The Nigerian Police Force has a long history of brutality and harassment which the government has fought to end by adopting many different reforms, to no end. This is majorly due to the cloak of invincibility, born out of their total lack of accountability, that shrouds the force.
Although the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) has been dissolved, police brutality and harassment will continue until the police force is held accountable for its actions by a body that is completely independent of it. A wake-up call for the Nigerian Police as well as the Nigerian government.
During the heavy days of massive protests against police brutality across the country, the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, announced the establishment of the Special Weapon and Tactics (SWAT) to replace it’s greatly detested unit, SARS, notorious for brutality, harassment, and extortion.
The SARS, formed in 1992, was a solution to curb the excesses of the force after a Nigerian Army officer, Col. Rindam, was killed by police officers at a checkpoint in Lagos. Unfortunately, the seeming solution has now become the problem—even worse—despite several acclaimed reforms. What is the guarantee that SWAT won’t be the demon we will be fighting tomorrow?
In its report about Nigeria’s coronavirus lockdown period, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) said it had found 11 separate incidents of extrajudicial killings, seven of which came from the Nigerian Police Force.
The recommendations from the 2018 NHRC panel for the reform of the SARS and other such reforms attempted by the government in recent times yielded no improvements on the activities of the SARS and the entire police force in general. This is largely due to the power wielded by the police force which stems from their historical lack of accountability. In order to implement a reform that would be effective, there is a need to cut down on and reduce their power by increasing their accountability.
What to do
First, enough of the docile Police Service Commission; she has to wake up to its mission “to improve service delivery in the Nigeria Police Force by promoting transparency and accountability in the police”. It needs to be more accessible to the public and it should work hand in hand with the local communities. It should also be less populated by members of the police force, retired or not to ensure objectivity and transparency.
Police officers need to know that there is a body that has just as much power over them as they have over the citizens. Offenses committed by the police should not be investigated by the police. Citizens need to be assured that the police cannot get away with their offenses against them and violations of their rights.
Also, the Nigerian government needs to regulate the use of firearms in the police force. Members of the Nigerian Police Force go around with assault and semi-assault rifles for tasks as mundane as patrol. This, again, gives them an air of invincibility. Not only are these firearms unaccounted for, but police officers also walk free in obvious cases of misuse and abuse. Regulation should not only come in the form of laws, some officers should not even be allowed to carry firearms at all.
In February 2018, the Inspector General of police gave the order for the recovery of illegal firearms, ammunition and weapons from bandits, militia and vigilante groups in their committed efforts to protect the lives and properties of the people. Efforts like this will, however, be useless for as long as men of the Nigerian Police wield firearms, unregulated.
A police recruit earns less than a hundred and ten thousand Naira in a year. There should also be a better remuneration package for police officers. This would ensure that they perform their duties with no grudge or ill will towards the state or its citizens. This would also go a long way to ensure that they perform their duties with utmost dedication.
Rodiyah Mikail is a Writing Fellow at African Liberty and student of Law at Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto in Nigeria.