The Problem Is Systemic Not Acronymic, By M.B.O Owolowo
In view of this reality, the youths must actively get involved in the political process, because it is their future and those of others that are at stake. The youth need to realise the power of their numbers. Rather than expend energy on futile causes, that energy can be collectively channelled towards galvanising and sensitising the populace towards the need for good leadership.
I read with incredulity the change of the name of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) to the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT). Whilst the former name of the police unit was not lacking in originality, the latter is simply an imitation of SWAT in the United States. Although the scientific analysis of Nigeria’s obsession with imitating things from foreign lands is a worthy discourse, it is not the crux of this piece.
Rather than a name change, how about setting up a panel of inquiry into the activities of SARS personnel and punish erring officers, and preventing their readmission into the Police system. Essentially, changing the acronym of an organisation does not solve the underlying systemic challenges that manifested the problem ab initio. This action is akin to utilising a placebo to deal with the symptoms, rather than the disease. Furthermore, the SARS issue is a microcosm of wider systemic issues that need to be addressed urgently.
Following initial protests, undoubtedly, the response by the president was rather swift and the alacrity of the supposed disbandment and rebranding by the inspector general of Police cannot be discounted. However, the government’s initiative should not concentrate on just quelling the protests about police brutality, but the actual reformation of the system – which is not limited to the police.
Nigeria can be decrypted as an unforgiving system that effectively punishes honesty and rewards criminality. I have seen the salary structure of police officers and it is rather unfortunate that the society expects diligence from people who can barely feed themselves, and in most cases their families, on impracticable wages.
So if police officers decide to be honest and live mainly on their salaries – which are occasionally delayed – the possibility of suffering is very high. This is a problem that those who decide to be honest public servants have to confront daily. Sadly, the same system chiefly rewards corruption by some highly placed public officials.
More importantly, the corruption within all government agencies, including the Police, must be aggressively addressed. Evidently, there are bad eggs within the Force, who have been accused of killing the citizens they are meant to protect.
We must appreciate that the system creates the unscrupulous people who pervade every sector of society. The bad eggs within the Police emerged from within the system. Those who are recruited come from a wide spectrum that includes university graduates and the dregs of society, and it is not uncommon that some of those who joined the Police, did so out of frustration. Also, the recruitment exercise is at times fraught with fraud. Without thorough background checks on candidates, some unscrupulous elements are recruited into the Force.
I remember years ago, there was an incident in which a family friend emphatically stated that the police officer he saw on the street was a convicted criminal from his erstwhile neighbourhood. During the unpleasant encounter, both of them recognised and greeted each other. In another incident from many years ago in Lagos, I was driving with a friend in the passenger seat, and a police officer suddenly jumped out of nowhere shouting about at me for some nonexistent offence. His next move was to try opening the passenger door to leap into the vehicle. Luckily, my friend resisted this and asked a profound question – “Are you a thief?” The police officer was not only rattled by the question, but slowly backed away from the car. We drove away wondering if the officer had a part-time occupation as a robber!
In all honesty, some of the SARS operatives resemble thugs with guns. At times it is difficult to differentiate some SARS officers from armed cultists. Unfortunately, some of these bad officers taint the image of the good serving police officers.
In fairness to the Police, there are gallant officers who risk their lives daily and are not perfunctory in the execution of their duties. In view of the complaints about the excessiveness of some SARS operatives, another perspective to the debacle can be appreciated as a failure of the justice system. I am aware of some incidents in which arrested armed robbers were killed and the justification of the officers involved was that the justice system is overly bureaucratic and tedious. Some officers fear the system may eventually acquit hardened criminals who are potential recidivists.
These are very complex issues that have been exacerbated by the systemic rot in the society, and the advent of technology has eased the documentation of these crimes – sometimes in real-time. For decades, a lot of unrecorded crimes were committed against citizens, and only the survivors’ scars and narratives exist.
Notwithstanding, we must not lose sight of the bigger issues. The people who are recruited into the Police are members of the public, meaning that they are reflection of the system. Although SARS triggered the current protests, it is a symbolic reaction against other societal issues affecting the populace. High unemployment and other socioeconomic challenges confront the youth daily.
The so-called “lazy youths” seem to be waking up to hard-truths and contemporary realities.
In this regard, the government must not fail to engage genuine protesters in a civil manner. Also, the Police and Armed Forces deployed to the streets to maintain order, must act with utmost professionalism. The criminal elements that have infiltrated the protests must be dealt with as such. The pay-as-you-go activists and disgruntled politicians, planning to hijack the protests via compromised proxies should be rightly identified as agent provocateurs.
Those who are promoting their “Buhari must go” and “Buhari must resign” agenda need to ponder deeply. A democratically elected government must go? Go where exactly? We used such slogans during the military era and successfully got rid of the military junta through sustained protests. The military did not just leave willingly; they were literally kicked out through the collective efforts of Nigerians following the June 12 struggle. Some of us still bear the scars from that draconian era.
Poignantly, after the military relinquished political power, what we got was meant to be a democracy, but in reality has been a quasi-democracy that has empowered just a clique, and left the majority of the populace to their fate. This unproductive system has been in play since 1999, with each government seemingly trying to outdo each other in misgovernance.
The recycling of highly compromised political opportunists feeding fat on the people’s commonwealth, and are generally disconnected from the people they are meant to represent, can only lead to systemic failure. So the reality is that Buhari is not going to go or resign because some people said so. The problem is actually beyond Buhari. If Buhari does not implement the much needed systemic changes, it’s his legacy that will be tarnished, but the problem would remain for the next elected ruler.
In view of this reality, the youths must actively get involved in the political process, because it is their future and those of others that are at stake. The youth need to realise the power of their numbers. Rather than expend energy on futile causes, that energy can be collectively channelled towards galvanising and sensitising the populace towards the need for good leadership. And striving to encourage the election of true representatives of their interests primarily. With proper planning and dedication, a lot can be achieved before 2023. The Nigerian youths should be the generation that actually does this!