Youths across the country, mobilized through various social media platforms have taken to the streets in the past few days to protest against the activities of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), which has long been accused of unlawful arrests, torture and extrajudicial killings. The Federal Government after a few days of protests was forced to announce that the squad has been disbanded. This, however, did not bring an end to the protests as the
protesters claimed that similar announcements had been made in the past without any effective reform measures.
The protesters demands now appear to have widened to include calls for reforms across the country’s entire police system and they have come up with a 5 point agenda which include; Immediate release of all arrested protesters, Justice for all deceased victims of police brutality and appropriate compensations for their families, setting up of an independent body to oversee the investigation and prosecution of all reported police misconduct within a
period of 10 days, carrying out psychological evaluation and retaining of all disbanded SARS operatives before they can be deployed and an increase police salary and adequate compensation. On Tuesday, the police announced a new unit tagged the Special Weapons and Tactics team (SWAT) which effectively would take over the duties of the defunct SARS. Shortly after this announcement, social media was awash with a new hashtag #EndSWAT.
The Nigeria Police Force (NPF) is the primary law enforcement agency in Nigeria under the leadership of the Inspector General of Police. Prior to 1930, there were regional police forces that were merged to form the NPF. The NPF over time has experienced endemic problems with recruiting, training, inefficiency, and indiscipline leading to widespread corruption which has resulted in a low level of public confidence. Public perception of the Nigerian police are largely negative. There have been several calls and efforts geared towards a reform of the police force over the years but these have not led to any significant improvement in police service delivery. Recently, state governments began to clamour for a devolution of the police force to allow for the establishment of State Police. A Police Reform Bill was proposed as an Act of the National Assembly on 30th May 2018 and was passed by the Senate on 17th April 2019. It was signed into law by the President this year. Insecurity remains one of the biggest challenges facing Nigeria today and the NPF is central to responding to these challenges.
That said, the protests in our view point to more than a clamour for an end to police brutality but rather to a growing frustration among the Nigerian youth about the state of the economy. The protesters who typically are youths below the age of 30 are a part of the Nigerian population that have never seen the system work. From erratic power supply, widespread unemployment, poor healthcare, poor educational system characterised by
incessant strikes, one can understand the growing frustrations in the minds of these young people. In our view, the Nigerian Government needs to see this as a strong signal to not only address the poor state of the economy but to priortise the issues concerning the young people in the country.
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