For over a week now, there have been widespread protests over Nigeria’s controversial Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) by the country’s massive youth population to put an end to ill-treatment and extra-judicial execution by SARS. Despite disbandment of this police unit, by the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, #EndSARS protesters in different parts of the country poured onto the streets, demanding extensive reforms of the Police force. The Acting Editor, NETA NWOSU interviewed Most. Rev. (Dr.) Matthew Hassan Kukah, the dogged peace and development advocate with a forensic mind that has over time fearlessly and objectively analysed problems and issues pertaining to the country, offering very viable solution that Nigerian politicians and leaders have failed to look at realistically. The conversation centred on the contentious issues relating to SARS, the IGP’s actions and police reforms.
SARS was specifically set up to detain, investigate and prosecute people involved in crimes such as armed-robbery, kidnapping and other forms of crimes. Following the increasing rates of armed-robbery and kidnapping and the sophistication with which these criminal acts were perpetuated, would you say that SARS was efficient and effective in carrying out its primary assignments?
It is impossible for me to assess the impact of SARS in terms of how it has dealt with crime. However as it is, the Nigerian state has not become less criminal. SARS is merely symptomatic of the rot that our country has become. SARS or any institution for that matter cannot achieve what the Nigerian state is not primed to achieve. The issues are structural and they will not respond to quick fixes. Like the culture of coups from which we have learnt nothing, Nigerians like to hear that this that or the other person or institution has been replaced. Dissolving SARS is the easy part and it is a quick fix, but it will not cure the cancerous ailment. In June, a report by Amnesty International listed what it alleged were 82 cases of torture, ill treatment and extrajudicial execution by SARS between January 2017 and May 2020. It accused the squad of the “systematic use of torture” and alleged existence of torture chambers within the Nigerian Police Force.
Last week, Nigerian youths took to the streets to protest the dissolution of SARS for violations of human rights, extrajudicial killings and unbridled extortions. Some protesters in some States had it smooth while few such as in Abuja had it rough with some policemen. Let’s have your views on these developments.
Well, for a country where dying and getting killed is embedded in a culture, the situation you pose above falls below the threshold of attention. As you know, our governments and more especially the current administration has shown absolutely no care or concern for the loss of lives, no matter how many people are killed where and when. Extra judicial killings, torture and extortions have been with us as a culture of SARS. However, since immunity was built into the system and the perpetrators never got punished, how did you expect all this to end. These excesses are part of the tapestry of outright disregard for human life that has become part of our culture, a culture that we inherited from years of military rule. We are under a President with a background in the military and you can understand how the military culture is not primed for negotiation, freedom and other rights in our constitution. The security agencies are trained to show loyalty to the President and other public officers but not the ordinary people of Nigeria.
Penultimate Friday, President Buhari ordered the IGP to conclusively address the concerns of Nigerians regarding these excesses and bring the erring personalities to book. The IGP during his broadcast last Sunday stated that an investigation team that will include Civil Society Organisations will be constituted and the culprits will be brought to book.
We have had such pledges in the past and nothing happened. What is your viewpoint? In fairness, I think the IG deserves commendation. Do you recall that in Benue State the President gave instructions that were not followed by the IG and at the end, nothing happened? I do not want to be personal, but the current IG strikes me as a real professional with a background that should help to reposition our Police Force. Perhaps we should be more patient. You cannot retrain the Police Force by a clap of the hand. By adding Civil Society members in the investigation, he is sending out an inclusive signal and we should call for restraint, patience and collaboration. The point has been made and the demonstrations should stop so that planning can start.
IGP bowed to pressure and disbanded SARS. Do you think that the dissolution of SARS will bring an end to alleged brutality, violation of human rights and robbing of citizens by the police?
But you said the President ordered him and now you say he bowed to pressure, which is which? Either way, SARS has been disbanded. It is easier to get excited by this, but destroying a building is not the same as putting up a new building. In all circumstances, we must always be patient with processes and systems. We cannot re-invent the Police and the majority of Policemen are doing their best. They are not aliens, this is as much our country as theirs. The objective is not to humiliate anyone. Victory will be achieved when all of us feel secure and appreciate that this is our country.
During the same broadcast, the IGP said that the officers and men serving in the SARS Unit will be redeployed to other units of the police force. A majority of Nigerians claim that this is an unhealthy measure to resolving the issues at hand. What do you think?
What do you want? Should all of them be sent away from the Police even when they have committed no crime? Let us not get too excited and mess things up. There is need for sobriety. You do not want to demoralise the Police force and give a signal to the criminal elements who are stalking the land. The country is already in a war it is not winning. We can hold the two balls together, namely, create a more sane and honourable Police force and training them to respect our rights, become law abiding while punishing those who abuse their powers. The culture of the institution protecting its own further exacerbates situations.
In the course of the same broadcast, the IGP said that new policing arrangement for tackling offences of armed-robbery and other violent crimes will be unveiled. What do you think?
I cannot think behind the veil. The IGP also stated during the broadcast that a Citizen’s and stakeholders’ forum will be launched to provide avenue for citizens to regularly interface and advise the police authority on issues touching on the general public. But several similar Summits and Stakeholders’ forums have been held in the past and they yielded little or no result.
Would this particular forum be different from others? What is your take on this issue?
Well, as far back as 1982, in Abuja, the late IG, Louis Edet set up a Police Community Relations’ Committee to which I was appointed a Member. It was an innovation then and I still have my Certificate of Appreciation. So, you are right about the fact that we have had all these initiatives and they all seem to go with the winds of change. Our country has no institutional memory, everyone lives and acts for himself with the new person thinking it is a crime to continue with a good thing or plan. So, we keep repeating the same mistakes. We like to solve problems by creating new institutions, building a bureaucracy and then moving on again. I share your cynicism, but as you know, the more jobs there are for the boys and girls, the more things seem to be happening. So, it depends and I do not know how it will work with the Police Service Commission for example. The country requires serious surgery and whether you call it restructuring or whatever, it should be clear even to the blind that nothing is working except clinging to power.