“Is ending FSARS the solution to the Nigerian Police corruption saga, or reforming the entire force?”

On October 4th, 2020, the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu through a press statement released by Police Public Relations Officer, Frank Mba, banned the Federal Special Anti-robbery Squad (FSARS), and other tactical police units from carrying out routine patrols and checks in the country.

The statement reads in part:
“All FSARS, STS, IRT & other Tactical Police Squads operating at Federal, Zonal & Command levels are hereby BANNED from carrying out routine patrols & other conventional low-risk duties – stop & search duties, checkpoints, roadblocks, traffic checks, etc – WITH IMMEDIATE EFFECT. Henceforth, no police personnel is authorized to embark on patrols or tactical assignments in mufti. All Police Force personnel must always appear in their police uniforms or approved tactical gear…”

The supposed reason for the ban, among other reasons, was a reported case of shooting of a youth in Ughelli area of Delta State on October 3rd, 2020 by a yet to be identified security personnel alleged to be a FSARS officer (cf. “Nigeria bans SARS, others from routine patrols,” by Dennis Erezi, Guardian Newspaper, October 4th, 2020).

However, contrary to the alleged FSARS’s shooting saga in Ughelli, the Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Mr Festus Keyamo, SAN, said that, “the outfit involved in this case is called Operation Delta Safe and not SARS”(Dennis Erezi, Guardian Newspaper, October 4th, 2020), consequently, exonerating FSARS operatives from the alleged brutality and murder.

However, the recent ugly incident allegedly perpetuated by FSARS personnel is one that has attracted outcries nearly everywhere in Nigeria. While some are calling for the total banning of the outfit, others are of the view that it should be reformed.

Notable among those calling for FSARS reform are the former Vice President of Nigeria, Atiku Abubakar, and former President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki.

In a tweet on October 3rd, 2020, Atiku noted that; “The Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) unit of the @PoliceNG was set up to confront violent crimes such as armed robbery, kidnapping and other related crimes. However, the unit has today morphed into an oppressor of the Nigerian masses, who strive every day for a better life. Reports of intimidation, harassment and outright extortion by officers of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) have continued unabated. I strongly condemn their cruel actions against our people, and I urge the government to rise to the occasion and nip this monstrosity in the bud with the seriousness it deserves. It is expedient that the activities of SARS are reviewed to ensure that the rogue elements are excised from the unit and sanity returned to its operations” (“SARS now oppresses masses— Atiku Abubakar,” Vanguard News, October 4th, 2020).

In my honest opinion therefore, I do not think reforming FSARS, or banning it, is the solution to the high level of corruption perpetuated through extortion, bribery, brutality, killings, etc, in the Nigerian police force. Focus should rather be on reforming the entire police force.

Growing up, one of the commonest slogans we had on our finger tips which we often recited was, “Police is your friend.” At that time, lack of morality in the police force was still low. We proudly echoed the slogan, and a few of us wished to become police officers. But today, the story has drastically and dramatically changed.

How can police be my friend, when instead of maintaining law and order, they violate it? How is police my friend when in some cases, members of the force brutalize and even kill those whom they are supposed to protect? Isn’t this obviously a betrayal of public trust?

In Nigeria, we like ‘scratching the surface.’ This is why several attempts to solve any serious public menace never succeed. Hence, addressing a problem from the root could be the only way out.

This isn’t the first time that there have been calls to end FSARS. The inhuman actions of the outfit has been on the news for a long time, almost going back to its inception as a tactical police outfit set up to combat high crimes in Nigeria.

It is therefore not an overstatement to say that it is not the first time that Nigerians have called on the Inspector General of Police to end FSARS. And various past police chiefs did attempt at different points to reform different units of the force, but none of these had any lasting effects. So the current Chief’s order that FSARS should go off the roads, stop raiding, brutalizing, and killing innocent Nigerians, most of whom are youths, may not be the solution to the Nigerian police corruption/inhuman saga.

The real solution therefore, is a general police reform. This is because, besides FSARS, every other unit in the Nigerian police force has been indicted at one time or the other. This is obvious from its recruitment processes, to training, and other activities.

According to Premium Times (Abuja), “A new public survey released on March 26th, 2019 by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) reports high levels of corruption in public institutions in Nigeria for the past 5 years. Of the five major public institutions surveyed, the police emerged as the most corrupt, with the power sector identified as the second most corrupt in the country today” (“Nigeria: Police Most Corrupt Institution in Nigeria – Survey,” Premium Times Abuja, March 26th, 2019).

It is indeed very sad to know that an institution whose primary responsibility is to maintain law and order, is rated as the most corrupt institution in the country. This is truly worrisome, and it’s only through total reform that our police force can get it right.

A visit to our police training schools, police posts, stations, commands, and barracks would leave one in tears. No doubt, it is commendable that the police chief has ordered every policeman/woman on duty to be on police uniform. But is he also aware that these policemen and women sew the uniforms that they wear themselves? Is he aware that they fuel and fix police vehicles from their personal monies? Is he aware of the ugly conditions of police training institutes, posts, stations, commands, and barracks? Is he aware that many police officers cannot afford to take their children to decent schools? The list of questions are endless.

This however, is not in any way a defense or justification for the inhuman acts often perpetuated by many police officers. Nevertheless, it is a big factor. So, ending FSARS or banning them from roadblocks, unauthorized raiding, etc is not the solution.

The real solution is reforming the entire police force. And this reform must be holistic in its approach, else Nigerians would continue to experience nightmares from men and women of the police force.

And most importantly, in reforming the police, the establishment of State and Community police should be paramount, else the whole essence of reform would only amount to pouring water inside a basket.

© Israel GodsPower ANAWEOKHAI, MSP. October 8th, 2020

Israel GodsPower ANAWEOKHAI, is a Catholic Priest of the Missionary Society of St Paul. He is currently on Mission in the Archdiocese of Douala, Cameroon.