#EndSARS: Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalisation of Youth -By Bámidélé Adémólá-Olátéjú

Filed under: National Issues |

#EndSARS; the twitter campaign triggered ugly memories as it took off after a young boy was shot by a policeman in Yaba. From every story shared with the EndSARS hashtag, the recurring themes of brutality, disrespect for civil rights, frustration and a total breakdown of trust are unmistakable. The anger was not provoked by policing power, the anger is about the way in which it is applied by police officers. Whosoever has encountered a gun toting policeman will appreciate the feeling of the Nigerian youth as powerless victims of unstoppable bullies. All it takes to be harrased for a young person is to be in possession of a laptop, have more than one phone in your hands, spot an unfamiliar haircut or be in a car, in the company of other young people. Our urban policemen think every young man with sagged pants, who is driving a car, is a Yahoo-Yahoo boy or scammer. What kind of unimaginative policing is that?

One of the key ideational components of an oppressive state is the construction of suspicion by state operatives. With SARS, we have a unit of oppression within the police force, funded by the state, which nurses the socialised belief that the young urban male is a danger to public good. The experiences and perceptions of citizens to stop-and-search by the SARS team is that of brutality and it reflects the lack of training of the Nigerian police. If citizens know the hideouts of the youth engaged in Advance Fee Fraud (419) and Internet scams in their neighbourhoods, the police cannot claim ignorance of this. They only do what they want to do and the public understands them. Unfortunately, the stop-and-searches on young people and the kind of interaction they have with policemen, sets in motion a broader chain of social problems through fear, social exclusion and violence, that the society will have to deal with, sooner than later. We may pretend otherwise, but those that are stopped and searched are disproportionately those the poor and vulnerable. What this translates to is – the demographic that is disadvantaged in education, in employment, in life’s opportunities are further degraded, embarrassed, and oppressed by stop-and-search. They get no explanations. They are routinely fed lies and misinterpretations of the law. In most cases, they are harassed by the same set of officers they have become accustomed to. Worse, each attempt at exercising their rights are read as cockiness and met with beatings, jail time or death.

It is a shame; we have all kinds of problems on our hands and we are compounding needless ones. Even those who mouth off the “Police is your friend” worn-out cliché do not believe it. Public safety is about trust. It is about respect for the community. It is about investment and cooperation in every aspect of the community. Public safety goes beyond an encounter between a uniformed police officer and the young civilian they stop. The action taken by the Inspector General of police to the call to #EndSARS is commendable. Hopefully those who call or send messages to the phone numbers supplied, will be met with professional officers who are true to their charter, at the other end. Renaming is not enough. FSARS should not be another racket. When claims are made, the integrity of the investigation must be maintained. The chief superintendent of plice (CSP) or superintendent of police (SP) in charge must be accessible to the public and be able to present what has been done on any investigation, at a moment’s notice.

The rising tensions between social control, protection and power cannot be wished away. Increasingly, discontent is fanned because there are no oppportunities for social mobility. Nigeria risks combustion with its army of unemployed and underemployed youth and no one seems to care! For those who have no idea what sparked the #EndSARS outrage, ask an urban youth; especially the Lagos dwelling type. Everyday, young people who face the fear of their rucksacks being ransacked, who are afraid of riding in the same car with their peers, who are scared of moving around with their laptops or even get creative with their hairstyles or dressing, can articulate with amazing detail how these situations develop and end in undesirable outcomes. The wide-ranging harm done to young people, coupled with a lack of protection, leave them wide open to physical, mental and emotional damage from an early age.This may seem low but keep in mind vulnerable young people are the group least likely to make any formal complaints about the police. They are also the ones least likely to have the wherewithal and resources to fight for their right in a corrupt and oppressive country.

#EndSARS presents yet another opportunity for tighter legislation by our do-nothing legislature. FARS is welcome but the long-term solution is a fundamental change in police culture if we ever want community friendly policing. It is in our long-term collective interest to listen. Please find below the communication outlets for your record.

i. IGP X-SQUAD, 0902 690 0729 – CALLS; 0903 227 8905 – SMS; 0903 562 1377 – whatsapp; Email: [email protected]

ii. FORCE PUBLIC COMPLAINT BUREAU 07056792065 Calls/SMS/whatsapp 08088450152 Calls/SMS/whatsapp Email: [email protected], [email protected] Twitter: @PoliceNGwww.facebook.com/ngpolice

iii. PUBLIC COMPLAINT RAPID RESPONSE UNIT (PCRRU) 08057000001 – Calls Only 08057000002 – Calls Only 08057000003 – SMS & whatsapp only Twitter: @PoliceNG_PCRRU www.facebook.com/PolicePCRRU

Bámidélé Adémólá-Olátéjú a farmer, youth advocate and political analyst writes this weekly column, “Bamidele Upfront” for PREMIUM TIMES. Follow me on Twitter @olufunmilayo