SWAT: New finger in leprous hand

A reminder of military Head of state Ibrahim Babangida dribbling his way to remain in office way past the set date for the termination of military rule in Nigeria in 1989 that, the inspector general of police announced on Tuesday that the rogue Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigeria Police Force has been disbanded and replaced with a new unit to be called Special Weapons and Tactics, or SWAT.

Babaginda’s effort enabled him stay in office till 1993 from 1985.

The IGP’s tactic is a classic example of the Nigerian character of the more you look, the less you see.

In a bid to curtail the powers of the chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, in September this year, the Attorney General of the federation Abubakar Malami submitted to the national assembly a bill titled, ‘An Act to Repeal the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (Establishment) Act, 2004 (act no. 1 of 2004) and Enact the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission Act Which Establishes a More Effective and Efficient Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to Conduct Enquiries and Investigate All Economic and Financial Crimes and Related Offences and for other Related Matters’.

What Malami had hoped to achieve, in essence, was to create a new position to be known as Director-General of the EFCC, who will be appointed by the President based on the recommendation of the AGF and confirmation by the Senate. What Malami wanted us to believe was that such a move would make the EFCC chairman less powerful compared to its director general, but any discerning mind would see through the chaos and recognize the AG’s attempt to cripple the EFCC to the point that it cannot investigate his corruption.

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It is in quite a similar manner that the federal government finally decided to remove fuel subsidy only to turn around and sustain it just a week later when global oil prices surged, which enforces the protesters’ notion that the government is only trying to buy time by letting this storm play out.

This would not be the first introduction of SWAT to a Nigerian security agency. In 2013, the then Commandant General of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), Dr. Ade Abolurin has established a Special Weapons and Tactical Team (SWAT) unit to assist in checking security challenges in the country. Abolurin had said that the new unit was also in line with the Corps’ mandate in protecting lives and property, provide measures against threat and any form of attack or disaster on the nation and its citizenry, and on critical infrastructure, among others. The police adopting SWAT raises fundamental questions. One of them is existential.

A search on wikipedia for SWAT shows its true meaning: SWAT officers act as paramilitary units that tackle situations beyond the capability of conventional police forces. SWAT teams are called in when an incident presents significant risk to law enforcement officers or the public, as in: counterterrorism operations, apprehension of armed and barricaded suspects suicide intervention, warrant service under fire, protection of visiting dignitaries, high-risk search and seizure, covert and undercover operations, crowd and riot control, fugitive tracking in rural environments. None of these functions state armed robbery, which the now seemingly defunct SARS was set up to tackle. If SWAT is to replace SARS, does this mean the use of officers with high calibre weapons to investigate armed robberies? If not, who would? The anti kidnapping unit or anti cult unit? The RRS?

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The fact remains that the introduction of SWAT to a notoriously ill-trained and disrespectful (to command) police force–if real–is a recipe for disaster. It is like applying a band aid to a festering sore. Not just that, it is a short term solution that reeks more of kicking the can down the road than tackling the many problems bedeviling the moribund police force. It is alo a slap to the gallant protesters which have defied not just the police but also the military while losing no fewer than 10 lives. There is so much that needs to be done, and steps needed to be taken to begin. The creation of SWAT is not one of them. It is the start of yet another big problem in a previously visited pod.