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Nigeria’s bad governance is to blame for SARS police brutality

Chidozie Uzoezie
By Chidozie Uzoezie

Chidozie Uzoezie is a London-trained Biomedical Scientist and Lagos-based freelance writer. He is also the CEO of The Afritraveller, a trendy Travel and Tourism Blog, as well as the Founder of the African Aviation Group on Facebook.

Posted on Wednesday, 21 October 2020 19:14, updated on Thursday, 22 October 2020 16:13

APTOPIX Nigeria Police Protest
Police officers detain a protester at the Lekki toll gate in Lagos, Nigeria, Wednesday Oct. 21, 2020. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)

Nigeria is bleeding, the blood of the innocent has been shed and the nation is on fire. Hearts have been broken. And pandora's box has been opened wide.

What started as a peaceful protest against police brutality has taken a bloody turn. With tears of blood in their eyes, Nigerians have been stricken with anger, anxiety and uncertainty. There is pandemonium in the air, there is chaos in the atmosphere and there is anarchy in the land.

Government at all levels has failed Nigerians. Not only has the Buhari-led APC government woefully failed to live up to its responsibilities, it has now unleashed police and military might on unarmed innocent Nigerians, the same people they swore under oath to serve and protect. If the world ever needed a proof, this is it.

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Just as Nigerians were beginning to put behind them the tragic death of Jimoh Isiaq and over 20 others who were gunned down by the police during the protests, soldiers late Tuesday night, opened fire on unarmed protesters in Lagos as they defied curfew orders to continue the nationwide protest.

Tuesday’s massacre in Lagos was the height of wickedness, apathy, insensitivity, irrationality and unreasonableness on the part of the Nigerian government

Since 8 October 2020, protesters across Nigeria had taken to the streets to demand the disbandment of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) unit of the Nigerian Police Force notorious for brutality and human right abuse. Many have been killed while hundreds have sustained various degrees of injuries.

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However, Tuesday’s massacre in Lagos was the height of wickedness, apathy, insensitivity, irrationality and unreasonableness on the part of the Nigerian government. Emotions were stretched to their limits as soldiers opened fire on the protesters while they held the Nigerian flag and sang the national anthem. It was a sacrilege. But let’s take a look at police brutality, the crux of the matter.

No, they’re not your friends

“Police is your friend”. That was the motto of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) when it was established in 1930. But in recent times, the men of the Nigerian Police Force have been everything, but ‘your friend’.

The Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) unit, founded in 1992 to fight crimes, has metamorphosed into a hydra-headed plague. They have been brutalising and killing poor and voiceless Nigerians while protecting the rich. Since its inception, the Nigerian Police Force has been reduced from being law enforcement agents to mere trigger-happy tools in the hands of irresponsible governments and desperate politicians. In short, a menace.

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I cannot sugarcoat it. The Nigerian police have been brutal, atrocious, callous and most unprofessional in carrying out their duties. For SARS, every progressive young Nigerian is a suspect, as are those with dreadlocks, ‘flashy’ cars, expensive mobile phones and laptops. The men of SARS haven’t only been killing Nigerians; they have effectively been killing dreams and future leaders.

At the root of the brutality, an undertrained and underpaid force

Motivation is not a word that can be associated with the Nigerian Police Force. In fact, the lack of it defines them. In addition to being grossly undertrained and ridiculously underpaid, the Nigerian police are also insufficiently equipped, a combination of which has bred frustration, aggression, inefficiency and brutality within the force.

A Nigerian police recruit earns a monthly salary of $24, while the Inspector General of Police earns a monthly salary of $1,800.

The average Nigerian policeman discharges his duties based on his mood, which is often bad. And to make a bad situation worse, the Nigerian Police Force as an institution lacks psychological support and a functional counseling unit. The institution is dilapidated. An angry hungry Nigerian police man with a gun is a recipe for disaster. Nigeria deserves a police force that is motivated, proactive, and intelligent. This cannot be said enough.

A Nigerian police recruit earns a monthly salary of N9,000 ($24), while the Inspector General of Police earns a monthly salary of N711,000 ($1,800). A senator in the same country takes home more than N29 million ($76,000) in a month. But while poor motivation should never be an excuse for brutality, it’s unrealistic and even unfair to expect a poorly remunerated and undertrained Nigerian policeman to discharge his obligatory duties with maximum professionalism.

In addition to being poorly remunerated, officers of the Nigerian Police Force also live under the most deplorable and dehumanising conditions. Like animals, officers of the Nigerian Police Force live in dirty and dilapidated barracks while their masters live in affluence.

In Nigeria, budgets are often padded and deliberately blown up, yet, allocated funds almost never trickle down to the intended beneficiaries. In the 2020 appropriation bill, a total of N403bn ($1.1bn) was budgeted for the Nigeria Police Force including N2.9bn ($7.6m) for the purchase of security equipment, and N53.6m ($141,000) for rehabilitation of police stations and barracks. It’s mind-boggling that, with all the funds budgeted for the Nigerian Police Force over the years, officers find themselves in the same deplorable situation.

The bigger picture

While police brutality is currently gathering global interest, it is only one of the many problems that have bedevilled Nigerians since Buhari became the President in 2015. The ongoing protest is about insecurity as much as it is about bad governance. Insecurity is only a reflection of a systemic failure which has eaten very deep into the fabrics of the Nigerian nation.

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The people of the Nigeria Police Force are the product of a society which has little to no regard for societal values, but rather respect that justice goes to the highest bidder. It is a society that is deeply rooted in corruption, mediocrity, nepotism, unaccountability, and lack of stewardship. The ‘giant of Africa’ is being led by politicians who are not only incompetent and irresponsible, but also apathetic and insensitive.

In search of a solution, Nigerians massively voted for Buhari in the 2015 presidential elections, but what they got was a problem. In his pre-election campaigns, Buhari promised ‘change’, but he has so far delivered disappointment. The last five years have been the most hopeless and gruesome for Nigerians; life has lost its taste and value. Under the leadership of President Buhari, Nigeria has gone from frying pan to fire with most Nigerians living below poverty line.

In the 21st century, Nigerians are still grappling with the absence of basic necessities including electricity, good health facilities, good roads and security. While purchasing power and quality of life have been on a downward trajectory, inflation rate has tripled and so is the cost of living. According to macrotrends.net, the life expectancy of Nigerians in 2020 is 54.8 years, the fifth lowest in the world. This is not unconnected to bad governance and insensitive leadership.

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Nigeria is full of ironies. There is so much lack in the midst of plenty. Funds voted for healthcare never reach the end users, but rather end up in private pockets. The politicians don’t care as they are at liberty to travel abroad to treat even tooth aches. Students in public schools study in the most uncomfortable and most disgraceful conditions. Many schools are dilapidated and deserted while some classrooms are without roofs.

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But in the 2020 budget, President Buhari approved a whooping N115bn ($300m) just for the National Assembly, out of which N27bn ($70m) was set aside to renovate the National Assembly complex even as the Universal Basic Education programme for the entire country got only N51bn ($133m). One of the major problems with leaders in Nigeria is misplaced priority; another is high cost of governance.

So it wasn’t surprising when, in 2019, the Nigerian Senators decided to spend N5.5bn ($14m) on luxury cars for members.

The insincerity continues

If there’s one word that succinctly captures the character of the Buhari-led administration, it is insincerity. Bowing to pressure from the protesters, the Nigerian Inspector General of Police had, on 11 October, 2020, dissolved the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) with immediate effect. However, Nigerians didn’t believe him. Previously, the government had announced the ‘dissolution’ of the same SARS including in 2017, 2018, and 2019. This is the fourth ‘dissolution’ in four consecutive years, all under the leadership of President Buhari. Apparently, the government has been deliberately insincere and deceitful.

Barely 48 hours after promising to retrain and redeploy members of the disbanded SARS, the Inspector General of Police floated Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT), a new tactical unit to replace SARS. But it appears that trouble has only changed its name. The status quo hasn’t changed. Police brutality is still going on with unarmed protesters being tear-gassed and killed. But the situation means something even more worrisome. It is either Buhari is not in charge or he is being deliberately insincere to Nigerians. And from the look of things, it is both.

Final words

Police brutality may have sparked today’s ongoing protest, but bad governance is the fundamental reason. The most disappointing part of the whole tragedy is that President Buhari has yet to publicly address Nigerians. Perhaps, Buhari doesn’t have anything to lose going forward as he won’t be running in the next presidential elections. He won’t be campaigning again and practically begging for people’s votes. However, he will live the rest of his life knowing that he failed Nigerians when it mattered most.

A few days ago, he had an opportunity to make things right and redeem his already tattered image, but now it’s too late. He has no more chances. Nigerians are more furious than ever. They have been driven to the point of ‘madness’ and are ready for a showdown, and not even the risk of more death can stop them. And this might just be the beginning of the long awaited revolution in Nigeria.

Perhaps, now is the time.

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