If you’ve happened to breathe air in Nigeria, or stepped within a square inch outside of your Nigerian home, then chances are, you have faced some type of police harassment.
Infact, it’s a certainty. And I’m willing to stake anything on the claim.
Whether it’s their quotidian ‘anything for the boys?’, or the more brash – ‘open your boot’ or ‘stop and search’ without any real grounds for suspicion, their wantonness in exerting powers is something that has gone on for so long, it now serves as routine and the butt of many a joke.
Their deviousness however goes beyond these almost petty annoyances to more worrying traits — arbitrary arrests, grievous bodily harm accorded to obtain information or even routinely substituting wanted suspects for their blameless relatives where said subject is missing are just some of the wiles adopted by the police.
The SARS Menace
From 1992 however, the face of the NPF’s harassment took on a new form, in its Special Anti-Robbery Squad. Originally mandated to fight the spate of robberies laying siege on Nigerian highways and streets, their gazes shifted from genuine robbers and marauders, who may have been a little too mainstream, and went instead for confoundingly smaller fish — the everyday, regular Nigerian.
What started as tiny grumbles on social media — a disgruntled student complaining about being stopped and searched here, another narrating how he was obtained by SARS there; soon graduated to more severe grievances.
Whispers of plain clothed policemen in unmarked cars, laying seige on unsuspecting motorists and pedestrians first made the rounds. Then it escalated to loud grumbles of routine roundups in the most unlikely places — sport bars after working hours, betting centres; before culminating in a thunderous shout, heard on social media platforms the world over in 2017, the message was resonant — ‘The Nigerian police had to be stopped.’
Stories ranged from the absurd
To the downright heartbreakinghttps://www.informationng.com/2017/11/10-year-old-hawker-killed-stray-bullet-sars-operative-graphic-photos.html
Hundreds and hundreds of stories similar to these plagued the internet for weeks on end, under the #EndSARS tag. Just about every conceivable evil that can be meted out to a man, had been carried out or attempted by officials of the Nigerian SARS.
Most chilling is the dubbing of Nigerian police stations in Lagos and Abuja as ‘abbattoirs’. Police stations with their spattering of ‘Police is your friend’ and ‘bail is free’ posters, became widely accepted as points of no return for a fraction of the citizens that happened to fall victim to arrest.
Serving and protecting the citizens held no real meaning for the majority of the police force, so they proceeded to do anything but, so the government had to act.
Better concerned with saving face and putting an end to the outcry; the very inadequate solution of disbanding the SARS Unit of the NPF was ordered.
Rather than taking the time out to understand the circumstances that could lead a purportedly trained officer to shoot and kill an unarmed citizen for a fraction of ₦100 or what could spur the transformation of his duty post into an illicit income source and the sort of discontent that could drive him to surmise anyone using a reasonably priced phone must be engaged in some sort of fraud — rather than doing anything but providing a quick fix; the easier path was chosen, and by August 2018, ‘SARS’ came to be no more.
The Aftermath Of SARS
For those assumed the scrapping of SARS would bring with it automatic calm where the police were concerned, then they got only a short-lived reprieve
They remained the public’s number one enemy, flouting police checkpoints as illegal toll points and harassing unsuspecting victims. Before long, word began to spread again of SARS officials maiming citizens, and by March 31st 2019, another life- Kolade Johnson had been claimed at the hands of policemen, this time members of the Special Anti-Cultism Squad; who thought it a reasonable thing to shoot live rounds in the air to disperse a crowd, while innocent passersby where about.
Their original mission was the capture of a man whose dreadlocks, ridiculously served as a marker that he was into something untoward.
In no time, calls to #EndSARS and cries against the police made trends around social media, and it appears that the 2017 cycle is likely to be rinsed and repeated; with maybe the Anti-Cultism Squad facing the axe this time round.
Without proper appraisals, these tragic incidents are only bound to repeat themselves, with more heart-wrenching stories as time passes. It is not enough to clip a fingernail where the whole appendage is infected, the police force requires urgent reform, and they need it this minute.
They will remain unapproachable, merciless, unrepentant menaces to the public until some real action that sparks a change in their orientation comes to be.
We can only hope that this reform comes to be, before more lives are needlessly lost.