The #EndSARS protests against the now-dissolved police Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), which began as a campaign aimed at ending the spate of police brutality against innocent citizens in the country, ironically, snowballed into, perhaps, the most bizarre show of brutality against the police.
While giving gory statistics of the losses suffered by the Nigeria Police Force through the protests, Inspector General Police (IGP), Muhammed Adamu, disclosed that 22 police officers lost their lives while 205 police stations and formations were torched.
As if this was not enough, the IGP also disclosed that the unrivalled assault on the police, by the rampaging hoodlums and arsonists, led to the carting away of firearms, including AK 47 rifles, pistols, police uniforms, generating sets, case files and officers’ personal belongings among others.
Presenting the unpleasant data, during a virtual meeting with Commissioners of police in the 36 States and FCT, the IGP also revealed that in order to avert violent engagements between the police and the hoodlums who hijacked the #EndSARS protests, some policemen deserted their station as the mob attacked.
Now, what does the whole of this signify? First, it portends grave danger for public security in the country. Considering the level of physical, psychological, and emotional strains that the police have had to grapple with as a result of the various losses it suffered in the aftermath of the #EndSARS protest, men and officers of the Nigeria Police Force are understandably distressed.
In that state, it would be most demanding for them to give their very best in the performance of their statutory responsibilities, at least for now. Thus, what we currently have is a police with a bruised ego and waning morale. Sadly, with our mounting insecurity challenges, this isn’t by any means cheering.
Aside from this, stolen police firearms in the hands of hoodlums or their sponsors also constitute a serious threat to public security. Police weapons in the wrong hands will heighten the level of insecurity in the land. Similarly, the cost of rebuilding razed police facilities will surely put a strain on the lean resources of the government in the face of the financial crisis that has been occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic and other challenges.
Second, the assault on the police and its facilities readily confirms that the ‘protesters’, who carried out such dastardly acts, are not in any way different from the bad eggs in the police whom they were remonstrating against. Like the police, they are also in urgent need of psychological, ethical, and emotional reforms.
Third, it proves that the need for reform in the police should, indeed, be a holistic one. In as much as the police has truly not covered itself in glory, over the years, the truth, however, is that there is hardly any institution in the country that has truly lived up to expectations. The academia, public and private institutions, religious and traditional institutions among others are all at one level of dissipation or the other. Therefore, if the truth must be established, the police, as it is, merely epitomizes what is relatively available in the larger society.
Where do we, then, go from here? Every institution in the country, the police inclusive, need to embrace critical reforms. Also, the citizenry must reorder their priority. Our efforts at nation-building have been torturous because we have imbibed the wrong attitude to leadership and followership. Whatever failure we have recorded as a nation is a collective one.
There is no need for buck-passing. We all must change to experience the change we desire. Discipline, integrity, hard work, honesty, and selflessness, among other hitherto revered virtues in our society, have taken the back seat.
The cheering thing, however, is that there is a glimpse of hope, if only we could consciously make up our mind to turn the corner. For instance, as bad as the much-vilified police seems, we have witnessed unbelievable acts of patriotism among some of them. For instance, we have seen police officers on the Third Mainland Bridge as well as the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, assisting stranded motorists either to change damaged tires or help in other ways.
Therefore, in the interest of the country and peaceful co-existence, we need to build trust among the various segments of society. More importantly, the citizenry and the police must build new relationships that are anchored on trust and mutual respect. The police must get rid of all anti-people tendencies. It is only in doing this that the cliché: “The Police is your friend” would not amount to mere rhetoric without substance.
Similarly, people must also learn to trust and respect the police. Police officers are our brothers and sisters. They have chosen, at the risk of their lives, to protect us and our belongings. To do this, some of them are constantly under the sun, while others are awake all night. Policing is a particularly tough vocation in our country. The operational environment isn’t friendly; facilities, tools and the expertise required to do a seamless job aren’t readily available.
Certainly, undue hostility by the people against the police would complicate the situation, thereby spelling doom for public security. The delicate nature of the work of the police requires that we empathize with them. Going forward, communities, individuals and organisations must strengthen relationship with the police to enhance security.
Also, the appropriate authorities must urgently put up necessary machinery that will usher in the much-needed reforms in the Nigeria Police. Funding must be provided for the police to be able to access necessary facilities, training as well as the equipment needed for effective policing. The work environment, including the various police barracks, must be redeveloped to give the police the required mental and emotional aptitude needed to carry out their tough assignments.
On a final note, every section of the society must support the police to enhance public security. An effective public security cannot be obtained without the active involvement, participation, and support of every section of the society because public security is the responsibility of all individuals, groups, communities, organisations, and other units that constitute the state.
Criminals are not spirits, they dwell in our midst. We must, therefore, observe and report every strange movement and activities in our neighbourhood to the appropriate authorities. It is only when we develop a communal fortitude towards public security that the work of the police and other security agencies could be effectively harnessed.
Ogunbiyi is Deputy Director, Public Affairs, Lagos State Ministry of Information & Strategy, Ikeja.