By Tiko Okoye
The #EndSARS protesters have a point – but we tend to focus on the symptoms rather than the disease in this country. The tragedy of most reforms, lamented American essayist and poet Henry Thoreau, is that “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root”!
In a quick response to the nationwide protests, the Presidency gave the Inspector General of Police (IGP) the green light to disband SARS. But already protesters are saying that it is not enough. They have now formed a new hash-tag group called #EndSWAT aimed at rendering the IGP’s plan to build a completely new unit to fight violent crimes dead on arrival! I believe that after so many years of appearing powerless, the victory of the #EndSARS protests is making our youths giddy and ready to solve all the problems of the nation overnight in one fell swoop.
The youths have hopefully clearly demonstrated to our political leaders that power truly belongs to the people and it will no longer be business as usual going forward. But we must be guided by the cautionary advice of the 26th US President, Theodore Roosevelt, to the effect that “The men with the muck-rake are often indispensable in the wellbeing of society, but only if they know when to stop raking the muck”!
Police brutality and extra-judicial killings are real and must be condemned in the strongest possible language. Some of my relatives, associates and I have been victims of brutal and inhumane treatment in the hands of SARS operatives, but it would be very ungodly of me to deny that there have equally not been circumstances when the timely interventions of SARS operatives nipped major tragedies in the bud. My principle in life is to never throw away the baby with the bathwater. There is no character blight that cannot be reformed if the will and a conducive environment are enjoined.
As usual, politicians are making maximum capital out of the sad situation. Funds are being established in a rapid-fire manner by state governors, ostensibly to compensate victims of police brutality in a little-disguised gambit to play to the gallery. How would the victims be determined? How long would the process – investigations, assessment, approvals and payments – take? Do not be surprised if this just provides another opportunity for government officials to enrich themselves! Would it not have been better to equally set up funds to dramatically raise the remuneration packages and living conditions of members of the Nigeria Police?
“Unless the reformer,” bellowed revered American journalist Walter Lippmann, “can invent something which substitutes attractive virtues for attractive vices, he will fail”! Just imagine a sergeant earning N53,000 per month, out which he/she pays transport fares and buys food for the family; and we are not talking of school fees, clothes, utility bills and emergencies. And you hand a lethal weapon to such an obviously disgruntled and frustrated individual and expect him/her to be a saint?
Now this: let the government enlist the protesters in both existing and new police formations under the prevailing circumstances and let the public assess their scorecards after just 12months! That’s when it would be clear to all and sundry that “khaki no be leather.”
“All reformism,” read a graffiti on a wall during the 1968 French Student Revolt, “is characterised by utopian strategy and tactical opportunism” – and we very well know how that one ended. An American adage says that when you pay peanuts (groundnuts) as salaries, you can only attract monkeys, so we must be ready to fund the police formations of our collective dream. But then, government revenues are not unlimited and the police is not the only development priority of the government. It therefore means that a proper balance has to be struck.
“Experience,” paradoxically posited French painter Ferdinand Delacroix, “has two things to teach: the first is that we must correct a great deal; the second, that we must not correct too much.” Perhaps, one way to strike this balance is by decentralising the police and rejigging the revenue sharing formula to empower the states to do much more. Police staff should also be made to live among the people rather than in dehumanising, squalid barracks. They can then be given housing allowances would overcompensate them for the loss of corporate housing estates enjoyed as part of conditions of service in other public sectors.
And since the American policing architecture unanimously appears to be the model we want, then let us also, as is done in America, introduce the shift system/duty rotation and allow police employees to take up part-time jobs as private security personnel as a way of augmenting their disposable incomes.
The police may be the object of ridicule right now as we tend to make a caricature of the motto that says “The police is your friend;” but as a counter adage posits, “If you say the police is your enemy, approach the armed robber for assistance or resort to self-help when next you have a serious challenge.”
Police morale is very low right now and if nothing is quickly done to reverse the trend, and police men and women start hiding their uniforms in order not to be targeted for harassment and intimidation by protesters, you can be sure that we are well on a one-way ride to the Hobbesian State. My fellow compatriots, we have succeeded in proving that power truly belongs to the people, but rationality must not be allowed to yield the right of way to illogicality.
Let us now vacate the streets as the lack of productivity dangerously threatens the recoverability of an economy already wobbling from cascading crude oil prices and the deleterious effects of the rampaging coronavirus pandemic.
Blocking major streets and city centres also prevents innocent Nigerians from freely exercising their inalienable right to freedom of movement. “Whoever fights monsters,” warned German philosopher Frederick Nietzsche, “should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.” The best course to pursue henceforth is to allow the government to flesh-out its reform programmes while we closely monitor their progress within an agreed reasonable period of time.
Let me reiterate that the protesters are fighting a just cause that requires every reasonable Nigerian to be onboard. But having said that, it is also imperative to know where and when to draw a line in order to prevent the protests from bring hijacked by criminals and malevolent politicians ready and willing to inflict more havoc than is necessary on the entire police organisation in an environment of lawlessness and widespread civil disorder, as there would be a far heavier price to pay by the citizenry.
Still, there would be many who would see whatever they want to see in this piece and come at me with guns blazing. But that is equally okay as I fully concur with the stance of French dramatist and philosopher Voltaire when he observed that “In any clime and time where and when it is given to worship the sun, it is a high crime to even attempt to examine the laws of heat”!
God bless Nigeria!
Okoye is Public Affairs Analyst Abuja, 08054103648