By Jibrin Baba Ndace
On Tuesday, 13th October, 2020, the Nigeria Police through the Inspector-General, Mohammed Adamu, announced the formation of a new police unit to replace the banned and discredited anti robbery squad, FSARS. This is part of the response to ongoing #ENDSARS protests on social media and in some cities across the country.
A statement by Force Public Relations Officer, DCP Frank Mba, reported the creation of a ‘new tactical team’. The statement reads in part: “… the IGP has set up a new Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) Team that will fill the gaps arising from the dissolution of the defunct SARS.
Prospective members of this new team will also undergo psychological and medical examination to ascertain their fitness and eligibility for the new assignment. They are to commence training at the different police tactical training institutions nationwide, next week. While personnel from the Police Commands in the South-East and the South-South will be trained at the Counter-Terrorism College, Nonwa-Tai, Rivers State, those from the Potlice commands from the North and South-West will be trained at the Police Mobile Force Training College, Ende, Nasarawa state and the Police Mobile Force Training College, Illa-Orangun, Osun State, respectively”.
However, despite this being a welcome development as a response to the yearnings and aspirations for reforms in the police, like FSARS, SWAT is not entirely new. Like FSARS, SWAT is also a unit of Nigeria Police, a militarized component of the Force. Like FSARS, SWAT is not the regular police. Like FSARS, SWAT is, also like various units established by police around the world, designed to respond to specific crime and security challenges.
From the United States where the new Nigerian Police tactical response unit got its name, to UK, Canada, Brazil, Germany, Colombia, Indonesia and Mexico, countries create militarized police units usually deployed to address security challenges that cannot be handled by the regular police.
The United States National Tactical Association or SWAT is “a designated law enforcement team whose members are recruited, selected, trained, equipped and assigned to resolve critical incidents involving threats to public safety which would otherwise exceed the capabilities of traditional law enforcement first responders and/or investigative units”.
Created in the 1960s, United States SWAT is a militarized police unit created ‘to handle riots, control violent confrontations with criminals, ‘and trained to deploy against threats of terrorism, for crowd control, hostage taking, and situations beyond the capabilities of ordinary law enforcement agents, sometimes deemed high risk’.
In Indonesia, the Mobile rBrigade Corp, (Brimob) a unit of Indonesia National Police is a militarized police force “deployed for riot control, SWAT operations, anti-terror, domestic guerrilla warfare, domestic civil hostage rescue, search and rescue and armed conflict management especially in areas with domestic conflict”. Similarly, in Germany, ‘in 2016, the German Police introduced a new special unit, BFE+ created to counter terror attacks’, as well as ‘serve as a psychological reassurance for the public’.
Research indicates that many countries have special police units which serve the same purpose as the United States SWAT. What is however important is that each of these countries established such units as a response to threats using specially trained officers and men.
Like these units in other countries, FSARS was created in the early 1990s as a special unit of the Nigerian Police in response to a particular threat of armed robbery in Lagos State. Speaking on BUFFER ZONE on WeFM 106.3 in Abuja, former Inspector-General of Police, Mike Okiro who is also the immediate past chairman of the Police Service Commission, said: “SARS was created in response to security challenges of the early 90s. Initially, SARS lived up to its expectations but over time the agents have gone beyond and outside their jurisdiction. It was created to combat high profile crimes such as robbery, kidnapping, banditry and other violent crimes’.
One thing is, however, clear —that police brutality or excesses will not end with the banning of FSARS; neither will it go away with the establishment of SWAT.
This current efforts which is largely reactive to ongoing protests, should, therefore, not be an end in itself, but a more deliberate, purposeful policing strategy that will ensure that the new unit serves the purpose, and is always deployed to address crimes and criminality that require such a militarized police unit as SWAT.
As I noted in my column last Thursday, ‘the Nigerian Police must outline the jurisdiction of the new unit and make sure that its officers stay within their obligations’. Nigerian Police must also ‘ensure a strong commitment to keeping these men in line based on Standard Operating Procedures, code of conduct and rules of engagement through constant training and retraining’.
Again, as I noted in the same column, ‘while the Federal Government has aligned with the demand of some Nigerians to ban SARS, citizens have a responsibility to support the service to ensure full implementation of all reforms toward a better and citizen-centred, people-friendly police.
It is also important for the Nigerian Police to take appropriate steps in SWOT-ting the SWAT, which entails that before the new tactical team fully takes off, strategic commanders and political masters based on the doctrine of civilian control of security architecture; that is the executive and legislative arms of government as well as other stakeholders must necessarily do a honest appraisal of benefits and shortcomings of the new unit using the time tested SWOT —Strength, Weakness, Opportunity and Threat analysis.
Above all, the Federal Government and the Nigerian Police must use this opportunity to bring to a logical conclusion all reforms started before the ENDSARS protest geared towards a more efficient, accountable and improved Nigerian Police.