Ending SARS is only the beginning of Nigeria’s urgent reform

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Western and global media has been inundated in the last few days with highs and lows of the #ENDSARS protests. In short, they are a much-needed campaign to reform Nigeria’s notorious police force.

At Lekki toll gate last Tuesday, a varying-estimated number of protestors were shot by security forces in a seemingly pre-meditated massacre, as they called for an end to end SARS, Nigeria’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad. The squad has been accused of especially strong brutality in recent weeks compared with other sections of the Nigerian police force.

Tuesday’s bloodbath has been condemned worldwide, including by the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. I commend the efforts of UK Foreign Minister Dominic Raab to call out the growing violence in Nigeria, but Downing Street and Westminster can still do much more to pressurize the Nigerian government into positive and progressive action.

For too long, the Nigerian police force has had a terrible reputation, a rotten legacy and had become a symbolic icon of the bedevilling corruption that has gripped the nation. As the head of PSJ UK, a UK-based diaspora-led NGO 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 have often been told how frightened citizens dare not approach their own security force, in case they experience worse brutality than at the hands of the Islamists themselves. Such is the state of corruption in Nigeria’s indifferent administration, that the state government, the army and the Police Minister have all denied responsibility for the killings, yet very little is being done to identify the ‘real perpetrators’ of the massacre.

Nigeria’s doting politicians must draw up a serious action plan to solve the emerging chaos, and urgently develop a world-class security infrastructure. I predict that the #EndSARS protests will bring about that change anyway but the current government will do well to jump on the bandwagon and cooperate with making the change happen faster.

The government should commit to turning the entire Nigerian police force and other security apparatus in the country from their present low to becoming professional, first-rate, world-class and respectable units. This will create security in the nation and the rule of law will thrive. Such an environment will foster the various other build-on advantages in all sectors. I advocate a police tax specifically for this purpose. Vulnerable and un-policed communities as well as ‘un-governed spaces’ in the North and Middle-belt need to become a thing of the past.

The government should also commit to turning the nation’s youth potential into an asset, by prioritising opportunities that maximise their energy and creativity. Many of them could form a robust, multi-layered research and monitoring unit whose only job is to uncover police malpractices, giving them a sense of national service and improving trust between the new generation and the State.

Finally, creating an inclusive government to unify the nation and erase fault lines is a necessary step forward. 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 ponder.

Only by working towards transparency and accountability can Nigeria experience peace and justice. 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 and depth to which Nigerian society has been afflicted with such injustice. Only by shining a torch into the darkest corners of this potentially great nation can we truly begin a new chapter in Nigerian history to the benefit of all.

Ayo Adedoyin is Chief Executive of PSJ UK, a humanitarian organisation campaigning against the persecution of Christians and other vulnerable people & communities in Nigeria

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