Nigeria: #EndSARS Protests - Dialogue On a Developmental State

15 October 2020

It is significant that the Presidential Panel on Police Reforms has agreed to the 5-point demand of protesters against police brutality, namely halting the use of force against protesters and unconditional release of arrested citizens, justice for the victims of police brutality, including payment of compensation, and the psychological evaluation of policemen, including increasing their salaries.

The last of the five points of agreement: the welfare of the police men and women, is of special importance because even the protesters have agreed that police men and women operate under conditions that would make them less than friendly with the best of sanctions for brutalities. The recognition of the precarious conditions the police operate by the protesters even as they legitimately decried brutalities of the notorious defunct hated Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) is the main takeaway of the current historic youth uproar.

The point cannot be understated that policemen and women are workers in uniforms employed to protect all under the constitution. It would be recalled that in 2002, the country's police force went on strike over a dispute over wages and unpaid benefits. The Nigerian government had to deploy the army to take up duties normally carried out by police officers.

That singular police strike caused major disruptions across Nigeria which forced banks in Lagos and other cities to close due to security concerns. The appreciation that those who must protect us must also be protected first against want must not be lost on police authorities in particular and governments at all levels in general.

The critical question however is: who should speak for the police as workers and professional security workforce? It's time Nigeria considered the British and South African models of allowing police to have a union with a provision that they would not go on strike as essential services. Certainly policemen and women need a platform to articulate their concerns about the jobs and their welfare. There are abundant data about list of police brutalities. But what of the police men and women who have fallen casualties due to the activities of the criminals? Only policemen and women can speak for themselves in a free association regulated by essential services law.

It is commendable the notorious Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (F-SARS) had been disbanded by Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, indicting a sensitivity to the mass protests against the excesses of the outfit. But recycled, untrained, under motivated new outfit might traverse same failed route. I have always argued that the national narrative on policing must be upscaled beyond the law and order in which underfunded, underpaid policemen and women are expected to protect us even against ourselves. It's time for the police authorities to push aggressively community policing. Police may find out later that the communities that desire peace and security would be worthy allies of the police even in advocating for better working conditions for the police service.

The importance of national security cannot be overstated. Any state, including Nigeria's failing state, exists primarily for the security of its people. The critical question is what constitutes security? Is it just the protection of lives and property or more importantly ensuring the socioeconomic well-being of the people inclusive of men and women in uniforms?

Scores of state-based institutions abound in Nigeria, specifically charged with the responsibility for the protection of life and property. They include the police, state security service agencies, military, civil defence agency, immigration, and prison services. When we combine the self-help arrangements like private guards guiding burglary ringed apartments, Nigeria already passes for a garrison/police state.

No thanks, to the current enormous physical security challenges which undoubtedly make the tasks of these agencies desirable. What with cybercrimes, insurgency, kidnappings, murders, arms proliferation, political violence, robberies, "religious" crises, high profile corruption,, smuggling and general economic crimes? But as desirable as these institutions are, they are incapable of addressing the more critical dimension of security which is the worsening welfare of the Nigerian people.

It is time we looked outside the physical security box. Our current security preoccupation in Nigeria has been on the property and some lives of notable public office holders, namely retired and serving Heads of governments, governors, and legislators alike.

We must broaden our perspective on national security to include job and income security, social and economic security for the greatest number of Nigerians. With 50 percent open youth unemployment, massive factory closures and 60 per cent gross under employment (road-side hawkers of God-knows what!) I bear witness that Nigeria remains the most "peaceful" country in the world. Many thanks to Nigeria Federal police force for maintaining the peace of the grave yard.

Tunisian revolution was triggered by an unemployed youth, revolution which in turn swept the ancient Mubarack regime in Egypt and Gadaffi regime in Libya. Yet the unemployment rate then in Tunisia was just 14 per cent! Economic and social security of the critical mass is as significant as the lives and property of the few. The current debate on which forms of policing is tall in quantitative shouting matches among few elite but miserable short in qualitative search light on new thinking on how to reinvent a developmentalist state which once ensured almost full employment and youth cooperation for development. Many factors explain the current vulnerability of youths to protest, the notable one is unemployment. No Federal or state police can curtail the army of miserably and hopelessly disillusioned youths of today.

The policy implication is to create necessary economic and political conditions for minimization of physical insecurity and not a silly feverish atomization of the Federal police force into some Bantustan/state policing. During the three decades of military dictatorship, the Nigeria Police Force was literally abandoned, saddled with acute shortage of office and barracks accommodation with rank and file on miserable salaries. Without logistic support like transport and communication equipment, poorly motivated police was turned into attacks dogs against fundamental human rights of citizens, through open extortions and sheer brutality. It is therefore simplistic and misleading to think Policing can be as clinically divisible into state or Federal as some are putting it.

We must first reform, reposition and transform the existing Federal police before any new innovations of state police can be taken seriously. If we do not reform the existing Federal police first for the better, we might be decentralizing a mess dignified as state police. Policing in a democratic society should be part of the developmentalist state that minimizes physical insecurity through creative engagement of its citizens particularly in value adding activities like industry and agriculture and not crime. Nigeria needs not a police state (or is it state police?) but a developmentalist state that guarantees both physical and economic security for all.

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