SARS and the value of Nigerian lives

The police and Misau dramaTHEN ongoing #EndSARS campaign against the impunity characterising the activities of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigerian police is both strikingly revealing and poignantly worrisome. It is strikingly revealing because of the various allegations that have been leveled against the unit, presumably specially organised to safeguard citizens’ lives and properties against all sorts of advanced and dangerous thefts. SARS is being accused of being more terrifying and troublesomely sinister than the criminals it is meant to protect the citizens from. This is worrisome because the responses, especially at the initial stages of the campaign, by the spokesman of the Nigerian police online bordered on ascribing the various allegations to concocted lies and fears caused by delusions. In fact, the ‘rapid’ response of the head of the Police Complaints Rapid Response Unit, Ayo Sogunle whose capacity for such unit has since been questioned and who should have been relieved of his duty for his crass insensitivity goes thus: “To all those having frightening dreams- “shot/beaten by police”. Pray to God not to allow it happen + avoid areas where police are responding to incidents in real life. If such dreams persist, go see a psychiatrist. We only deal with real life police complaints @PoliceNG_PCRRU.”

Sogunle’s response is worrisomely predictable. Nigerians are used to and almost inured to the crass insensitivity being shown by the Nigerian Police. In a saner society, Sogunle’s (mis)comment will be placed in the context of the patterns of indifference that have since been ossified in the force. However, the extremely continued demonstration of the power of the social media to upend the reprehensible status quo behaviours in the Nigerian system is encouragingly refreshing. The decibel that the social media platforms can generate has not only jolted the Nigerian establishment and its cronies from their cocoon, it has even made some of them ‘struck witches’ whose induced confessions betray their inner sinister thoughts. Sogunle has now joined the list of government ‘people’ who have been struck by the riveting heat of the social media.

Meanwhile, of what value is a Nigerian life? A take away from the slew of revelations that has continued to pour out on the social media, especially on Twitter, points at a total disregard for the lives of Nigerians by their government and its agencies. People have continued to recount brutal encounters with SARS that the shoddy quick fix by the Inspector General would be impotent against. Reforming of the unit should not just be a quick announcement of reorganisation necessitated by the need to pacify the angry public and thus douse the tension that has been growing. How would the reorganisation effect a change of approach from the SARS officers remains to be seen. Fear is that the reorganisation will in the long be a lip service that will soon be forgotten once another issue comes to take the baton from #EndSARS.

A very important observation from the present campaign agains SARS is that Nigerians continue to see the mirage in the 2015 change revolution, for how does one measure change when every status quo continues to be maintained? Of what is the sincerity in the change promise when Nigerians continue to be in danger of losing their lives to the mindless viciousness of some trigger-happy security men? It’s high time the Buhari-led government laid down expedient measures that are citizens’ friendly which will curb the excesses of the security operatives in the country. For goodness sake, Nigerians deserve to live in peace. A people who daily see their country’s commonwealth being carted away by  few privileged members of the political and economic class could not but be unfortunate, and it is more unfortunate to see the police indifference to the depletion of lives by the security operatives in the land.

Nigerians deserve more from the present government. Nigerians deserve better from President Muhammad Buhari. The #EndSARS campaign is an ample opportunity for the president to prove himself a listening and responsive leader. Nigerians are waiting.

Idowu writes from the University of Ibadan.

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