You really don’t want to get arrested by Nigeria’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad. Detainees are tortured by hanging, shooting in the legs and mock executions, according to Amnesty International.
The brutality has been escalating, despite numerous attempts to disband and restructure the unit and weeks of peaceful protests demanding police reform. Last week tensions exploded into violence, when an estimated twelve protestors were shot by security forces as they called for an end to SARS.
The massacre has been condemned worldwide, including by the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Dominic Raab has called for an end to the violence, but Westminster can still do more to pressurise the Nigerian government into action.
The Nigerian police force has a rotten legacy. As the head of PSJ UK, a charity working to bring peace and justice to Nigeria’s most vulnerable communities, including Christians under the tyranny of a resurgent Islamic State in the North and Middle Belt, I often talk to citizens who are are often more afraid of their own security forces than of Islamist terrorists. Such is the state of corruption in Nigeria’s indifferent administration, that the army and the Police Minister have both denied responsibility for the killings.
Nigeria’s dithering politicians must draw up a serious action plan to solve the emerging chaos, and urgently develop a world-class security infrastructure.
The government should commit to turning the entire Nigerian police force and other security apparatus into professional, respectable units. The state needs a new contract with its people that guarantees their safety – I advocate a police tax specifically for this purpose. This will rebuild trust and the rule of law will reassert itself, with benefits across society.
Over half of Nigeria’s population is under 30, that’s a tremendous asset and President Buhari should commit to creating opportunities that maximise their energy and creativity. One option could be forming a robust, multi-layered research unit whose only job is to uncover police malpractices – that would give its members a sense of justice and national service, and improve the relationship between the state and the new generation.
Finally, creating an inclusive government to unite the nation and heal old wounds is essential. President Buhari has no choice but to create a raft of policies and objectives that bind us together as one: a whole new ministry is required for this purpose. The risks of further disintegration in Nigerian society, for Africa and the world, are too great to contemplate.
Only by working towards transparency and accountability can Nigeria look forward to a peaceful future. As long as unelected officers of state can commit atrocities and face no consequences, no one is safe. The security of a country’s citizens must be the first goal of any national leader. If President Buhari is not able or willing to deliver it, he should reflect very seriously on the legitimacy of his tenure.
It is about time he and his team woke up to the extent to which Nigerians have been weighed down by injustice. Only by shining a torch into the darkest corners of this once great nation can we truly begin a new chapter in Nigerian history.
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