Recently, many Nigerians vehemently denounced the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) for its brutality, extortion and extra-judicial killings. It was very impressive that the uproar against SARS officers prompted immediate responses from the Inspector General of Police (IGP) and the Nigerian senate. Both the IGP and the senate promised to investigate the allegations against the officers of SARS. In addition to investigation, SARS needs reformation. However, as SARS is only a special unit of the Nigerian police, any meaningful reform of SARS will demand a reformation of the entire Nigerian police.
I once heard on a radio program that the motto of the Nigerian Police Force is “to serve and protect”, that is, to serve and protect Nigerians. By whatever standards, the Nigerian Police Force has failed in its assigned roles of serving and protecting Nigerians. According to the World Internal Security and Police Index International, Nigeria has the worst police force in the world. And this ignominious distinction of the Nigerian Police Force is evinced by its corruption, illegal arrests, trigger-happiness, extra-judicial killings, etc.
But, as we decry the Nigerian police for its multitude of iniquities, we should realize that it did not derail from its professional ideals of “to serve and protect” but that it was never trained and orientated to serve and protect the people. It started as a colonial police force. As such, its original mission was to buttress colonial institutions and protect the powers and pretensions of the colonial masters, usually, at the detriment of the indigenous peoples.
The historian, H.G. Creel, once wrote that, “The justification for (colonialism) usually calls for a certain amount of mythology, imposed on the people by propaganda”. The colonialists’ propaganda extolled the superiority of the colonial masters and their way of life and denigrated the indigenous people and their culture. To reinforce this falsehood of superiority and inferiority of races, they established rigidly stratified class-structure that promoted exclusivity for the Whites (the elite), and relegated the natives to second class citizenship. The original role of the Nigerian police was to bolster this unjust and cruel colonial social structure that made royals of the colonial masters and disparaged and degraded Nigerians.
But is it not perplexing that after fifty seven years of independence the Nigerian police continue to behave as though they are still beholden to a colonial power? This is because after Nigerian independence, the emergent Nigerian power elite did not re-orient the police. They gleefully stepped into the shoes of the departing colonial masters and became the new elite. They took over the pretensions, privileges and prerogatives of the colonialists. Like the colonial masters, their objectives and goals were not always in consonant with the needs, aspirations and the overall good of the Nigerian public. It was not in their interest to build a post colonial society founded on individual worth, equity and social justice.
They adopted the colonial masters’ attitude – deliberate scorn – towards the masses. So, although the new power elite became Nigerians, their contempt for the people and their indifference to their suffering remained the same, exactly, as they were when the ruling elite were the White colonizers. Consequently, they retained, and in some instances, strengthened the oppressive and exploitative bequests of colonialism, including the police force with its anti-people penchant. The police force is an indispensible instrument of governance. It represents and serves the powers that be. Its modus operandi, inevitably, reveals the attitude of the governing towards the governed.
Presently, political power in Nigeria is an overbearing tool of self-absorbed power elite. It is essentially deployed against the public good. Like the colonial elite, the Nigerian elite constituted itself into a special group sheltered in a cocoon of privileges and slated to live in breathtaking opulence at the economic strangulation of the generality of Nigerians. Also, like the colonial masters, they exercise their powers in utter disregard for the legitimate yearnings of the people.
For example: Governor Rochas Okorocha continues to mold statues of international figures at the cost of N520m each, but refuses to pay workers and pensioners in his state; tens of millions of Nigerians are trapped in desperate, raw-dirt poverty, and Nigeria has the social indices of the world poorest countries, but her legislators are the highest paid legislators in the world; and while millions of workers and their families subsist on N18, 000.00 a month, N100m is to be spent for the replacement of kitchen utensils in the president’s official residence. What can be expected from a police force empowered to prop-up such greed, abuse of power and insensitivity to the plight of the common man? It must be avaricious, abusive of power and disdainful of the common man.
A transformation of the police is contingent on an attitudinal shift amongst the power elite. They must change their attitude towards the masses, and also, realize that they are not overlords (like colonial masters), but public servants. They must learn to revere the people because they are the ultimate repository of power, and their wellbeing should be the focus of the concerns and actions of every government official and every institution of government. Then, of course, political power will automatically become answerable and accountable to the people.
A police force that is the tool and mirror image of power elite that is answerable and accountable to the people will naturally also answer and account to the people; and invariably serve and protect the people.