The Nigeria Police Force has no doubt, gone through some moments of turbulence in the past six months, following its being in the eye of the storm, no thanks to the #ENDSARS campaign that took place, October last year.
Sometimes last year, some aggrieved Nigerian youths, for the umpteenth time, took to social media, to kick-start what looked like one of those “audio” protests that would start and end on Twitter or Facebook.
But whoever entertained that line of thought, had another thing coming, as it escalated into a nationwide protest, albeit, it was milder in most northern cities; the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja was where it was most pronounced in the North.
Lekki in Lagos was the epicentre of the protest, which culminated in the infamous, #Lekkigate- an unresolved puzzle of an alleged massacre of protesters by security forces.
The protest started on a peaceful note for more than a week, until it was hijacked by hoodlums, and before anyone could say “Jack Robinson”, it has turned violent and police posts and personnel across Lagos and indeed, across the nation were subjected to mob attack. About a dozen policemen were allegedly killed.
What brought about this? one would ask, for reasons that bother on clarity.
Nigerians were protesting police brutality perpetrated, especially, by the, now disbanded Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad, FSARS, which was the Force’s tactical response to the menace of armed robbery in the country.
It was a special unit, set up, specifically, to tackle armed robbery. But no sooner had they been established, than the squad abandoned its core mandate, for an entirely different one, “Internet Fraud” popularly known as “Yahoo Yaho” in local parlance, that falls within the purview of other law enforcement agencies, like the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC and Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit, NFIU.
Suddenly, SARS became more concerned about, and involved in Anti “Yahoo Yahoo” crusade, than with armed robbery on the highways. They started going about, profiling whoever wears dreadlocks, as a Yahoo boy, especially, if he carries a laptop computer, or a sophisticated smartphone.
Most victims who share their experiences made some heart-rending revelations, like witnessing extra-judicial killing of whoever, among the suspects, failed to raise any amount demanded by the almighty SARS.
Sometimes, they reportedly escort any unfortunate suspect to the ATM, forcing him to empty whatever is in his bank account, to secure freedom or face summary execution.
They even went as far, or as low as, getting involved in debt recovery; a purely civil matter, when the creditor parted with the right amount. And once that is done,….. May God help the debtor. It was that bad.
So, against this background, Nigerians felt they’ve had it up to the neck, and decided to take to the street .
Among the demands made on the Federal Government was; the immediate disbandment of the unit, and the setting up of an independent body that would carry out a psychological evaluation of SARS operatives and retraining them, for reabsorption into the force, which the Federal Government acceded to, with immediate alacrity.
There were other demands too, that underscored the patriotism and genuineness of purpose of the original conveners of the protest. They demanded for an improved welfare package for police personnel, especially the low and middle-ranked ones; provision of modern policing equipment, and periodic training for the rank and file; Justice for the victims of police brutality
The first sign of a hijack surfaced, when some elements added a demand like #EndBuhari.
Unless one is trying to be mischievous here, nobody should expect a democratically elected president to fold his arm and watch his government brought down by hoodlums, based on the reasoning of some sponsored overzealous minority group, masquerading as protesters demanding the reformation of the police force, in the manner in which they went about it.
So the the Lagos State/Federal Government responded by deploying military men to Lekki, to enforce a curfew impose by Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu.
The riddle of whether there was massacre or not, of protesters, generated by this deployment is still a subject of argument and investigation by interested parties.
So, there is no gainsaying that, the Nigerian Police has been suffering from a “crisis of legitimacy” in the eyes of most Nigerians, especially those who had first-hand experience of their brutality, or watched from a distance. Ditto for those who have listened to them, tell their stories.
While stakeholders are still going about the process of confidence-building, between the members of the public and the police, preparatory towards the commencement of the proposed Community-Policing, Nigerians last week, again, woke up to what appeared to be a synchronized attacks on the Imo State Police Command headquarters in Owerri, police and other security agencies formations across the State. The States Correctional Service headquarters was also attacked, setting free, close to two thousand inmates.
The orchestrated attacks by a yet-to-be-identified group of people [IPOB Denies its involvement], would later spread to other South East and South South States, like Ebonyi, Abia, and Akwa-Ibom States.
Low, as the level of mutual confidence between the citizenry and the Nigerian Police might be, at the moment, as a result of the professional misconducts of the latter, that manifested in the colours of brutality, bribe-taking, police remains a necessary evil, that must be saved from its past and even present (I learnt, roadblocks and extortion on the highway have resumed in earnest).
Just imagine some people with the mindset that, if they don’t steal, they won’t make it in life; it’d take the existence of a vibrant Police Force to tame those with that kind of criminal and anti social mindsets.
For instance, many cities in Nigeria, in the aftermath of the #ENDSARS protest in October last year, where the morale of the rank and file of the force was low, such that they refuse to return to their duty-posts, especially, those in the traffic units; their absence created such a yawning vacuum resulting in chaotic scenes on intracity roads such that, one begins to wonder what would happen, if the absence were to continue for days or weeks more. This is not talking about some black spots in town where pickpockets, phone snatchers and other petty criminals held sway.
So, if the existence of the “necessary evil”, that is, metaphorically, now an orphan, is that key to the maintenance of “Social Order”, then why can’t we, the law-abiding and right-thinking majority do everything humanly possible and come to their rescue, by joining hands with it in preventing a reoccurrence, through the supply of useful intelligence tips that can help thwart such a criminal move?
In the aftermath of the series of synchronised attack, for which no group, outlawed or otherwise, has claimed responsibility, the police looks too vulnerable, without the collaboration of the law-abiding majority in the country. This should not be.
“Police is your friend”. Remember, the unprofessional conducts of the bad eggs among the force is the main reason the public sees it as an enemy, rather than a friend that it wants the rest of the world to believe it is.
It is therefore incumbent on the authority and the citizenry to help the police cleanse itself, so that the badly needed, but sadly lacking confidence between it can be restored.
I know some Nigerians are saying; “that [what is happening in the South East] serves them right. Yes they’re correct, based on their respective experiences with the operatives of the force, but it is not to our collective advantage in the long run, as an organised society either.
Nigerians cannot afford a mistake of not coming to the aid of the “people-friendly” Nigeria Police Force, at this critical juncture of its being orphaned; no thanks to its self-inflicted reputational damage.
If Nigerians allow what has happened, or is happening in the South, especially South East, to slide, or be repeated, anywhere in the country, there are two certain consequences it would bring forth:
One, the morale of not only police operatives, but also, those of other law enforcement agents would nosedive.
Two, it would serve as an incentive to the outlaws who are behind the dastardly act, and embolden them to do worse things than they’d already done. We are no longer too far off from Somalia.
Adebayo Abubakar writes from Ilorin.