The universal law of cause and effect states that every single action in the universe produces a reaction, that every single effect, has a cause, an original starting point.
The ongoing outcry by Nigerian youth demanding the end of the notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad known for highhandedness, unlawful arrest, humiliation, extortion, brutality and dehumanization is a reflection of several years of neglect, reckless abandonment and monumental decay in various institutions that make up the Nigerian society. As a nation, we have been on a keg of gunpowder for too long, and from indications, the threshold is pretty close.
Our sick nation is getting its first true diagnosis which is a prerequisite to a sustainable healing process, through the Police Force. Police brutality is not new neither is it limited to the SARS unit. We must not forget the gruesome “Apo 6 Killings” of 2005, under the administration of former President, Olusegun Obasanjo. Save for a few, many of our law enforcement agencies do not see the need to treat Nigerians whom they swore to protect with dignity, and sadly our justice system, in its comatose state is unable to timely redress issues let alone provide justice.
Our policemen are a perfect reflection of our society, and we mustn’t miss the ample opportunity to reform the police force in its entirety. This has gone beyond mere change of name. In 2018, Acting President, Yemi Osinbajo, gave directives to the then Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, to overhaul the management and activities of the SARS unit. Apparently, that didn’t count for much as many more Nigerians have been brutally murdered thereafter.
President Buhari has been presented with a very rare, and most likely, last opportunity to revamp the Nigerian Police Force, which is presently in an abysmal state. It is for the good of all and unborn Nigerians, and this has to be done in the most inclusive manner, leaving no one or group behind in the reform exercise.
Our governors, senators and house of representative members should also wake up to their responsibilities. This is no time for lip service, empty promises or endless closed doors meetings with needless photograph sections. The Nigerian youths are gradually losing their cool and it might be too risky to take them for granted. Both the top hierarchy and the rank-and -file in the police force should also embrace the efforts towards holistic reforms Nigerians crave for.
It is impressive to see Nigerian Youth speak with one voice and come up with well-articulated demands which also speaks to the welfare and compensation of our policemen. Truth be told, we mustn’t turn a blind eye to the poor remuneration and the standard of living of our policemen. The popular documentary by Channels TV mirrors the abject poverty officials and their households wallow in. Policing across the world is a huge risk, and high-risk jobs should attract commensurate remuneration to enhance motivation.
It is unheard of that police officers; bribe their way to get their own uniforms, suffer unpaid entitlements to families when they die in the line of duty, have no tangible health insurance or hazard allowance. In addition, we cannot continue to have a wishy-washy recruitment process and poor training exercises that permits criminals and mentally unstable individuals into the force. From several indications, many police officers lack firearms training, which must be given top priority in the training of personnel. Or how else do we explain the senseless killings of citizens at the slightest provocation?
We also must carefully increase budgetary allocations to the Police force so as to stimulate and enhance professional operational conducts. It is shameless to expect police officers to fuel patrol vehicles with their personal funds, due to the fact that funding made available to run police stations is nothing to write home about. If we must put the extortion of citizens to stop, it is crucial that these men are provided with the required tools.
We can’t keep doing things the same way and expect improved outcomes. The Lagos State Security Trust Fund has evidently shown that with adequate funding and training, we can expect a higher level of professionalism from police officers as portrayed in the Rapid Response Squad in Lagos. Men of the RRS, Lagos has shown that we can have a police force that is friendly with citizens yet fierce on criminals. They have over the years become a model that other units should emulate.
It is wrong to give guns to bitter, desperate, frustrated, ill-trained, demoralized, disoriented and uneducated human beings and expect them to be civil in the discharge of their duties. When the right structures are in place, consequence management and accountability processes will also come into play in order to adequately and timely punish misbehavior.
The EndSARS protest will remain one of the most productive and well articulated public outbursts in the history of Nigeria. One that mirrors the frustration of the average Nigerian most essentially the youths. The challenges facing our dear nation is far beyond SARS, but this protest has shown the world that power truly belongs to the people, and not the politicians or their godfathers.
When citizens come together and agree in one voice, it births a new reality, it sends a reverberating message to the authority that a political office as an opportunity to serve and enhance the lives of citizens and not a money-spinning machine.
Another critical message here is not to underestimate the resilience and commitment of the Nigerian youths President Buhari once referred to as lazy. Hopefully the ongoing protest across the nation will translate into a change of perspective for the septuagenarian.
The Nigerian youth need to deeply consider the lessons from the EndSARS protest and galvanize the pros into a structured agenda. This might be the golden opportunity to redress the long-overdue transformation that our country direly needs. Young Nigerians must continue to forcefully make their demands known in the most articulate and peaceful manner possible. And be mindful of the tactical divide and rule approach from those who benefit from the systemic rot in the nation.
Time will tell if this movement will lead the youths into meaningful political participation that will change Nigeria’s political process forever. Or will the EndSARS protest end without a broader vision to birth a new Nigeria, where the lives of citizens count, where values like justice, excellence and honesty become second nature?
Olagunju is a fact-checker and wrote from Lagos.