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16 December 2017
The Youth Rights Campaign (YRC) fully supports the ongoing campaign among Nigerians, especially young people, for the scrapping of the notorious Special Anti- Robbery Squad (SARS) division of the Nigerian Police Force. As far as we are concerned, SARS is not fighting crime. Rather it is an organization that engages in wholesale and systematic extortion, blackmail, torture and extra-judicial murder. We equally applaud Nigerians who came out on Monday 11 December 2017 to demonstrate in some cities across the country. This movement needs to be built further. We therefore call for more and more nationwide mass protests and demonstrations until the government meets the demands.
We also call for a radical reform of the entire police force. We demand a democratic control of the police by communities, the rights of rank and file officers to form and join a union and improvement in the pay and working conditions of officers. This is because not only SARS but all units of the police and other security agencies engage in systematic extortion and violation of people's rights.
At the moment, the police are carrying out illegal raids in many communities in Lagos state as the yuletide festivity approaches. For instance, shop owners and their customers at the Social Club in Abule Egba in Lagos state have in the past few weeks repeatedly fallen victim of these raids carried out by police officers attached to the Fagba police station. Many people in Abule Egba, Agege, Ajegunle and other areas of Lagos have been arrested in the process and clamped into cells without committing any crime. They are only released after paying a sum of money. It is all the more unfortunate that this illegal raid is claimed to be based on a signal emanating from the Commissioner of Police in Lagos State.
The #EndSARS campaign, which started trending on social media platform a couple of days ago, has become a forum, where victims share heartrending stories of their personal encounters with Police brutality and unconscionable impunity. One of the stories of personal encounter with SARS shared by a female victim detailed a sordid case of sexual harassment by security personnel (who are expected by their job description to protect citizens from such abuse in the first instance). According to the lady (reported in the Punch newspaper of November 5), giving the impression of searching her body for drugs, some male SARS operatives went as far as searching her private parts. Other victims had different sort of sordid experiences with the notorious operatives of SARS to narrate.
For us in the YRC, SARS has served for too long as an extra-constitutional platform seized by its men to intimidate, harass and brutalise members of the public even on the most flimsy of excuses. Enough is enough; this impunity must end now!
In the first instance, the existence of SARS makes mockery of the Police Force as a whole, which is primarily constituted to protect lives and properties. That an extraneous body is separated out from the whole was from the beginning an invitation to highhandedness and impunity. The YRC is equally critical of the position that getting rid of robbery, or other forms of crimes, is dependent on an unbridled use of armed police and other security apparatuses. While the YRC would not defend or encourage any form of crime, we hold the rapacious activities of our ruling elites responsible for creating the economic conditions that drive citizens to the precipice of frustration. If government commits the huge funds lost to looting and unjustifiable emoluments of political office-holders to creation of decent jobs and social welfare schemes, there is going to be a drastic drop in the number of young and desperate people who trek the Sahara desert or engage in cyber fraud, with the erroneous mindset of privately scheming against a government-induced poverty.
Nigerians should not make the mistake of limiting the current campaign against Police-highhandedness to the demand for scrapping SARS alone. As a matter of fact, SARS may be the extreme manifestation of a corrupt and uncivil Police force, but the rot in the police force cut across the brass and base of the Police hierarchy. There is a repressive and extortionate use of force among traffic wardens; among desk officers at police stations; and uniformed jobs are perceived to be license for impunity in general. In our opinion, a direct system of civilian checks on the men and officers of the Police force, including military formation, would go a long way to enthrone transparency, civility and dignified treatment of human beings among members of state's security apparatuses.
We also do not overlook the fact that the men of SARS and other security operatives, who carry out these repressions and extortions, might have been inspired by the sharp practices of their bosses, and their political supervisors – who do not stop short of looting the meagre emoluments, including the pension, of their staffs. For this stark but unpopular fact, we demand that men of the police force, and any other force for that matter, should not be denied the democratic right to unionise, and have their elected union representatives, including representatives of communities , on statutory boards of these security agencies in order to ensure that conditions of service of the junior officers are improved, while receiving and investigating petitions from members of public on cases of alleged misconducts of officers. Contrary to the position of the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, the reforms that this campaign calls for should not be changing the nomenclature of the problem, but enthroning democracy in the force and preventing conditions that lead to sharp practices.
The Nigerian government should equally take this campaign as a stern warning from young people, who are increasingly agitated and ready to seize any platform to voice their displeasure at the tensed economic situation of the country and the wrong priorities of the ruling class. In a spate of days, we have had online agitations over the slave trade in Libya and the repression locally. And it is only a matter of time before attention is shifted to the underlying crises of poverty, injustices, official deception and collapse of the state, which Nigerians are grappling with on daily basis. The young people in alliance with the working class people and their organizations have to fight for a radical shift in government policies and ideas that would commit this country's resources to create value-adding jobs that would boost domestic production and sustain individual persons. Without that, the future is chaotic.