The speed with which the name of the disbanded Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad, FSARS, was changed to the Special Weapons And Tactics, SWAT, team by the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, in response to the prolonged #EndSARS protests smacked of a well-rehearsed and anticipated containment tactic.
It was the same manner in which former IGP, Ibrahim Idris, swiftly renamed the Special Armed Robbery Squad, SARS, to FSARS on August 14, 2018 when an #EndSARS protest forced Vice President Yemi Osinbajo (as acting president) to direct the former IGP to reform the police.
The Nigeria Police Force has always resorted to change of name, uniform or motto whenever the push for a better policing of the polity comes from the wider society. And this was why the current edition of the #EndSARS protests festered even after the latest change of name and a presidential pledge to ensure “far-reaching” reforms. Activists believed that the change of moniker was another red herring meant to get protesters off the streets.
The Federal Government had, as usual, left the recommendations of the Presidential Panel on the Reform of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad on the shelf for over two years and only woke up when the latest protests gathered steam around the country. If government had acted promptly and faithfully, perhaps the situation might have been different.
We are convinced that if the steps taken by the Federal Government in tandem with the Police authorities, the National Human Rights Commission, the civil society and activist groups are quickly implemented, the immediate short-term demands of the protesters will be met.
These include the already implemented dissolution of FSARS, prosecution of erring officers, compensation for injured or dead victims, release of all detained protesters, end to extortion by police personnel and respect for the rights and liberties of the citizens, especially the youth who are routinely targeted.
It was unfortunate that some hoodlums pretending to be acting in support of the disbanded FSARS were allowed to attack the protesters with weapons. We strictly forbid the use of the term: “clashes” to describe attacks on unarmed civilians in Nigeria, either by herdsmen militias or street urchins. It conceals and condones the evil aggression of marauders against innocent and law-abiding Nigerians.
The protests were in the overall national interest. They were meant for a better deal both for the police and citizenry. They prevailed on the Federal Government to give our police a better lease of life to promote professionalism and protection of the lives and liberties of the people. We condemn the attacks on them.
We also congratulate the protesters for conducting themselves with civility and call on them to give government a chance to implement the promised reforms while maintaining vigilance.