LAWYER and Social Commentator Dr. Charles Omole has said scrapping Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) will not stop the menace as it is merely a fruit of a poisonous tree.
He said the entire force is a cesspit of intertwined corruption-provoking practices and operational culture. Allow me to give some examples.
Omole who is a security expert said this in a series of tweet on his official twitter, titled #EndSARS is a symptom and not the problem.
Nigerians since last week been protesting against the human rights abuse committed by SARS, a unit of the Police established to tackle robbery.
They have been calling for the scrapping of the unit and a total reform of the Police Force in the country.
He also said many SARS and other IGP tactical squads’ members act as law unto themselves. They often disobey command CPs and operate without the knowledge of DPOs and Area Commanders.
Also further stating that various allegations of brutality and extortion against the SARS squad of the police is symptomatic of a wider problem with the entire Nigeria Police Force personnel as a whole.
See his tweet below…
#ENDSARS IS A SYMPTOM NOT THE PROBLEM
Rooting out abuse and brutality in the police tactical squads
The various allegations of brutality and extortion against the SARS squad of the police is symptomatic of a wider problem with the entire NPF personnel as a whole.
Scrapping SARS will not stop the menace as it is merely a fruit of a poisonous tree. All other fruits will be equally poisonous. A more fundamental reform of the police paradigm is needed. What many Nigerians do not know is the extent of the corruption economy within the police.
The entire force is a cesspit of intertwined corruption-provoking practices and operational culture. Allow me to give some examples.
In the past, it was common to see DPOs frequently levied by some CPs to find Money to host visits of IGPs. Not sure if this still goes on.
In many States, the DPOs and Area Commanders pay from their pocket for the service and maintenance of official police vehicles allocated to them. Right now, the newest recruits into the force need to be migrated to the new FG payroll system.
They also have to provide, electricity and water for their stations with no official police allocation for such. Many DPOs feed detainees from their own pocket because there is little or no official allocation for such. Many have complained to me about these issues and questioned how they are supposed to raise the funds to make these things happen; except through extortion and bribery.
It is not uncommon for DPOs to levy officers to raise funds for the burial of dead colleagues.
Many officers are transferred to new states but provided no financial support to make this happen. Many end up sleeping on the floor at the police station until they are able to “raise” the money needed to rent a room.
And don’t get me started on the fact that officers are made to pay (from their own pocket) for their own official uniforms. The list goes on.
These organisational culture and practices (along with sheer human greed) fuel the corruption and extortion we witness daily.
The need and practice for officers to personally “raise” funds for official policing business is an unspoken but understood inducer of the corruption within the police.
Don’t get me wrong; I accept there are officers who are simply inherently corrupt no matter what.
But these are in the minority compared to officers forced into corruption by unreasonable official demands, culture, institutional practices and need for operational subsistence.
On the matter of police brutality; this is evidence of breakdown in internal governance and control measures within the force. There simply is no deterrence for bad behaviour as officers know the system thrives on and need their corruption economy to survive. Many police divisions cannot be run without the income raised by officers through corrupt practices.
The official annual allocation to many police stations cannot sustain them for a week. So how are they expected to survive & operate? With d financial support of state Governors & d fleecing of Nigerians through corrupt practices; d police organisation cannot survive for a week.
Its federal allocation seems to mainly pay for salaries and little room for anything else. So, on this issue, the police itself is a victim that now also victimises.
I have written extensively, dozens of articles, and published several books on how to reform policing and security in Nigeria, so I will not be repeating those solutions here. My focus in this piece is simply to add to the #EndSars
debate going on in the country.
THE CASE FOR SARS
We need SARS in Nigeria. At least we need their capabilities. There are certain duties that your regular police officers will struggle to perform. The ruggedness and audacious posture of SARS, IRT, STS, and other tactical squads are needed to carry out certain kinds of operations. The battle-hardened nature of many SARS officers over time becomes a unique capability that helps the police to deal with certain difficult arrests and criminality.
If there is need to invade the den of a known criminal kingpin for instance; sending your regular police officers to do the job will lead to avoidable loss of police lives as they do not possess the practice or preparedness for such a job. But SARS officers will do a better job with much less police casualty.
We need to be careful therefore not to throw away the baby with the dirty bath-water. If carried out to its logical conclusion; #EndSars
could easily become #EndPolice as the SARS officers are still police personnel who will remain in the force, with or without SARS.
So, a bad egg does not become good simply by moving it from one location to another. The case to keep the capabilities of SARS is strong and irrefutable in my view. Our message and demand therefore need to be more nuanced than simple soundbites of EndSars.
THE CASE AGAINST SARS
As a brand, SARS is irrevocably damaged in my opinion. The abuses of its officers are so pervasive and entrenched, that keeping that name alone will become a lightning rod for opposition to police operational posture in Nigeria.
So, in my view, we must EndSars but keep its capabilities through another squad that will be better constituted, better managed and better trained.
SARS was a wrong concept from the start. The capabilities were needed; but SARS was badly constituted ab initio.
Each State Command in Nigeria (and many Zonal commands) had and still have Anti-Robbery Squads. So why did the police duplicate their functions by IGP creating his own Special Anti-Robbery Squad. Why not use the existing structures through the state commands?
Time will not permit me to elaborate on this in detail but it is sufficient to say the IGP at the time did not trust his leaders and felt he needed to personally control a team he can deploy at will; instead of delegate CPs or Zonal AIGs to get the job done.
Over time, many IGPs have come to see SARS and other needless tactical squads as their personal enforcement army, loyal to them and means of providing material support to keep the IGP in his post. It was this need for “personal control” that made the IGPs duplicate existing structures thus bypassing the chain of command and operational structures.
Many SARS and other IGP tactical squads’ members act as law unto themselves. They often disobey command CPs and operate without the knowledge of DPOs and Area Commanders.
This practice has created a division within the police with many resenting the way SARS and other squads abuse the rules of engagement and police protocols because they are “IGP Boys”.
What made the while situation worse was the fact that there were no Selection Criteria to join SARS, no additional specialised training given and no accountability for their actions. The IRT and STS squads are equally guilty of abuses, so this is not just about SARS alone.
SOLUTIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
So, what can be done to gradually win over the public to begin to support d police more?
1.ABOLISH SARS, IRT, STS AND ALL THE TACTUCAL SQUADS.
The IGP should abolish all these tactical squads he personally controls and allow the state and zonal commands to do their job. Why create a structure only to bypass them daily? I see a lot of similarities in d capabilities of these squads that I feel the IGP should simply have ONE “IGP General Intervention Squad” (IGP-GIS) that will be deployable to perform any unique duties.
The GIS can have sub-units within it if different specialised capabilities are needed; but it will be ONE Squad that will report directly to the IGP. This ONE squad should replace all the various ones existing in the IGP’s office.
DEFINED CLEAR RULES OF ENGAGEMENT ABOUT DEPLOYMENTS
There should be a clear protocol established that will transparently define when the intervention of the GIS will be needed. The state command can call for their “specialised” help and support.
The practice of deploying the squad willy-nilly all over te country must stop. Protocol must be followed and the local commands MUST be carried along. It is one police force afterall.
3.DEVELOP A CLEAR SELECTION CRITERIAL FOR THE NEW SQUAD
There has to be well documented and defined selection criterial for the new squad. And joining should be open to all servicing officers. Preferably, an officer must have been in the police for a minimum of 5years before they can join the new GIS. This will help capacity development amongst its members.
4.SPECIALISED TRAINING MUST BE PROVIDED BEFORE ONBOARDING AND ON AN ONGOING BASIS
As part of joining the new GIS; a minimum 3month training programme should be established.
This will not only be specialised weapons and equipment training; but training in intelligence operations, and legal operational boundaries. There should also be a set of ongoing training programme to keep developing the capacities of the members.
5.GIVE STATE COMMANDS MORE ROOM TO OPERATE
All the IGP tactical squads’ duplicates or overlaps with a squad state command already have. So, the capabilities of the states should be enhanced and room should be given to them to operate without constant IGP micromanaging.
If a CP is not up to the job; he can be transferred. But state commands should be given more support to develop tactical capabilities.
6.CLOSER MONITORING OF ALL POLICE SQUADS
From the daily check on appearances of members, to drug testing of members; there should be greater monitoring of all police squads whether within the state commands or the GIS. The squads are meant to be Elite forces. So, higher standards should be required to join and stay in them.
7.MORE EFFECTIVE ACCOUNTABILITY SYSTEMS ESTABLISHED
Discipline within all police tactical squads must be quick and swift. No abuse should be tolerated. Officers should be swiftly transferred out if necessary.
Officers must hold themselves to a higher level of discipline and skill to be able to operate in an Elite unit. So greater demands must be placed on these officers.
8.A PUBLIC COMPLAINTS MECHANISM FOR REPORTING ABUSES BY TACTICAL SQUADS HEADED BY A NON-POLICE PERSONNEL.
This should be established by the Police Service Commission to specially investigate complaints against the squads at all levels and its findings published monthly.
This complaints unit should be chaired by a non-police person to provide public reassurance.
9.INCREASE IN THE FINACIAL REWARD FOR SQUAD MEMBERS
There has to be a financial bonus for being a member of any state of IGP tactical squad.
Given the greater demand on them; they should be rewarded with pay supplement that will provide additional comfort for them.
Finally, there are no easy answers; but the brand SARS is now so toxic that I believe the IGP should abolish the squad but transfer its capabilities to anew single combined IGP squad for easier management and public reassurance. Abolishing SARS will show sensitivity to public opinion and may begin to change the policing paradigm that one that see public consent as paramount for effective policing.