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An opportunity to reform Nigeria police

In an obvious response to the nationwide protests against the excesses of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, on Sunday announced the scrapping of the squad at a news conference in Abuja.

In its place,  a new outfit, Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) was constituted.

Also, according to the IGP, a Citizens and Strategic Stakeholders’ Forum will be formed to regularly interface with the leadership of the police at all levels and advise on police activities, while an investigation team will be constituted, which will include civil society organisations, to deal with the reports of crimes committed against citizens, with a view to punishing the culprits.

Apparently, in response to the #EndSARS protests against the squad in spite of the announcement by the IGP, President Muhammadu Buhari again pledged his administration to continue with its reforms of the police force.

Buhari said the disbanding of SARS was only the first step in the government’s commitment to extensive police reform in order to ensure that the primary duty of the police and other law enforcement agencies remains the protection of lives and livelihood of the people.

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo also added his voice to efforts to calm frayed nerves, assuring Nigerians that whatever will replace SARS would be something that will be acceptable and must comply with the tenets of the rule of law.

He said President Buhari has further directed the security agencies to ensure that all those responsible for any misconduct or wrongful acts are brought to justice.

There is no gainsaying that the activities of members of SARS have been a source of worry for many Nigerians.

There have been reports of arbitrary arrests, extortion, torture, rape, and killing of innocent citizens by operatives of the squad.

From all indications, it became clear that they had left their core job, which is tackling robbery and kidnappings,  to harassing young men and women and getting involved in civil disputes.

The massive protests across the country against the activities of the SARS showed the extent of the anger of Nigerians from all walks of life.

Sadly, it led to the killings of some protesters across the country, and the death of a policeman.

The #EndSARS protests have since gone global via social media, with many media platforms and watchdog organisations weighing in on the issues.

We, therefore, strongly condemn reports of excessive and lethal force, used on some of the protesters in the past few days.

The authorities also need to demonstrate clearly that they are on the side of citizens, and indeed, posterity.

While we welcome the action of the IGP in disbanding SARS, as well as the assurance of the president to continue with the reforms, we hope that they will ensure a total reorientation of all law enforcement personnel to ensure that they carry out their duties within the confines of the law.

It is worth noting that often, officers and men of various security agencies see themselves as lords over ordinary citizens.

However, we wish to caution the authorities against throwing the baby away with the bathwater, as it is very clear to all that some latter-day crimes such as kidnapping, cattle rustling, cybercrime, terrorism, and armed robbery require dedicated crime-fighting squads to tackle them.

Some squads, such as the IGP’s Intelligence Response Team won much public respect due to its effectiveness.

It is obvious that the country needs such specialised outfits to meet the challenges posed by criminals who often devise new ways to carry out their nefarious activities.

However, what is also required is more focused reorientation for members of such squads in line with global best practices of the 21st century, and the philosophy that a police force is meant to protect and serve citizens.

We, therefore, hope that the new outfit (SWAT) will live up to the expectations of Nigerians of a police force dedicated to serving the nation.