The Nigerian Government should save itself from this multi-levelled problem occasioned by the Special Anti-robbery Squad it created in the 90s and left it uncared for many years by going back to the drawing board to recreate a veritable solution before this country collapses under the weight of the #ENDSARS agitations. This country will have failed herself and the over two hundred million people, if it goes back to business as usual.
The entire police force, with its special formations, require holistic and synthetic reformation. Policing in Nigeria is about survival for the officers as their welfare and job descriptions are not effectively defined for ultimatum performance. An average policeman in Nigeria carries a gun and stands on the road angrily, looking fiercely for citizens to extort to survive. We have to stop that very dangerous method first before we begin the conversation on police reforms and not just end SARS.
Police recruitment and the Federal Government's approach to handling internal security is the major problem. A situation where police work has been so downgraded such that the only people who apply to join the force are those who could not find employment in the labour market and have been applicants since only God knows when, take police work as a last resort, as a means of survival. This is fundamentally irresponsible and such cannot be sustainable. This has to stop.
The job of a police officer is a noble profession and the government must make a conscious effort to rebrand it because the police as presently constituted has become an albatross, a part of the problem it was created to solve. This has to stop and the conversation on police reforms can only be meaningful if we all decide to change our behaviours, become patriotic and embrace a better and positive image of our country. The government too must make a commitment to reprimand and punish erring police officers who break the law to tarnish police image.
If a police officer is paid like an executive, life and health insurance are provided for him and his family and he is rewarded for good deeds, he will work meritoriously and give their best to the country. Perhaps, police reform is 90% welfare and 10% structural formation. A serious government whose credibility is largely dependent on the peaceful co-existence of its people will not undermine security by ill-funding the police force, thereby truncating the fabrics of the internal security architecture of the country.
SARS wouldn't have lost its bearing if the aforementioned social support facilities were put in place in Nigeria. They fell out with society because Nigerian leaders are grossly insensitive. SARS was a strategic security formation that became an orphan when it needed nurturing more than anything else, but it was never taken care of, so it became a beast, then it came back to give society a run for its life. It became a blood sucker, turning and dragging society on the hard bare-floor and wrecked it to a miserable entity begging for help and rescue at the height of pain and disenchantment.
The government now must change its cause and brace up to a new strategy to quell the ranging uprising it has brought on itself. The demands of the ongoing protesters are clear, bring all police officers who have killed Nigerian citizens to book, prosecute them according to law and punish those found guilty accordingly to cleanse society from iniquity so as to assuage the pain of the people to embrace peace. Government cannot be paying lip-service to the havoc it plunged society into and expect people to watch it toying with their lives.
Government must visit the parents of those who have been killed by policemen before and during the protest and pay adequate compensation to their families left behind. This must be done now if this government wants peace to reign. The more the government delays the more the pains deepens and the more the agitations inflames the socio-geographical ecosystem of this country. No society can bear the level of decadence bored by the Nigerian people in the last 60 years of her existence.
The government must not issue any order to clampdown on protesters, its citizens’ fundamental right to organize peaceful protest but government should rather look at the root causes of the protest, looking beyond SARS, as there is an impending insurrection, bigger than what we are witnessing today lurking around the stratosphere. The socioeconomic demands are the same. Provide good governance for Nigerians, let them have roads, water, electricity, good education, public health care facilities and insurance policies etc.
If this government fails to address these very important basic amenities it should be ready to face unbelievable social unrest that will exacerbate into an insurmountable breakdown of law and order. Government should take a clue from the protest. The Nigerian of our dream has been birthed in the heat of the protest. There is hundred percent medical care for protesters who are sick and/or injured during the protest, all provided for by the citizens. The medical professionals and the facilities are available at the protest ground. Government should learn from this and provide medical care for its citizens. If individuals can do this, government can!
At the protest ground, there are lawyers, and I am one, providing free legal services for protesters arrested whilst the protest is ongoing. This shared sense of patriotism must be replicated by government at all levels and they must key into this organic solution created by the protest to find the most cost effective strategy to recreate Nigeria. We are at the verge of history, if only this government can see it and be creative, to turn this opportunity into one that will lead to a win-win situation for all and sundry.
Nigerians in their mass are looking out for Nigerians in this struggle, this is a moment that will go down in history as a remarkable demonstration for the reformation of not just the police but will set the agenda for holistic institutional reform for the advancement of progress in the Nigerian state. This act of patriotism and the story of how we walked the streets, raised our voices, marched and was shot at by the police will be told from generation to generation. That at some point in our history, as a collective, we rose against police brutality and bad governance.
Nigerians are donating money to provide food for the protesters to sustain the tempo of the struggle and continue the agitation. Food is provided for all. What a cause! For the first time in Nigeria, under one voice, one struggle, one spirit, everything needed of a citizen to project a clear Nigerian dream is met at a spot, in solidarity, in unity, in faith, in trust and in love.
Nigeria in diaspora are on the streets too to show solidarity with Nigerian at home who are the victims of Police brutality, institutional decay, maladministration and socio-economic injustice. The songs of freedom on the airwaves is hereby sustained as the voices of Nigerians are raised up to the high heavens for want of justice. This protest is not led by anyone and everyone who is out on the street, is out there for the pain and brutal experience with the police and the frustrating Nigeria system.
This is perhaps the most auspicious moment of the Nigerian history where through peaceful demonstration, Nigerian citizens took their future in their own hands and with clarity, made eloquent demands on their government, without looking back and cause the same demands to be meet at the spot for the determination of a new Nigeria where justice and peace shall reign.
Evans Ufeli Esq is a Lagos-based lawyer and Executive Director, Cadrell Advocacy Centre