There is an urgent need to review the recruitment process into the security agencies

The decision by the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, to reorganise the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) following allegations of misconduct ranging from harassment, extortion, assault and extra-judicial killings has been well noted. But a cynical approach to a fundamental problem, taken essentially to buy time, will not do in an environment where impunity has for long been the order of the day. With Nigeria gradually descending to the Hobbesian state of nature where life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”, there is need for a more coherent strategy to deal with the challenge at hand and it must begin with the personnel.

 Since the processes leading to the recruitment of personnel into many of the security services in our country have been compromised, many social misfits are legally carrying arms to terrorise Nigerians. The manifestation of that is what we see with SARS, but it is not an isolated case. We therefore demand that the federal government must, as a necessity, review the recruitment processes into the security agencies and make it rather stringent. But that will still not resolve all the problems.

To say that the criminal justice administration in Nigeria needs reform is to state the obvious. In particular, armed robbery and kidnap suspects are arrested and paraded at crowded press conferences addressed by police commissioners. After the “media trial”, there have been reports that some of these suspects were extra-judicially executed and secretly buried in mass graves. Such suspects are usually reported to have died during shoot-out with the police anti-robbery squads or while attempting to escape from custody. But the unofficial justification is usually that if the suspects were charged to court they may be released and then turn round to kill the police personnel who arrested them.

 Given the foregoing, there is an urgent need to reform not only the administration of justice in Nigeria but also the operational strategy of the police if they must regain public confidence. Complaints are rife that information given to the police in confidence sometimes finds their way to the ears of criminals, who in turn hunt down the informants. Emphasis, therefore, needs to shift from law enforcement to crime prevention with reforms targeted at ridding the police of its bad elements and enhancing the investigative skills of its operatives.

 Meanwhile, several reasons have been adduced to explain the trigger-happy disposition of the Nigerian policeman. Such reasons include their conditions of service especially the poor salary, living condition in the barracks and low self-esteem. All of these combine, it is often argued, to make the policeman an angry man with arm and ready to pull the trigger at the slightest provocation. But nothing can justify the whimsical murder sometimes committed by some of these men and officers.

 The federal government should no longer continue to look the other way while innocent citizens get summarily executed by those whose constitutional duty it is to secure their lives and property. No matter the extent of provocation a policeman must not resort to killing outside the law. Extra-judicial killing violates the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and other similar conventions and treaties of which Nigeria is a signatory. It is the nonchalant attitude of government towards investigating and punishing perpetrators that has allowed this culture of impunity to persist.

While we do not subscribe to the call to scrap SARS, the Inspector-General of Police therefore has the primary responsibility of re-educating his men especially in the area of respect for people’s rights and the sanctity of human life so they would not continue to see the killing of unarmed and sometimes innocent citizens as a badge of honour.