On the 1998 song “Changes,” rapper Tupac Shakur said:
“Cops give a damn about a negro
Pull the trigger, kill a nigga, he’s a hero”
Among other things like poverty and drug abuse, Tupac was lamenting Police brutality in the black community. It is a similar lamentation heard in Nigerian society today. Aimed at F-SARS (Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad), it has produced hashtags #EndSARS #EndSARSBrutality #EndPoliceBrutality. The movement has been sparked by a series of violent altercations between SARS and civilians that has led to the innocent loss of life.
Just yesterday, a 36-year-old father of one named Kolade Johnson was buried after being hit by a stray bullet during a SARS raid on March 31st. The backlash was so severe that the President was moved to offer condolences via his Twitter account to the family of Mr Johnson.
The legislative arm of Government has now also been spurred into action. On April 17th, the Senate passed the Police reform bill, which makes amendments to the Police Act of 1943.
Among the notable changes:
- Two-year jail term or N1 million fine for any Police officer convicted of using excessive force that leads to death or bodily harm of a civilian
- Two-year jail term or N5 million fine for anyone who impersonates a police officer
This bill works hand-in-hand with the Police Trust fund bill which seeks to improve funding for the police aimed at increased training and covering their welfare.
There are other aspects of the bill that alters the President’s power to appoint and dismiss the Inspector General of Police, but for the purpose of this piece we’re focused solely on police brutality.
The main criticism of this bill is that it does not go far enough in punishing Police for excessive use of force against civilians. Is the loss of life worth just a million naira and a two-year prison term? It seems the Senate feels impersonating a Police officer is a more serious crime.
That being said, the Senate should be commended for taking action. They correctly observed that lack of training and funding of the Police are critical issues that need to be addressed. With better educated and compensated Police, perhaps we will see less of these incidents that have claimed the lives of innocent Nigerians.
The “next level” for this bill is for it to be signed by the President. Will he sign it? The Nation is watching.