Daily Trust

It’s NOT about dis­man­tling SARS, it’s about democratis­ing Nige­ria

- Nigeria Politics · Nigeria News · Crime · Politics · African Politics · Nigeria · Nigerian Army · Twitter · Jack Dorsey · Central Bank of Nigeria · Nigeria Police Force · Olusegun Obasanjo · Doctor of Medicine · Niger · Boko Haram · Police brutality · Goodluck Jonathan · Mr. President · Mr. President

What we know about 21st-cen­tury re­volts is that the youth are its key ac­tors, it starts on so­cial me­dia, it then moves from the virtual spa­ces to the streets and it is tele­vised, thanks to mo­bile phones. What we never seem to know is when and why it moves from virtual spa­ces to the streets. For years, the youth have been threat­en­ing on so­cial me­dia that they have had enough of po­lice bru­tal­ity and won’t take it any­more. For the past week, it has been hap­pen­ing and the streets of all our ma­jor ur­ban cen­tres are wit­ness­ing youth re­volt and coun­ter­ac­tion by se­cu­rity agen­cies and paid thugs.

The se­ri­ous­ness of the sit­u­a­tion be­came ap­par­ent on Wed­nes­day when Col. Sa­gir Musa of the Nige­rian Army pub­lic re­la­tions depart­ment is­sued a state­ment warn­ing: “all sub­ver­sive el­e­ments and trou­ble mak­ers to de­sist from such acts as it re­mains highly com­mit­ted to de­fend­ing the coun­try and her democ­racy at all cost”. They af­firmed their loy­alty to the pres­i­dent and promised to, “fully sup­port the civil author­ity in what­ever ca­pac­ity to main­tain law and or­der and deal with any sit­u­a­tion de­ci­sively. They con­cluded on the fa­mil­iar note that they are ready to deal with all “an­tidemo­cratic forces and agents of dis­unity”. I be­lieve they are mis­read­ing the sit­u­a­tion. The youth in the streets are say­ing they want the hu­man rights of Nige­ri­ans to be re­spected, that they want law en­force­ment agen­cies to re­spect the rule of law and that they want Nige­ria’s democ­racy deep­ened. This is a del­i­cate time and it is im­por­tant that the Nige­rian State hears what the youth are say­ing so that the out­come of the present sit­u­a­tion would be the con­sol­i­da­tion of Nige­rian democ­racy rather than re­ver­sal to au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism.

Nige­ria’s se­cu­rity agen­cies are en­coun­ter­ing a new sit­u­a­tion in which the youth are re­ject­ing promises they know to be empty be­cause they have heard them be­fore and know they would not be kept. I can only imag­ine the per­plex­ity and anger in se­cu­rity and rul­ing cir­cles yes­ter­day, when an in­ter­na­tional group called Anony­mous re­leased in­for­ma­tion with names, tele­phone num­bers and emails of SARS of­fi­cers and is­sued a 72-hour ul­ti­ma­tum to the Nige­rian Gov­ern­ment to im­ple­ment the de­mands of the protest­ing youth or face mas­sive hack­ing and ex­po­sure of gov­ern­ment dirt. Gov­ern­ments are not used to re­ceiv­ing threats from shad­owy groups who de­fine them­selves as the van­guard against tyranny and in­jus­tice and can eas­ily reach the con­clu­sion that there is an un­fold­ing co­or­di­nated sub­ver­sive threat by in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal ac­tors.

Also, yes­ter­day, Twit­ter founder Jack Dorsey came out to openly sup­port the street protests in Nige­ria. In ad­di­tion, he shared links for do­na­tions of bit­coins for the Nige­rian strug­gle to mil­lions of peo­ple around the world. The mes­sage is clear, the Nige­rian gov­ern­ment can con­trol its banks but money no longer needs gov­ern­ment ap­proval to cir­cu­late and be spent. He might have been re­act­ing to un­con­firmed re­ports that the Cen­tral Bank of Nige­ria had in­structed Flut­ter­wave money trans­fer com­pany to stop do­na­tions to an ac­count run by a fem­i­nist group rais­ing money for med­i­cal and le­gal bills of the mount­ing num­ber of vic­tims of the protests. The other fea­ture of 21st-cen­tury rev­o­lu­tions that we can de­duce is that the lo­cal is global and the global ex­presses it­self lo­cally. The Nige­rian rul­ing class must be fum­ing and ask­ing them­selves “that don’t they know we are a sov­er­eign coun­try.” Yes, we are sov­er­eign but in the new world, global forces have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to pro­tect peo­ple whose rights are be­ing vi­o­lated by their own gov­ern­ments and its agen­cies.

Let’s look at the nar­ra­tive that is un­fold­ing. Nige­ri­ans know that their Con­sti­tu­tion says that the State has the re­spon­si­bil­ity to pro­vide for the se­cu­rity and wel­fare of all ci­ti­zens and they know that it is not hap­pen­ing. They also know that the po­lice were cre­ated to de­fend their rights and that is not hap­pen­ing. It was way back in 1984, un­der mil­i­tary rule, that the Nige­ria Po­lice Force set up the Spe­cial Anti-Rob­bery Squad (SARS). Yes­ter­day, the first com­mand­ing of­fi­cer of SARS, re­tired Po­lice Com­mis­sioner Fu­lani Kwa­jafa was on the BBC Hausa ser­vice cam­paign­ing for SARS to be dis­banded. The oc­to­ge­nar­ian ar­gued that the unit was set up to im­prove pro­fes­sion­al­ism and the use of in­tel­li­gence in com­bat­ing armed rob­bery. At the time of his ap­point­ment, he has had 26 years’ ex­pe­ri­ence as an in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer in the po­lice and used that to train the ini­tial squad. Yes­ter­day, he de­clared on BBC that cur­rently, the rob­bers are the ones run­ning SARS so there is no rea­son to jus­tify its con­tin­ued ex­is­tence.

The In­spec­tor-Gen­eral of Po­lice has an­nounced that the new Spe­cial Weapons and Tac­tics Team (SWAT) that he wants to es­tab­lish to re­place SARS will be in­tel­li­gence-driven, will not con­tinue with the prac­tice of rou­tine pa­trols to ar­rest Nige­ri­ans pro­filed for their smart cars, phones and com­put­ers. In other words, they will no longer be an or­gan for ex­tor­tion. That has been the man­date of SARS since 1984 but the prac­tice has been tor­ture, ex­tor­tion and ex­tra-ju­di­cial killings of Nige­ri­ans. To­day, Nige­ri­ans have clearly re­jected SWAT be­cause they know it would be an ex­act re­pro­duc­tion of SARS. The po­lice have re­fused to re­form it­self over the years be­cause they have de­cided that they want to re­main in the mould of an or­gan that bru­talises and ex­torts Nige­ri­ans.

In 2005, the Jus­tice Eji­wunmi Pres­i­den­tial Com­mis­sion on Re­form of the Ad­min­is­tra­tion of Jus­tice made sub­stan­tial rec­om­men­da­tions on Po­lice Re­form that were not im­ple­mented. Pres­i­dent Obasanjo then es­tab­lished the Muham­madu Dan­madami Pres­i­den­tial Com­mis­sion on Po­lice Re­form in 2006 and the po­lice re­fused to im­ple­ment the re­port. When Pres­i­dent Umaru Musa Yar’Adua came into power, he found out that the Dam­madami re­port was not im­ple­mented so he es­tab­lished the M. D. Yusuf Pres­i­den­tial Com­mit­tee on Po­lice Re­form to update the rec­om­men­da­tions but once again, the po­lice re­sisted re­form. Yusuf in his re­port had pointed out that the Force has a work­force that is largely “un­de­sir­able” and com­plained that many of the po­lice per­son­nel were “crim­i­nals”. In 2012, Pres­i­dent Good­luck Jonathan set up the Parry Osayande Pres­i­den­tial Com­mis­sion on Po­lice Re­form Re­port and once again the po­lice re­fused to im­ple­ment the rec­om­men­da­tions. The po­lice, there­fore, have the in­sti­tu­tional mem­ory that no Nige­rian Pres­i­dent has suc­ceeded in mak­ing them im­ple­ment re­form, they sim­ply say YES SIR and con­tinue with what they have been do­ing. The youth know that which is why they con­tin­ued with their demon­stra­tions even af­ter the po­lice have once again promised they will re­form them­selves. We will have po­lice re­form when a Nige­rian pres­i­dent im­poses it on the in­sti­tu­tion.

The Nige­rian State should be grate­ful to the youth for hav­ing the knowl­edge and courage to place on the ta­ble the im­per­a­tive of im­me­di­ate po­lice re­form. The ad­vo­cacy to End SARS has been on­go­ing for many years with Se­galink as a fo­cal point. Over the past three days, he has re­peat­edly called on pro­test­ers to stop be­cause all their rec­om­men­da­tions have been ac­cepted by both gov­ern­ment and the po­lice. He has been ig­nored be­cause the youth know they have heard that be­fore and it never hap­pened. Even in Jan­uary 2019, the po­lice had an­nounced that they dis­banded SARS but had done noth­ing in re­al­ity. Se­galink could not read the tea leaves and has side-lined him­self from a move­ment he played a huge role in de­vel­op­ing.

With the nu­mer­ous se­cu­rity chal­lenges Nige­ria is fac­ing to­day, rang­ing from resur­gent se­ces­sion­ists, Niger Delta mil­i­tants, re­li­gious fun­da­men­tal­ists, Boko Haram ter­ror­ists and so on, Nige­ria des­per­ately needs func­tional po­lice and the first step in that di­rec­tion is to re­duce cor­rup­tion from the Po­lice Force. We des­per­ately need a po­lice ser­vice, not a bru­tal force. We need a Po­lice Ser­vice that is fit for pur­pose and the youth are telling us to do that now. Mr. Pres­i­dent, please lis­ten to what they are say­ing. Mr. Pres­i­dent, please de­velop a mech­a­nism to im­pose re­form on the Nige­ria Po­lice Force. That is the path­way to demo­cratic con­sol­i­da­tion.

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