The transmutation of SARS into FSARS – old wine in new wineskin?


It is only appropriate to express gratitude to the Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo for listening to the wails and sobs of Nigerians. It is victory for the conveners of #EndSars and all Nigerians who have been subjected to diverse unsavoury experiences from the unloved SARS that is more popular for their visible devilry than their scarce benignity. But where do we go from here? I have always believed that the police, just like any other agency or parastatal of government,is a reflection of our society. Our police officers are not recruited from Mars; neither are they sourced from Manhattan. They are recruited from this society – Nigeria. They are part of us and will reflect all shades of our society – the good, the bad and all other negative superlative compositions of human behaviour that exist in our society.

Unlike some privileged Nigerians who could wish, prepare and vigorously pursue a career path until it materialises, a number of our police officers found themselves in the profession for lack of employment. For those ones, it was rarely a dream to become enforcers of the law and protectors of the society. In their world, the training they acquired is not a certification to serve the society; rather it is a needed empowerment to exploit the system to cater to their needs and that of their families. Uninspiringly, this category of officers appears to be more visible, hence the intense generalisation that Nigerian police officers are largely unimpressive. Adding to this defective motivation are police colleges and archaic curriculum that begin the dehumanisation of the officers from the point of entry. Still, perhaps this section of officers would have served better if they were well trained incontemporary policing and offered inspiring conditions of employment.

It is an anomaly that a police officer would consider deploying a gun as a first line of action to engage a suspected criminal. It is an error for an officer to assume he is superior to a civilian because he wields a gun and possesseswell-defined licence to pull the trigger. Such thinking is against everything democratic and civilian. Yet it appears this is the foundational orientation many of our police officers act on.

It is therefore important to go beyond overhauling SARS, and explore the fundaments of contemporary policing. We need holistic reforms of the force. Our police officers must be trained on how to deploy scientific methods in dealing with local problems. Policing has gone beyond the use of guns and intelligence (as deployed in this clime). Police officers have become social scientists spearheading reforms in other countries. A recent study of the Police Scotland identified some interesting facts. In 2005, a UN study concluded that Scotland was the most violent country in the developed world. It was also a country with one of the highest murder rates in western Europe, and many of the murder were committed with knives. In response Strathclyde police (now Police Scotland) set up a violence reduction unit (VRU) to tackle the growing violence. This Unit spearheaded the campaign for a review of legislation against knife crimes, and another campaign – No Knives, Better Lives – for behavioural change. Knife crime was later classified a public health issue; criminal gang members were helped with housing, relocation, employment and training. The result has been outstanding. A report by the UK Guardian concluded that out of the 35 children and teenagers killed with knives in Britain in 2017, not one occurred in Scotland – a former epicentre of knife crimes.

The Scottish experience is a worthy example of how the police can become agents of social reengineering. But that can only be possible when they are empowered to do so. The men from the anti-robbery unit terrorising young Nigerians obviously lack social science skills hence the assumption that every young Nigerian with a laptop and unusual haircut is involved in shady activities. It is clearly difficult to comprehend such logic.

There is no gainsaying that we need a unit that deals with armed robbery in the police. For what it is worth, much as we detest the men of SARS we cannot completely disregard the fact that we truly need an anti-robbery unit for the safety of our society.  Such unit cannot invent new modes of operations outside their repertoire of knowledge acquired through training.Only a holistic reform of the force that encompasses training curriculum, conditions of service and processes can end the current cycle of mediocrity. They need to be properly remunerated. They need insurance that guarantees the future. If we take care of our police officers, they will take care of us.Without far-reaching reforms, we can change name but have the same people in a new name. The modus operandi of our police is largely built around the use of force. The world has gone beyond that. We need to have a new understanding and approach to policing. Until that is done our policing woes may not disappear even when the name SARS disappears.