Over the last few days, we have seen Nigerians across the country protest for the disbandment of the Special Anti-Robbery Unit due to their brutal and extra judicial tactics. The protests have been important in showing that Nigerians demand better from their police force and expect them not to become criminals themselves. Police brutality is now being brought to the forefront of Nigerian political issues, and there is a solution to fully address it — the Nigerian Police Force needs to be defederalized.
By focusing the leadership structure of the police at the federal level, much needed reform has no chance of moving through. In fact, the current structure supports little or no participation from states and local governments in how their localities should be policed and secured. The people, as a result, cannot hold their police officers accountable as all officers serve as federal officers of Nigeria rather than officers of their communities. Therefore, it is imperative that for true reforms to move forward after these protests, removing federal power from the police is essential.
The violence and abuse perpetrated by SARS proves the need for their disbandment and the reduction of federal government influence in police affairs. Defederalizing the police will give more power to the people to demand the accountability they expect from their public officials. By having officers of their states rather than the federal government, the disconnect between officers and the communities they serve can be substantially reduced. The people in their communities will have a greater voice in determining the reforms they want implemented to ensure security for their lives and transparency from the officers that serve them.
The implementation of reforms is another reason why dispersing police power to the states is important. In the United States, a nation seeing its own problems with police brutality, reforms have been introduced thanks to their dispersion of police powers to the states and their localities. Body cameras, reduction of the use of deadly force and de-escalation training have been reforms that have been pushed through localities to better create a police force to serve the community. The push for better training is a reform that can be best achieved with the control of policing being placed in the hands of states and local governments.
SARS has long abused the powers that were given to them in the early 1990s. Corruption has plagued every facet of life in Nigeria since independence. As a result, our police force has had its mission distorted, where extortion and violence is the guiding principle instead of serving the public. The need for transparency cannot end after these protests. The Nigerian Police Force needs more reform and that is owed to the Nigerian people. The defederalization of the police would be a major first step in solving many of the problems of policing in Nigeria. Security in any society is important, but what is more important is that those who we expect to protect us do not become an enemy of the people. Nigeria is at another crucial point in its history. Let us hope we learn from the past and the current protests and ensure that the policies that are put forward as a result will lead to a more stable and transparent future for our country.
Chudi Obi is a 2015 graduate of the University of Virginia.
The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Cavalier Daily. Columns represent the views of the authors alone.