The Nigerian police is a criminal enterprise
When the end SARS campaign gathered steam, I told a friend exactly what will happen: the Inspector General of Police and the government will promptly announce the disbandment of the unit and promised reforms so as to pacify protesters. But there is absolutely no intention to reform the police force. This has always been the pattern.
Since 1999 there has not been a police boss that has not hypocritically ordered the dismantling of the notorious police roadblocks in Nigeria. But till date, those roadblocks still exist in all nooks and crannies of the country and serve as the medium for the extortion of, and killing of Nigerians and road users who refused to settle the policemen. What happens is that policemen withdraw from the roadblocks for some weeks and return when national focus and attention shifts to other pressing issues.
The End SARS campaign did not start now. In 2017, Nigerians on social media created a storm with a hashtag #EndSARS calling for the total scrapping of the unit that is particularly noted for its brutality, sexual harassment, extortion, theft, robbery and senseless killings of Nigerians especially the youth. Also, an online petition, with tens of thousands of signatories, was submitted to the National Assembly seeking the scrapping of the unit.
: In essence therefore, the policeman at the roadblock demanding for money; the SARS officers brutalising innocent citizens and extorting money from their families are all following orders and remit nearly all the money they extort from people to their bosses
As the campaign on social media reached a crescendo, the then IG of police offered the usual tokenism: he purported to ban SARS from conducting stop and search operations on roads except when or where necessary and promised to restructure the unit. Of course, no restructuring took place and in a matter of weeks, SARS returned with a vengeance.
In a 2016 report titled: “Nigeria: ‘You have signed your death warrant’: Torture and other ill treatment in the special anti-robbery squad,” Amnesty International detailed the atrocities of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) to include forceful demand for bribes, stealing and extortion of money from criminal suspects and their families. The report also detailed testimonies from former SARS detainees who said they were subjected to horrific torture methods, including hanging, starvation, beatings, shootings and mock executions at the hands of corrupt officers from the dreaded SARS unit.
But the problem does not end with the SARS unit alone. Virtually every report or study on corruption in Nigeria released since 1999 has listed the Nigerian police as the most corrupt institution in the country. An example is the September 2017 study done by the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in collaboration with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the European Union. So severe is the corruption that they routinely waste innocent human lives in pursuit of illicit bribes.
In 2008, as an undergraduate of the University of Ibadan, I was privileged to interview a retired Assistant Inspector General of Police (AIG) for my long essay and his response to my question about corruption among the top brass of the police was shocking to me at the time. Hear him: “Corruption in the police comes right from the top. It is customary that Commissioners of Police and others posted to ‘lucrative’ posts render returns to the IG. Similarly, DPOs also have to make returns to their commissioners and the rank and file are also expected to make returns. The IG and top police brass convert to personal use their security votes – which runs into millions of naira monthly. The average policeman on the road is thus emboldened to demand money and extort motorists. The dismissal of policemen caught extorting money from motorists are all gimmicks and cover-up tactics.”
Sometime in 2003, the Guardian Newspaper ran a story of some courageous policemen in Oshogbo who sent an SOS to media houses over the ill-treatment they suffer at the hands of their superior officers who, they say, force them to extort money from the motorist and other members of the public. They insist that policemen at roadblocks, bus stops, motor parks etc. are mere messengers. The big fish are their bosses who expect, as of 2003, N5000 from each policeman on duty at a checkpoint whether or not there is “market”.
Those not on checkpoints must pay their senior officers N2000 if they do not want to lose certain privileges and postings, while those on guard duties at banks receive only a fraction (in 2003, N700 out of the N2000) of the money meant for them. According to one of the policemen: “Whenever they extort money from motorists, they were carrying out ‘lawful orders.’” But many of them have been sacrificed and dismissed when caught but nobody touches their bosses in the offices who sent them on such duties and expect returns compulsorily.
A senior police officer I also interviewed in 2018 told me in confidence that heads of units are coerced into signing receipt of their statutory budgetary allocations which are subsequently not released to them. They are responsible for independently sourcing funds to run their units and are still expected to settle their bosses.
In essence, therefore, the policeman at the roadblock demanding for money; the SARS officers brutalising innocent citizens and extorting money from their families are all following orders and remit nearly all the money they extort from people to their bosses.
Successive governments know this and are in possession of dozens of reports of special panels on the police since 1999. But they will never act on any of the reports. Truth is, they like the police the way it is. That is the only way they can continue to use the police to harass opponents, quell popular dissent and most especially, manipulate and rig elections.