion. As history has shown in other parts of the world, when protests are allowed to turn into revolt, it is difficult to recapture the soul of the society as we had planned in 1993 through NADECO.
All men and women of goodwill should join in prevailing on the President as the Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces to seize the momentum and ensure real change to a decadent system appreciable to all.
The future beckons us. Nigeria has been allowed to twist and turn as determined by a few and in their interests unjustifiably and for too long. Nigeria belongs to all Nigerians and must be administered in the interest of all. Democracy must have meaning as it does in other countries. Political parties must either change their modus operandi to discard the archaic system of loading dullards on the people as leaders or from the corner of frustration, we shall beat the drums of a revolution to end the mess and salvage the democracy from threats of autocrats and day dreamers in power. The change must start from various party congresses from wards – local governments- state and at the national level. We hate to welcome a military intervention but we shall provide succor to the ailing polity. A stitch in time saves nine.
Muhammad is a commentator on national issues.