As the Nigerian government was forced to cave in to the demands of the people to end SARS, following days of protests that have garnered unprecedented momentum around the world, the Nigerian Police is putting measures in place to replace the disbanded SARS.
The Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu, announced on Tuesday that the police have set up a Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT) team, in place SARS – a development that is not going down well with Nigerians.
The move came after the police head ordered all members of the dissolved SARS to report to the police headquarters in Abuja, for psychological evaluation and retraining before they are reintegrated into mainstream police service.
“The Inspector-general of Police, IGP M.A Adamu, NPM, mni has, today, 13th October, 2020, in accordance with Section 18 (10) of the Police Act 2020, ordered all personnel of the defunct SARS to report at the force Headquarters, Abuja for debriefing, psychological and medical examination.
“The officers are expected to undergo this process as a prelude to further training and reorientation before being redeployed into mainstream policing duties.
“Meanwhile, the IGP has set up a new Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) Team that will fill the gaps arising from the dissolution of the defunct SARS,” the statement from the Police said.
Unfortunately, the development added embers to the furnace of the ongoing protests, as it is seen as a ‘from frying pan to fire’ degeneration of the situation.
“Problem has changed name.” That’s how former Nigerian Education Minister Oby Ezekwesili responded to IGP’s attempt to set up a SWAT team that will take the place of SARS. Consequently, Nigerians have changed their protest hashtag from #EndSARS to #EndSWAT.
SWAT is a unit of the United States’ police that is trained to respond only to high crime situations, and to disperse rioters with brute force. The move by the IGP to institute such a unit in about 24 hours after SARS was disbanded stoked the concern of Nigerians that the government is taking them for granted.
Nigerians have demanded the dissolution of every tactical unit that has been roaming the streets and are complicit in the atrocities that SARS was spearheading, and they don’t want any of them replaced.
The stand stems from the belief that the Nigerian Police lacks the sincerity to maintain such a unit of the police that will not turn out far worse than the defunct. A belief proved true by police’s actions during the protests.
While the protests were going on, the police were found in the same acts the people were protesting against. Killing, maiming, extorting and illegal detention of protesters; all upholding the belief that the newly formed SWAT, which is believed to be made up of officers with the same corrupt mentality, will end up far worse.
“While the IGP was informing us that there would be sweeping police reforms.. the young man Ayorinde was being held secretly.. and a police officer stepped on his head and crushed his teeth. @MBuhari sir.. how do you expect us to take you say serious!!” Rapper MI Abag tweeted.
This is just one of the many stories intensifying the zeal of the people to stay in the streets. A protester was arrested in Surulere Lagos, and framed with the death of a police officer who caught a friendly fire. Although it was evident that the crowd had no weapon, it took the intervention of leaders of the National Assembly, the Lagos State Governor and many other prominent Nigerians to free the protesters from police detention.
Amnesty International reported that Nigerian Police hierarchy is culpable in the atrocities of the tactical squads, particularly SARS. The report said the units have become a cartel for revenue generation for the high-ranks in the police who have offered protection to low-ranks officers perpetrating the crimes.
One of the protestors who was arrested in Lagos said she overheard the policemen while in cell, boasting that the protest will do nothing more than forcing the police to rename SARS. A bold statement emanating from the trajectory set by the government’s response to calls for police reform in the past. It has created the impression that any attempt to reform SARS will become business as usual.
“SARS, FSARS, SWAT: whatever name you give it, a leopard cannot change its spots,” wrote Mathew Page, ex officer of the US State Department.
Nigeria already has SWAT
In 2013, the Commandant General of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defense Corps (NSCDC), Dr. Ade Abolurin, set up a SWAT unit for the Corps aimed at curtailing extraordinary cases of crimes in Nigeria. The NSCDC SWAT is barely heard of since then, mainly because some units are already doing the same work.
The reform Nigerians are asking for entails overhauling the entire police structure to reflect service-driven orientation, not setting up a new unit filled with the same cancerous elements in the police, and giving it a new name.