When a matter is complicated, the Esan people will declare it as “something” you cannot open with one hand. Such was the complexity of the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (FSARS) that it called for a concerted effort to kick it out of the system.
But like a magician, Inspector General of Police (IGP) Mohammed Adamu, in the wake of #EndSARS protests, literally “conjured” a Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT) team to replace the FSARS.
Yet, you can’t “wish into existence” a replacement for that kind of entity in a manner suggestive of a fire-brigade approach principally primed to get #EndSARS protesters off the streets.
Besides, swapping FSARS for SWAT is like putting old wine in a new bottle. It’s no surprise the #EndSARS protesters reject it offhand, and insist on a holistic reform of the Nigeria Police Force, as promised by President Muhammadu Buhari.
To the protesters, SWAT is Janus-faced, duplicitous, with the Police, through IGP Adamu, intentionally wanting to hide their “true feelings or intentions behind false words or actions.”
By the way, how did SWAT come about? It’s birth or “unveiling” began early on, as the #EndSARS protests were gathering momentum, and without a word from Buhari.
Nigerians hold many grudges against the president, the core of which’s, “he doesn’t hear (listen to) us.” That’s how a protester summed it up the other day in Lagos.
The protester, among the youths “testing the mic” for what was to assume a mayhem spree in Lagos, and nationwide, said Buhari had “put wool for im ear, make im no hear wetin de hapin for dis land. But dat wool go soon comot. I swear, wi go comot am for im ear.”
Indeed, the “prediction” came, but they weren’t the #EndSARS protesters that removed the “cotton wool” in Buhari’s ear, but the anxiety, and fear the protests had generated in the past weeks.
The scenario was like this: President Buhari sat behind the “Resolute Table,” flipping through a file, when his Chief of Staff, Prof. Ibrahim Agboola Gambari, swept into the office.
Buhari looked up, and onto Gambari’s ashen face, and wondered what in hell could have shaken the renowned diplomat and scholar, as to breach all protocols and crashed in unannounced.
“What is it, Prof., that you are panting like this? Buhari said. “Who is driving you or whom are you driving? Answer me before you collapse, from the way you are looking.”
“Your Excellency, Mr President. Nobody is pursing me, and I am not pursuing anybody,” Gambari said, his chest still heaving, partly from climbing the stairs in twos to get to the president.
“Oh, I see,” Buhari said. “So, what is the problem, Prof? Don’t stand there, looking like you are going to faint. Take a seat,” he gestured to his left. “Calm down, and tell me what is bothering you.”
Gambari sat on the edge of the chair, took in some air and cleared his throat. “Your Excellency, Sir. There is fire on the mountain,” he said, looking down at the same time.
“Which fire, and on which mountain?” Buhari said, a smile playing on his lips. “Mr President. It is not a physical fire on any mountain. I used the analogy to convey its seriousness,” Gambari said.
“A serious problem,” Buhari said. “Where is the problem? Speak coherently for me to understand you, Prof? From fire to serious problem, and yet, you can’t show them to me.”
“Your Excellency. The youths are in the streets,” Gambari said. “And where are they supposed to be?” Buhari queried. “Oh, yes, lock themselves up due to COVID-19 pandemic. You are right, Prof.”
“It is not like that, Your Excellency,” Gambari said. “It is not about COVID-19. The youths are protesting in the streets. “Incredulous, Buhari said: “Protesting in the streets? Over what?”
“Mr Pre, President, Sir,” Gambari stammered. “The youths are protesting over SARS. They want an end to SARS,” he said.
“SARS? An end to SARS? How, Prof?” Buhari said. “Isn’t SARS the other name they call this COVID-19 virus? How can we end an unseen enemy with street protests? Is that scientific, Prof?”
Gambari saw an opening, and said: “You are right,” Your Excellency. It is an unseen enemy, which will be defeated with science. But this SARS can be seen. That’s why the youths want it scrapped.
“Prof., you are speaking in parables, and confusing me,” Buhari said. “You think I have all day to listen to your dribbling. I have so much on my table to be playing around with words.”
Sensing a note of caution in Buhari’s remarks, Gambari braced up: “Your Excellency. The youths want you to scrap SARS: Special Anti-Robbery Squad,” Gambari said, catching his breath.
Buhari stared at Gambari, as if he didn’t hear what he had said. After a while, he said: “Really? The youths want the SARS to be disbanded? Who will chase all those murderous bandits, robbers, ritualists, cultists, rustlers, vandals, smugglers and bunkerers?”
Buhari gazed at Gambari, who sat up, and touched off a sweat on his brow despite the low-room temperature. “Are SARS personnel not supposed to catch these hoodlums? Answer me, Prof.”
This was the moment. Gambari cleared his throat again, and said: “That is the problem, Your Excellency. The SARS personnel have deviated from catching the bad guys, and chasing innocent Nigerian youths, with or without criminal intents or records, and subjecting them to harassment, intimidation, extortion, unlawful detention and even extra-judicial killing.”
“Did I hear you correctly, Prof? That SARS personnel arrest innocent youths in the streets and even extra-judicially execute some of them? Do you mean that Prof?” Buhari said.
“Indeed, Mr President. The situation has got out of hand, with the youths protesting in the daytime and at night, blocking highways to prevent vehicular movements. The economy is being grounded.”
“Where is Mohammed (Adamu),” Buhari said, a reference to the Inspector General of Police, as if he’s resident at the Presidential Villa. “Bring (summon) him before me ASAP,” he demanded.
“He will be here in a moment, Your Excellency,” Gambari said, and hurried out of the office. Before long, the Chief of Staff came back, with IGP Adamu in tow. Announcing himself, the IGP said: “My Commander-in-Chief, Mohammed Adamu before you, Sir.”
“IG Mohammed or what is that your name again… Adamu? Buhari said. “Are you aware that the nation is burning, according to Prof. here, and the fire is caused by your bad guys in SARS?”
Without hedging, IGP Adamu affirmed. “I am aware, Mr President,” he said, adding, “and I have depl…” Buhari cut him mid sentence, bellowing, “And you deployed what? The same SARS?” Buhari said.
“No, Mr President,” the IGP said, explaining that, “I have deployed conventional policing, to monitor and control the protests that I will, admit, Mr President, are concerning.”
“The protests are concerning, and yet, Mr IG, you did nothing other than monitoring and controlling? And how about the success rate, huh?” Buhari said, his mouth tightening on the right side.
Buhari wrote something in the file. “If you want to keep your job, Mr IG, go and disband that your f..king SARS, and let the personnel report in Abuja for psychological evaluation, for abandoning their mandate and going after the youths. Is that clear, Mr IG?”
The IGP clicked his heels in salute, and said, “Carried to the letter,” Mr President,” he said. “Dismiss,” Buhari said, adding, as Adamu turned to depart, “and don’t forget to name a new outfit with a befitting, beautiful name, and not one that depicts a virus.”
Turning to the Chief of Staff, who, in spite of himself, had enjoyed the president’s session with the IGP, Buhari said: “Prof., you can go. You have done well. Enjoy your day.” Gambari thanked him, and sauntered out of the presidential office.
That’s how, in a matter of hours, IGP Adamu came up with ‘SWAT’ and #EndSARS protesters saw the gimmick: To get them off the streets, rebrand FSARS in name, not in form and and substance, and carry on till the next killings by SWAT members, as part of the larger rot in the Nigeria Police Force, and the cycle continues!
Certainly, SWAT, as an acronym, is a beautiful name that meets President Buhari’s expectation, but it doesn’t pass the mustard with the #EndSARS protesters’ six-point demands: Dissolution of FSARS, prosecution of erring officers, compensation for injured or dead victims, release of detained protesters, end to police extortion and respect for the rights and liberties of the citizens.
These aren’t asking for too much, and shouldn’t be complicated by governmental rigmarole. The speed with which FSARS was changed to SWAT, and the setting up of investigation panels in the states, should be applied to fulfill the remaining demands, to enable #EndSARS protesters suspend actions, for meaningful dialogue.
▪︎Ehichioya Ezomon contributed this piece from Lagos. (+2348033078357)