By Yemie ADEOYE
IT is no longer news that after almost a week of intensive national protests against the high handedness and reckless impunity of members of the Nigeria Police Special Anti-Robbery Squad, popularly called SARS, the Inspector General of Police, IGP, Mohammed Adamu, finally disbanded the killer squad to the applaud and relief of many Nigerians.
It is also not news that the IGP hurriedly announced the emergence of a new team to be called SWAT or Special Weapons and Tactics in full, apparently named after the United States special police unit, SWAT. This is to the chagrin and disdain of many Nigerians who believed that the decision was unilaterally and hurriedly made.
What is, however, news, and somewhat disturbing is the fact that the whole policy decision seems weak, unilateral, baseless, unfounded, lazy, lacks planning and tact, stakeholders input and even seriousness.
The United States, from where Nigeria apparently copied the name change of SWAT from SARS, started its own special police for very strategic reasons in 1964 as a 100-man specialized unit. It was started by the Philadelphia Police Department in response to alarming increase in bank robberies and was code named ‘SWAT’, which stands for Special Weapons and Tactics.
The purpose of this unit was to react quickly and decisively to bank robberies in real time or while they were in progress, by utilizing a large number of specially trained officers who had at their disposal a great amount of military style firepower. The tactic worked and was later soon to resolve other types of incidents involving heavily armed criminals.
After the recorded success of the Philadelphia Police SWAT Unit, the Los Angeles Police Department, LAPD, started their own SWAT Unit three years later in 1967, with the basic aim of tackling riots, especially the racial Watts riots. Since that moment, virtually all cities and states in the United States have developed their various SWAT Units, including big cities like New York, Las Vegas etc.
In today’s America, the federal police, popularly called the FBI or Federal Bureau of Investigation in full, owns the largest SWAT Department in the country, with a division in each of its 56 field offices. The FBI is followed closely by large state police departments and county sheriffs’ departments with their very sizable SWAT Divisions.
Members of SWAT can only be deployed to quell strategic issues and upheavals. They aren’t to be seen at all times around cities and towns getting involved in civil matters. That was neither the plan nor the training and Nigeria’s IGP must take very serious note of the following.
SWAT teams are very well remunerated. SWAT teams are deployed mostly as a back up and not as first line of defense. They are arranged in units almost similar to the military. They are well and dangerously equipped, better than some of the world’s military. From weapons, to communication gadgets, vehicles and protective gears, SWAT officers are well trained and are paid anywhere between $61,000 annually for entry level positions and $132,000 for those in the most senior SWAT categories. That is N23, 180,000 and N50, 160,000 respectively. Now, this is huge investments and little wonder why these men will face any situation no matter how daring and dangerous, on behalf of public peace and safety. Now we know and understand how impossible this could be in a country where the IGP himself nets about N800, 000 monthly or N9, 600,000 annually, that is our sad state as a nation.
The relative infrequency of SWAT call-outs in the United States means these expensively trained and equipped officers cannot be left to sit around, waiting for an emergency. In many departments, the officers are normally deployed to regular duties, but are available for SWAT calls via pagers, mobile phones, or radio transceivers. Simply put, these officers are placed on or assigned to regular duties, and immediately mobilized for SWAT duties whenever the need arises.
So, this is the elite group of law enforcement personnel that Nigeria wishes to emulate. While it is okay to copy and paste, it is also of essence to understand and appreciate the essence and foundation of whatever we may wish to copy, lest it crumbles almost before it get started.
It is pertinent for the Federal Government to seize the opportunity of this moment to call for a stakeholders hearing that will involve the civil society, national assembly, students and labour unions on a practical way forward with the Nigeria Police. The reform is of essence and the time is now. A lot of this reform should and must be centered on these three things if we don’t want to emerge as the joke we have always portrayed: Remuneration, Training, and Equipment.
Without these three factors given the seriousness it requires, everything that has been done including the protest is an attempt in futility.
* Adeoye, a radio talk show host, lives in Houston Tx, USA.