Every now and then, a new police brutality story emerges. But every day, the fear of its depth and gore expands. A fear grounded in an unchanging pattern of abuse enforced by the Nigerian police, with each manhandling, assault, kidnapping, forced extortion and rights violation of young, hapless Nigerians.
While the general public has been able to engage with the reality of these violations mostly via social media, its proximity to every one of us is ever increasing.
What started out as uncollected rants over the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) in the latter part of 2017, grew in form and relevance with the advocacy group END SARS, moving what was previously a social media campaign to the streets. The social media campaigns helped to not only raise awareness around the escalating instances of unlawful arrests and forceful extortions, but also to collect these devastating information into something loud, urgent and in dire need of attention.
But it would take a few deaths, many more cases of assault and relentless advocacy for the government to acknowledge the scale of this problem. Progress was being made. The Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) got revamped as FSARS at the Vice President’s orders. They don’t seem to have gone anywhere, with a killing recording in September.
The unit which was put together in 2006 to primarily tackle rising robbery cases, has in the past few years, turned into vicious weapons of greed, spontaneous violence, and social inconvenience.
Something to hold on to in this conversation, however, is not SARS’ reinstatement into the Police force, turning normally mundane instances into traumatic events with their unlawful activities still regularly making the news, it is more a question of the people allowed and authorized into that position and how much of this menace feeds of the deeply grounded roots of our deplorable security system.
Yesterday, a Lagos fashion designer was illegally detained, beaten and extorted by a group of policemen. For doing…. well, nothing. The story which was relived through a series of tweets made by the victim, explained in harrowing detail the vicious arc the state of our security system is plunging into. A system peopled by oppressive, gun-wielding humans with unconcealed signs of extreme hooliganism
One is forced to ask at this point what the Police force genuinely stands for now. Whether the lines defining their function and responsibilities to protect and defend Nigerian citizens are still constitutionally valid. Is there a memo we are missing? If there isn’t, then why are these things still happening? Why is the Nigerian police force making sure to ingrain fear and distrust of their office in the minds of people? What is the basis of this action?
In a Guardian op-ed exploring the realistically inaccurate sentiment of the police being our friend, the journalist Ademola Orunbon writes “Whatever class of person you are in Nigeria, the last thing that you want is an encounter with the police because you will find out very quickly that all that the black letters in the Nigerian Constitution are statutes, and Police Public Relations campaigns mean nothing to the officers on the streets and in the police station near you.”
The Nigerian government owes its young population – who are heavily at the receiving end – the strong support that comes from the protection of rights, lives, and privacy. It is certainly unclear where we stand as a people with our security forces, for whom our safety should be of utmost importance. With news like this rising to the fore with alarming consistency, that place does not look good.