#EndSARS is one of the few social justice campaigns that had Nigerians from all works of life agreeing on one thing: the unit had to go. The hashtag which started trickling into the public consciousness over a year ago snowballed into one of the largest social campaigns in Nigeria. Nigerian youths used the hashtag to document and share the atrocities that the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) has inflicted on them over the years. The youth who form the core of those targeted by SARS detailed incidents of extortion, assault, torture and even leading to death. By December 2017, the campaign had gone viral but the powers that be in Nigeria “unlooked” as usual. Once the campaign made the news on foreign media houses like the BBC and CNN, the Federal Government swung into action. It decided that rather than end SARS, it would order a reorganization of the squad. An order from the Presidency to the Inspector General of Police led to an investigation and reorganization of the Anti-Robbery Squad. But it was business as usual for the squad as they continued with their extortion, torture, and killing of innocent Nigerian youth.
The Buhari Administration on Police Reform
In August 2018, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo ordered the IGP, Ibrahim Idris, to reform the Unit as the outcry from the Nigerian public had gotten worse. The IGP announced a list of changes that will be made to the Anti-Robbery Squad starting from their name. The squad went from being called SARS to FSARS. The IGP ordered the men of the Squad to:
- wear their official uniforms
- stop attending civil/commercial events
- focus on their job which pertains to robbery and kidnapping cases
Idris assured the public that as part of the overhaul of FSARS the human rights desk would be created in all the states of the Federation. New recruits would also undergo rigorous training in police work and human rights. He also stressed that Counsellors and Psychologists will screen new recruits to ensure their suitability for the squad.
The History of SARS
The FSARS was founded 26 years ago after a series of armed robbery attacks that brought the nation to its knees. In 1992, Nigeria was a jungle with armed robbery and kidnapping attacks increasing as each new day dawned. Former IGP Mike Okiro, the then Commissioner of Police in Lagos and a few other policemen bounded together to create SARS. The task force brought down notorious armed robbers like Shina Rambo who terrorized the Southwest in the ’90s. With its success in Lagos, the unit spread across the remaining states in the nation.
At the time of its creation, SARS operatives were undercover agents who dressed in mufti. Their main focus being violent criminals. Over the years, the same methods which made them successful in the 90’s are now the reason the squad gets away with torture, extortion, and murder as there is no way for victims if left alive to identify their oppressors.
A few months have passed since the announcement that the unit will be overhauled. But the #EndSARS hashtag still lingers as Nigerians document their ordeal at the hands of policemen meant to be protecting them. When you slap lipstick on a pig, it still remains a pig albeit one with fancy colored lip wear. So it is with the FSARS, a change of name and a handful of changes does not a reform make. Nigerians were skeptical about the effectiveness of the Buhari Administration’s current reforms. There had been many reforms in the past in the Nigerian Police Force as a whole. And they haven’t yielded the results promised or solved any of the issues that caused the reforms in the first place.
Obasanjo Administration on Police Reform
President Olusegun Obasanjo took office in May 1999 after decades of military rule. There were high hopes for his administration as his government had promised better leadership, human development, and a fight against the massive corruption in the government. Police reform had not been initially included in the government agenda. And the Nigerian Police Force (NPF) got away with crimes like bribery, torture, and murder. Each successive IGP tried to reform the police in their own way but failed. How can a sick person cure another sick person? The Presidency didn’t get involved in Police reforms till men of the NPF killed 6 traders at a checkpoint in the Apo area of Abuja. The traders were on their way home from a party and their deaths were the stone that started the avalanche of public outrage. The outrage led President Obasanjo to tackle the incessant spate of torture, extortions, and murder by members of the force.
In January 2006, Obasanjo inaugurated a 12-man committee to investigate the allegations against the police force. The Presidential Committee was headed by Alhaji Mohammad Dan Madami, a retired Deputy Inspector General of Police. The Committee held public hearings in all 6 geopolitical zones in the country where they engaged Nigerians, NGOs who documented police abuses, and police officers themselves. The country-wide tour ended in Abuja where they interviewed police officers, from the then IGP, Sunday Ehindero to the lowliest constable. After 5 months, the committee delivered its findings to the President. The findings of the committee were never made public and any hope of reforms died as the frenzy for the 2007 General Elections took over.
Yar’adua Administration on Police Reform
When Umaru Musa Yar’adua took office after winning the Presidential elections in 2007, one of the things he met on his table was the recommendations of the 2006 Presidential Committee on Police Reform. That report promptly went into the bin as Yar’adua inaugurated his own committee on Police reforms as part of the Security plan on his 7-point manifesto. The 16-man Presidential Committee on Reform of the Nigerian Police Force was inaugurated in January 2008. Former IGP, Muhammadu Dikko Yusuf led the committee. Yar’adua also appointed a new IGP, Mike Okiro, as part of his police reform plans. Mike Okiro came up with a highly publicized plan to motivate, bolster the welfare and confidence of the officers in the NPF.
Nigerians waited with bated breath for the changes that Mike Okiro’s plans would bring. Like all other attempts to revamp the NPF made by other IGPs before him, Okiro’s plans didn’t yield any tangible fruits. However, the recommendations of the Committee were made public this time. A sum of N2.8 trillion spent over 5 years was recommended by the committee to equip and train NPF officers, increase their pay and revamp the various arms of the NPF. The recommendations of the committee were soon to be buried under the various intrigues surrounding the health of Yar’adua. In 2010, it was announced that the President had died of a heart-related condition after months of uncertainty. The promised reforms never came.
Jonathan Administration on Police Reform
The late Umaru Yar’adua was succeeded by his deputy, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. And like his predecessor, Jonathan inaugurated another committee on Police reforms and the Dikko committee report was discarded. The committee was headed by retired Deputy Inspector General of Police, Parry Osayande. The reorganization committee delivered its report to the Presidency in August 2012. Their recommendation put a stop to the whispers of state police which had been bandied around as a potential solution. Some of the content of the committee’s recommendations were made public and the Jonathan administration promised to spend N1.5 trillion to modernize and reorganize the Nigerian Police Force in 5 years. To Jonathan’s discredit, his administration couldn’t fund the recommended amount of N300 billion yearly to revamp and modernize the NPF. A measly N16.1 billion was allocated to fund the modernization of the Nigerian Police force but only N10 billion was released. The woes which plagued the entire police force and by extension, SARS continued.
Buhari Administration on Police Reform II
Nigerians never learn! High hopes accompanied the swearing-in of President Buhari whom many felt would handle national outfits like the police force with an iron will. Several stakeholders and civil pressure groups have called on the Buhari administration to implement the Dikko Committee recommendations from 2008 to no avail. The only directive on police reform from the Buhari administration came in August 2018. The focus is only on SARS and not on the entire police force. The handful of changes mischievously described as “reforms” are so basic in nature and scope that it would be disingenuous of anyone to view them as actual reforms.
The record of Nigerian police reforms speaks for itself and it is damning. The current August directive from Vice President Osinbajo will yield no fruits and will inevitably get lost in the aftermath of the 2019 General Elections intensifies. To hope that any meaningful change would come out of this directive is like looking for a black cat in a dark room without using any light: stupid and utterly pointless.