“Mgbe onye ji teta ula bu ututu ya”
(Morning translates to whenever one decides it’s time to wake up)
For quite some time, one had often wondered if this day will ever come. The day when young Nigerians whose future is being sacrificed in the alter of greed would rise above the distractions of Big brother reality show and American politics to focus on things that really matter. That time when millennials would unequivocally proclaim that enough is enough of the nonsense and then resolve to rescue their country from the suffocating jaws of evil men holding her neck to the ground. That day is here and change has come to Nigeria.
From perfecting an elaborate extortion scheme to cheap blackmail and coercing their victims into making self-incriminating confessions. From operating a slew of illegal detention and torture facilities to staging mock executions of many innocent people. Per report by the Council on Foreign Relations, at least 1,476 Nigerians were killed by these rogue state actors over the past year alone. The story of SARS is one horror movie too many.
Amnesty International reported how four SARS operatives blindfolded and handcuffed a man, tortured him for days on end and threatened to end his life should he refuse to pay up. The horror only ended after he was forced to part with a whooping 6,000,000 naira to benefit the criminals in uniform. No one ever came out of the Lion’s den and remained the same person and for far too long, the fear of SARS is the beginning of wisdom.
As more individuals continue to come forward with bone-chilling revelations of their ordeals in the hands of SARS operatives, one can’t help but wonder how a group of men who swore to defend and protect turned a supposedly hallowed institution into a monstrous criminal enterprise. If truth be told however, the savagery is not exclusive to SARS. Nigerians daily endure dehumanizing treatment in the hands of uniformed men, be it the Police, Military men and even those in Para-military groups. It’s a warped culture where these public servants fail to acknowledge that they were created for the service of those they love to intimidate.
If you live in Nigeria, chances are that at some point you might have been a victim of either an unwarranted physical aggression or in the very least some kind of extortion by these men. If you haven’t yet, just wait for your turn. It surely will come to pass. Unless of course, you are one of those overlords that moves around in a convoy, guarded by a truck load of mean-looking, gun trotting men.
A review of the statute book showed that an Anti-Torture Act was passed by the 8th National Assembly and signed into law by President Mohammadu Buhari on 29th December 2017. That piece of document is explicit on the individual’s right to freedom from torture and degrading treatment, criminalizing it while protecting victims and witnesses. What then is the matter? Well, as you may have suspected, the challenges lie not with the legislation in and of itself but the enforcement. Like most things in Nigeria, there are way too many moving parts to the obstacles.
The Nigerian Police salary data of 2019 showed that a Police Recruit (the entry level position) monthly take home pay was N9,019.42 whereas a Police Constable on Grade Level 10 earned N51,113.59. I understand that there may have been an upward review but one could bet his whole life that it still doesn’t even come anywhere close to a decent wage. Such is the compensation package of those saddled with the serious business of chasing after and apprehending criminals at a great personal risk that might include losing one’s life.
But here’s the kicker, in that same country, a senator of the federal republic allegedly collects 36M naira monthly while his colleagues in the lower chamber rakes in 25M. Just like these politicians, the police officers are expected to earn a living and raise a family as everyone else. And so, it’s not surprising that whereas SARS may have been created to fight crime, to the majority of the officers and men of the Nigerian Police Force, it’s more or less a state-sanctioned extortion racket that helps them address the income deficit arising from earning a non-livable wage.
It turns out that SARS is but the poster child of a host of equal opportunity offenders thrown up by the larger malaise of most public institutions in Nigeria. The locust years of failed leadership and zero accountability by the ruling class have created such a dysfunctional system to the extent that almost every government department or parastatal is bedeviled by the same ill and functions only in the breach.
The recent pronouncement by the Inspector General of Police Mohammed Adamu to the effect of disbanding SARS and creating SWAT is more or less an old wine packaged in a new bottle. It loses the label but retains the taste. This equates to more of the same and we all have seen this movie before.
Nigerians are angry and frustrated that after two years, an acting presidential order, numerous reports by the media of SARS brutalities and countless marches, this government and the ones before now have proved unwilling or incapable of reforming the police. Truth is that we need to come to terms with the fact that a meaningful reform is impossible under the current system and if anyone is under such an illusion then I have got a beautiful bridge to sell. A fiscally irresponsible and insolvent Nigeria of today, unable to pay a livable wage can only breed predators equipped with guns and left to figure out ways to eke out a living at the expense of an already battered citizenry.
In the midst of all the protests and ensuing chaos however, there is a silver lining. The real victory from the endSARS campaign is that Nigerian youths have finally woken up from a deep slumber, found their voice and are right on the course to take on an oppressive system that is totally rigged against them. With the effectiveness of the current mobilization effort, they have put everyone on notice that they will soon be coming after the real enemy of the people, namely: a pervasively corrupt political class that bled our nation to death and continue to feed fat on her carcass.
Dr. Agbo is the coordinator of African Center for Transparency and writes from USA. Email: [email protected]