The SARS virus
Ask any youth in Nigeria if he knows the unit of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) that had been most notorious and, as likely as not, the reply will be, SARS (Special Anti-Robbery Squad). The SARS was a public virus in our midst and struck the country with fear, pain, death, hardship, and despair. The “Nigerian SARS” was not the first of its kind in history. The Roman Emperor, Diocletian (245-313 AD), had special police set up during his reign, which could be rushed to any danger point, and it was quite successful. Macbeth, king of England (1040-1057), dealt with highway robbery by organising a special police force to seek out and arrest the terrorists, and it was also successful. Across the globe, there are special police units and are doing creditably well in the interest of all and sundry.
In those sane environments, police personnel are trained vigorously. In Nigeria, our SARS became a veritable monster of crime and thereby assumed the title and status of ‘Special Anti-Rescue Squad.’ The squad was famous for its ability to brutalise and extort youths in Nigerians. One would have expected the SARS personnel and other similar NPF units to be formidable and cover themselves in glory on the battlefield, hard-hitting bandits and other armed gangs. Instead, they chose to be covered with notoriety- shifty, untrustworthy, and greedy where money was concerned. They minded not whom they attacked because they were violently in love with extortion and other vices of the kind found in the woods.
Thus, the NPF is seen as having all the bad qualities that have led to an unenviable country with little or no national pride. Therefore, the time to deal with the ulcerated mind and psychology of the NPF is now
Today, everyone except the police is appalled at the corruption, brutality, and loose living of many police personnel. The waywardness is spreading out through all levels of the PF. It is not that the situation is new, but it is the scale that is frightening. It is heartening that the youths got angry and took to the streets to protest over the SARS unlawful acts and other ills. The protests had been with a significant presence of mind and attracted many followers and sympathisers.
To heal the breach, the Inspector General of Police (IGP) had to prescribe the ill-fated police unit in his wisdom or lack of it. The action of the IGP has stirred up some level of resentment, not least by those who have not tasted the bitter pills of SARS’s brutality and extortion. Everyone in Nigeria is vulnerable to the ills of the NPF. In both rural and urban areas, the activities of some demented elements in the NPF add to the already heaven burden we bear as citizens. I will persuade whoever is resentful of the proscription of SARS to rethink and consider justice as a practice that ought to be cultivated. After all, everyone in Nigeria perceives a great deal and a long history of the betrayer of trust by the hierarchy of the NPF in terms of capacity and integrity.
Thus, the NPF is seen as having all the bad qualities that have led to an unenviable country with little or no national pride. Therefore, the time to deal with the ulcerated mind and psychology of the NPF is now. It is not sufficient to proscribe SARS and organise a “naming ceremony” for a new outfit. Efforts must be made to ascertain and understand the multifaceted factors driving the SARS virus’s spread to reposition the NPF. The task does not require any appeal to the head and heart of the IGP and his lieutenants. It needs the IGP to painstakingly ask how the NPF has come to devote its prodigious talent to one end- acquiring enormous strength of ill-will and ruthless corruption ambition.
I believe the IGP recognises that the factors driving the SARS and other NPF viruses are not anything other than socioeconomic inequality arising from, among others, marginalisation, skewed promotion exercises, denial of kits, and other matters of welfare such as decent housing. In the immediate, it will not be inappropriate for the hierarchy of the NPF to apologise for not leading the NPF to do what it should have been doing and doing what it should not be doing. It is also appropriate to ensure there is justice in the distribution of the NPF “cake”.
Police personnel need to look neat, well trained, earn a promotion on merit, adequately provided for, especially when on transfer to a new location. In the long run, the IGP should establish ‘NPF Farms’ across the country where every police personnel without at least a First Degree or Higher National Diploma should be sent to, to subdue and till the ground, be fruitful and multiply our food supply. I believe such police personnel are intellectually inflexible to be retained in a modern Police Force’s critical unit. The graduates roaming the streets and those currently underemployed should be recruited to the NPF in their stead. This would enhance the quality of service delivery and reduce unemployment, as well.