The rallying cry from Nigerians to end the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARs) of the Nigerian Police Force is the major issue in Nigeria now. The main reason being accusations of intimidation, harassment, brutality, indiscriminate arrests, even extrajudicial killings and acting as a menace against the people they are meant to protect.
The Inspector General of the Police, Mohammed Adamu last Sunday in response to this announced the banning of SARS and other tactical squads of the force from routine patrols.
A terse statement issued by Force Headquarters in Abuja indicated that other tactical squads affected by the ban include the Special Tactical Squad (STS), Intelligence Response Team (IRT), Anti-Cultism Squad and other tactical squads operating at the federal, zonal and command levels. The ban means that they are stopped from carrying out routine patrols and other conventional low-risk duties notably stop and search duties, checkpoints, mounting of roadblocks, traffic checks among others.
It is pertinent to note that this will be the fourth ‘ban’ on SARS in 4 years. While recognizing that the Nigerian Police Force has recorded some success in the fight against crime and in the maintenance of law and order, it will not be far from the truth to assert that it has not totally done well. To begin with, Nigeria is seriously under-policed, combined with poorly trained and lowly motivated personnel who see their status as an opportunity to extort the public. Crime rates have been on the increase as people even accuse the police of conniving with criminals to rob them of their belongings resulting in cases of “stray bullets”, “accidental discharge” etc.
Many Nigerians have been sent to untimely graves by gun-throttling police officers. In a report jointly produced by a New York-based Open Society Justice Initiative and the Network of Police Reform in Nigeria, they described police stations in the country as “torture chambers.” It accused the Nigeria police of routinely carrying out extra-judicial killings of suspects, torture or molestation while in detention. The report added that the pattern emerging from the study “is that the police are more likely to commit crimes than prevent them.”
Achieving peace and maintaining law and order in any society remains a herculean task. While developed countries like Britain, USA, Canada, Australia etc. have attained some levels of maturity in the maintenance of law and order, crime detection, developing countries like Nigeria, with high incidence of corruption, are faced with the challenge of effective and efficient policing. In the specific case of Nigeria, while the country continues to combat the Boko Haram menace, militancy, kidnapping, armed robbery and banditry, rape and other criminal activities being perpetrated against innocent people, citizens now seem to have another fear in the reported horrific activities of SARS and other similar units of the Nigerian Police Force. This fear originates mostly from the negative activities of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), the Joint Taskforce (JTF) and the Anti-riot Police Personnel (Mobile Police). These squads have been accused of mounting roadblocks on Nigerian roads and engaging in maiming and sometimes killing those who resist their extortionist and other graft activities.
Torture, which is nicknamed “discipline” by the Nigerian Army, is also common among various departments of the Nigeria Police Force, particularly its Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and SCID or SCIB operatives. Even human right organizations are not spared in the abridgement of the rights of Nigerians.
These social vices combined with the low performance of the Nigerian Police has prevailed despite the existence of the Ministry of Police Affairs, Police Service Commission, Nigerian Police Academy and College, changing from the Nigerian Police Service to Nigerian Police Force and the billions of naira annually allocated to them. What could be the answer to this state of insecurity, criminality and police inability to contend crime and insecurity?
This submission attempts to review how community policing may provide alternative solutions to reforming the entire force and regain the trust of Nigerians in the country’s security apparatus if properly implemented. Crime detection becomes easier when communities are adequately involved. This is due mainly to the fact that members of a given community could easily detect strangers and criminals and report the same to community police officers among them. This way incidences of crime will be reduced, law and order maintained and peace achieved. However, police should be able to anticipate the security needs of their host communities, armed with comprehensive criminal statutes and a clear understanding of what populace expects of their police force.
Sometimes Police understanding of what the citizens expect from them usually vary from the actual preferences of the citizens. For instance, the Nigerian Police Force (NPF) understanding of the security expectations of Nigerians may dwell on the fight against armed robbery, kidnapping, militancy, oil bunkering, Boko Haram and arson while the preference may not be limited to these expectations but include fight against rape, domestic violence, police impunity and unlawful detention.
Community policing strategy should prioritize community cohesion. Divided communities are prone to violent conflict. The policy framework must be designed to align and collaborate with existing community-based groups to understand community needs. The familiarity of community policing actors with residents will be valuable in mobilizing community groups towards suing for peace in the face of conflict or working together to tackle criminality at the community level.
Looking at the obvious (and maybe justified) resentment many people have about Nigeria’s security operatives; it is enough to explore its relevance in community policing. Community policing offers a myriad of opportunities in Nigeria, depending on how it is structured and applied. One crucial element to consider should be how it can maintain fruitful relations and promote community action against crime and conflict. Community policing frameworks must take into consideration the numerous identities that exist within the community. It is not enough for its members to be drawn from the communities, but their perspective towards carrying out their operations is key to building community partnerships and promoting durable peace. Therefore, to make community policing work, implementing states must explore different angles.
Community policing should bring the police and citizens together to work to prevent crime and solve neighborhood problems. It emphasizes the significance of stopping crime before it takes place, as against responding to calls for service after the crime happens. It (community policing) also provides the people of a given community more control over the quality of life in their community. In community policing, the police become part of the community. Consequently, the police get a better sense of resident’s security needs and engender trust between the residents of the community and the police.
Community policing forums must also be broadened to include residents from all ethnic, religious, occupational, and age groups in the community, so that all residents’ needs and perspectives are included in discussions of community issues and problems. A major constraint on community policing is underfunding.
Community policing requires much greater funding than traditional policing, since it requires that all officers be trained and retrained, more modern crime-fighting equipment, and morale-building pay raises for officers. An additional issue bearing on the success of community policing in Nigeria is the emergence of local vigilante groups to fight crimes in communities where police have done little to maintain law and order. Local governments should promote regular local seminars to enlighten vigilantes on their roles, limitations, and their cooperation with the police force. The efficiency of this approach is, however, faced with some challenges bordering on interference of some ‘powerful’ members of society in the course of justice, inertia on the part of some corrupt police officials who want the status quo to be maintained, financial constraints, and the unpleasant image of the police.
The SARS unit was set up to solve the problem of violent crime against society, now that a majority of its personnel has deviated from the initial vision and become the same elements they are to stand against, it can be said that there is credibility and a need to pay attention to the call to end SARS. The problem with this ‘solution’ however is that it will only be a smokescreen, almost a knee-jerk reaction to a deep rot that has been festering for long in the entire system.
If the unit is eventually disbanded, the personnel will not disappear or be retired, they most likely will be reassigned to other units; thus, carrying and redistributing the same rotten orientation with them. The many ‘reforms’ promised over the years and now reiterated by the Government and the IGP should be totally implemented with backing legislation criminalizing police brutality and indiscriminate use of force. Enough of the lip service and press statements.
Also, lower-ranked police officers, constables and traffic stop officers need not be armed with weapons. Some of these officers are not properly trained or educated enough to effectively carry out law enforcement without a show of force. There is a general landscape of poor education, flawed recruitment process, training deficiency, poor funding, welfare & equipment, and above all, unparalleled political interference that has been beguiling the Force and has continued to do so, in spite of the credentials or credibility of the IGP.
In the end, we the people need to understand that achieving a working partnership between communities and the police is a two-way street, as no one can fairly seek accountability when there is no equity. The Civil Society needs to do its part in rebuilding trust in the nation’s security operating system by upholding the rule of law, and enforcing the spirit of patriotism by imbibing good character and cooperation with relevant security agencies. Even in the face of slight and offence, citizens cannot continue to take law into their own hands, entrench a culture of violence, practice an eye-for-an-eye or jungle justice, and yet demand for civil and courteous police who are cut from a different cloth.
The effectiveness of community policing depends on the public having confidence and trust in the police. With the security challenges in the country, trust in the police is quite low in Nigeria. The police must address the problem of corrupt officials and limit the involvement of police agencies in partisan politics, since community policing requires that officers be viewed by the community as unbiased public servants rather than as tools of oppression for ruling political parties. Police training must also focus on developing skills and qualities related to effective community policing. This means officers should be schooled in liberal subjects such as sociology, psychology, and political science. This will facilitate officers’ involvement in community development and positive interactions with community residents.
This strategy will only be guaranteed if local partners that will work directly with community policing actors are included in the planning and implementation stages of community policing as well as adequately trained to discharge their duties. Such inclusion should be systematic enough to capture the specific roles and responsibilities of community actors in working together with traditional institutions to resolve conflict or tackle crimes at the community stage. Regardless of the realities of existing security structures, community policing promises good outcomes in Nigeria if properly employed.
The agitation to end SARS can be refocused with a basis on the need to ensure that the framework for community policing is genuinely able to present a marked departure from what exists today. This has to evolve through partnership with community-based organizations, civil society groups and the Nigerian Police Force.
Aduloju is the Media and Communication Officer
Progressive Governors Forum, Abuja.