Amidst the nationwide calls for police reform, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN), on Monday, declared that the police as an institution was already reformed and there was no basis for such calls. The country’s chief law officer spoke at a media parley in Abuja with international journalists organised by the Presidential Media Team at the old Banquet Hall of the State House, Abuja. Making a reference to the recent #EndSARS protests in which over 50 Nigerians, including about 20 police officers, were killed, Malami said: “What further evidence do you need of a reform of the police force in a situation whereby security personnel and indeed our security infrastructure were being attacked with impunity, to such an extent that over 200 police stations were set ablaze without provocative reactions on the part of the police. I think I have made my point that we do not only have a reformed police force arising from the legislative frameworks that are in place, we have an established proof of reform both in terms of attitude, sentiment and associated reactions on the part of the police. For the first time in over past 20 years, we do not have incidences associated with massive loss of lives by way of reactions of the police. And in effect, we eventually have in our hands an incident where 20 policemen were provocatively killed by purported protesters without counter reactions by way of counter provocative attacks on the part of the public.’’
It is indeed a shame that the AGF chose to subject the country to ridicule at a time when the country is still reeling from the agonies of years of police brutality. Before, during and after the #EndSARS protests to which the minister referred, his principal, President Muhammadu Buhari, consistently spoke of his desire to see a reformed Nigeria Police Force. Indeed, in the wake of the protests, the presidency not only acknowledged the justice in their five-point demands but also quickly accepted them. The protesters asked the government to release all arrested persons and ensure justice for victims of police brutality, set up an independent body to oversee the investigation and prosecution of all reports of police misconduct (within 10 days); undertake psychological evaluation of all disbanded SARS officers before redeployment, and increase the salaries of police personnel.
Reading a communique issued by the Presidential Panel on the Reform of SARS, Femi Adesina, the same person whose media team organised the parley at which Malami made his entirely baseless utterances on Monday, had told the country that the government’s reform proposals would be based on the Constitution and existing legislations such as the Nigeria Police Act (2020), the Nigeria Police Trust Fund Act, 2019, the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015 the Anti-Torture Act, 2017, and the National Human Rights Commission Act, 2010, amongst others. The panel called for immediate steps, including an order to all state police commands to halt the use of force against protesters; unconditional release of arrested protesters and citizens; and open communication and outreach to citizens to establish trust and confidence, and a road map for the implementation of the White Paper of the Presidential Panel on the Reform of the SARS. As a matter of fact, the panel welcomed the proposal to set up an Independent Investigation Panel to look into the violations of human rights by the defunct SARS and other segments of the Nigerian Police, agreed to the setting up of this panel by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) within one week, and called for memoranda from members of the public whose rights had been violated by the defunct SARS and other segments of the police.
Given the foregoing, it is difficult to fathom the AGF’s faux pas. Is he not aware of the heart-rending details of police brutality emanating from the various Judicial Panels of Inquiry? To say the least, Malami’s concept of reformation is patently absurd. It is saddening that the country’s chief law officer made utterances that were quite reflective of the mentality usually ascribed to the police and other law enforcement agencies. He conflated the image of the peaceful protesters who conducted their affairs with dignity for two weeks with that of hoodlums who took advantage of the Lekki shootings to unleash mayhem on policemen, prisons and countless public and private infrastructure. That the police didn’t react with violence when hoodlums, certainly not enlightened #EndSARS protesters, mindlessly murdered Nigerians and burnt and looted several buildings is no indication that the reforms that Nigerians yearn for have been implemented. In any case, going by media reports, policemen actually gunned down a number of the hoodlums in Lagos, Ibadan and other parts of the country before they (hoodlums) overpowered them.
Truth be told, Malami’s thinking rubber-stamps the police attitude which led to the #EndSARS protests ab initio. We reject his implicit suggestion that there was no raison d’etre for the movement. There is simply no reason to assume that the millions of Nigerians who supported the protests, including state governments, were misled. Nor is there any ground to suppose that the international community goofed by asking for police reforms and respect for fundamental human rights in the country. If the NPF is already reformed, then why the ongoing reforms? Is Malami saying that things are okay the way they are now? Who reformed the Nigeria Police and when? If the police were reformed, would it take the Attorney General to intimate Nigerians with that fact? Nigerians do not expect the Attorney General to be an apologist of the iniquitous status quo. It is not a positive signal that he is contradicting the president and vice president, as well as the National Assembly on police reform. Such a posture casts the Buhari administration in very poor light. The NPF that Nigerians know is not yet reformed.