SARS: A History of Brutality and the Hypocrisy of the Reforms

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The crass brutality and gross violations of human rights which are characteristics of the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squads (FSARS) can be traced to the terrible history of colonialism in Nigeria. The history of the Nigeria Police is rooted in the history of colonialism. The Nigeria Police, from its establishment in April 1861, draws its tradition from the colonialist logic. And this logic was to protect and defend the class interest of the colonizing capitalists which meant violating the rights and safety of the oppressed and disenfranchised people in Nigeria.

For instance, in 1888 the Royal Niger Company established the Royal Niger Company Constabulary. Royal Niger Company which was formerly United African Company (UAC) took over the control of the Niger Delta and all the lands around the banks of the Benue and Niger River. It is worthy of note that the forceful occupation of what is now part of Nigeria by UAC contributed to the edge British colonial elements had over their cohorts from France and Germany at the 1884 Berlin conference. The same company under the name “National Africa Company” in 1886 was granted a royal charter that formalized the company’s illicit control of all lands from the north of the region, to the lower banks of Niger River.

The Royal Niger Company has a history of attacks and brutalization to maintain its monopoly on the palm oil trade in Nigeria particularly before it sold its holdings in Nigeria to the British imperialist government in 1899. The Royal Niger Company Constabulary was set up to repress anyone that resisted the colonial elements occupation and the anti-people policies of the bosses.

The Nigeria Police establishment was organised as the coercive part of the capitalist system to work against working-class people. That even includes rank and file officers in the Nigeria Police, many of whom are poorly remunerated. It is evident that the bulk of the police in Nigeria are being subjected to precarious conditions even at work which the rottenness in the Nigeria Police again feeds on to take root.

The Royal Niger Company Constabulary was organised by the company to protect its territorial control and repress anyone that resisted the colonial occupation and anti-people policies. The Royal Niger Company Constabulary later became the Northern Nigeria Police which formed the Nigeria Police Force. It must be noted that under colonial rule, most of the police force were associated with local governments dubbed as “native authorities”. In 1949, the Nigeria police was mobilized to suppress the Iva valley mineworkers who were protesting poor working conditions and about 21 miners were shot down.

The atrocities and brutalization of the police force under colonial rule continued after independence was won. The brutality of the police force has survived series of police reforms. The formal laws under capitalism are structured to protect the class interests of the bosses and for that reason particularly the bosses’ state is organised to defend the lives, properties and ideas of the bosses against the interest and needs of the working-class people. That explains the increasing cases of police brutality and state violence across the globe. And that is the basis for rot in the Nigeria Police Force as a whole and the FSARS particularly.

The Special Anti-Robbery Squad was created in 1992 in Lagos to operate covertly. Right from its inception the SARS as a unit under the Criminal Investigation Department was prohibited from carrying walkie-talkies and guns. But now SARS has become a unit with “license to kill” and publicly carry guns carelessly to terrorize virtually any and every one that cross their path. Many lives have been cut short by the SARS and many more have been victimized within the last 28 years and many of these are not “criminals”. Many attempts were made to reform the SARS but none of these has concretely addressed or stopped the waves of SARS or Police brutality. That is so partly because the bosses are unserious about addressing police brutality, also because these reforms failed to address the root of police brutality.

At the height of #ENDSARS campaign, in August 2018, Yemi Osinbajo as the acting president ordered the overhaul of the SARS unit with immediate effect. In reaction to that presidential order the Inspector General of Nigeria Police announced the renaming of SARS to Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (FSARS) and creation of a human rights desk WITH officers to attend to human rights violation report. Apparently, these reforms did nothing to resolve SARS brutality rather in the last 2 years SARS and Police violation of human rights has heightened.

A brutal mistake Mr. Yemi Osinbajo, the IGP and co are making is to mistake the symptom of SARS brutality for the headache. The Nigeria Police and state establishment have a terrible track record of violations of laws they are supposed to implement and contempt for court rulings they don’t like. Apparently reforming SARS will do little to nothing to end SARS or Police brutality, rather a total overhaul of the bosses’ state apparatus and reorganization of policing with democratic participation of working-class people from the communities in the process is essential.

With the understanding of the importance of Nigeria Police in its current nature and class characterization to the bosses, it can be boldly said that the elites lack the political will to effect or commit to such change. In a report published by the editorial of Sahara reporters on 27 July 2010, it was said that SARS accrued a profit of 9.35Billion Naira ($60million) from extortion and roadblocks.

That again shows the essence of police/SARS brutality to sustaining the system of capitalism and the need for us – working-class people – who suffer victimization at the hands of SARS to unite and fight to change the system of capitalism from below.

But does that imply we should not fight to #ENDSARS? Not at all, rather we must intensify the fight against SARS and Police brutality because our total liberation as a class can only be won when we unite and fight against all forms of oppression and exploitation.

On October 4, again after several outcry and campaigns against SARS brutality the IGP announced ban of SARS with other special units from public patrol. Many people through social media have expressed their distrust for this latest reform of the SARS unit, and history has vindicated their concerns to be legitimate. Also, the Nigeria police and particularly the IGP cannot claim innocence of the SARS brutality as they often deploy SARS to suppress, intimidate and brutalize protesters. On October 1 at the protest held against attacks on working-class people with the latest being the hikes in electricity tariff and fuel price FSARS operatives were mobilized to intimidate Coalition for Revolution activists. Obviously, the rot in FSARS is deep rooted in the Nigeria Police and the system of capitalism.

History has shown us that the bosses who benefit from the system will bend to the extent that their class interest is not threatened, therefore we should not be deceived by the “benevolence” of the IGP with the latest SARS reform, rather we should fight to ENDSARS towards our total liberation. After all the latest reform was won by our collective campaigns. Onward forward to socialism from below.

by Lai BROWN

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