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Media facelift: An informed African society

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In her weekly media briefing July 23, Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova criticized United States support for educational programs, media and NGOs in Africa. In addition, Zakharova said “the allocation of grants fits into the White House’s efforts to promote the idea that there is no alternative to Western concepts regarding state governance and the imposition of alien values on sovereign states, and this represents another manifestation of neo-colonialism and an element of covertly formalizing inequality in the overall system of international ties.”

Russia’s position as contained in her briefing is available on the official website, and part of which is further quoted here: “We have no choice but to comment and explain why we perceive this as Washington’s striving to eliminate the favorable regional socio-political background with regard to Russia that became particularly obvious following the Russia-Africa Summit in Sochi in October 2019.

It appears that the United States is deliberately encouraging anti-Russia publications in some African media outlets and is trying to portray Russia as a destabilizing force. We are confident that such methods of unfair competition and misinformation show that there is no hard evidence confirming the so-called Russian policy of propaganda and misinformation, and this is also the consequence of weak US approaches in the field of public diplomacy.”

That well-said of the United States, it is equally important to note that since the Soviet collapse in 1991, the question of media representation both ways, in Russia and in Africa, has attracted unprecedented concern and discussions. Over the years, nearly 30 years after the Soviet era, Russia has not encouraged African media, especially those from south of Sahara, to operate in the Russian Federation.

On the other hand, Russian media resources are largely far from eminent in Africa, and these include the media conglomerate popularly referred to as Rossiya Sevogdnya (RIA Novosti, Voice of Russia and Russia Today), TASS News Agency and Interfax Information Service. These powerful and reputable Russian brands, compared to most well-known Western and European media organizations that cooperate with Africa.

Even not quite long, that was in November 2018, the State Duma, the lower house of parliamentarians, called for an increased Russian media presence in African countries, while Russia has closed its doors in offering opportunities for Africa media representation in the Russian Federation.

During the meeting that was scheduled to brainstorm for fresh views and ideas on the current Russia-African relations, State Duma Chairman Vyacheslav Volodin told Ambassadors from African countries: “it is necessary to take certain steps together for the Russian media to work on the African continent.”

“You know that the Russian media provide broadcasting in various languages, they work in many countries, although it is certainly impossible to compare this presence with the presence of the media of the United States, United Kingdom and Germany,” Volodin said, and promised that the State Duma would create the necessary legal basis for this long-term media cooperation.

Experts say that neither Russia has an African media face nor Africa has a Russian media face. Thus, in the absence of suitable alternative sources, African political leaders and corporate business directors depend on western media reports about developments in Russia and from the developed world.

Interestingly, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Information and Press Department has accredited media from Latin America, the United States, Europe and Asian countries, and only two African media came from the Maghreb region (Morocco and Egypt) in North Africa.

The official information presented during the first Russia-Africa Summit, held in October 2019, explicitly showsed the degree of priority given to African media. Some 300 media bureaus from 60 countries are currently operating in Russia, including 800 foreign correspondents while there are only two African news bureaus from Egypt and Morocco, according to Artem Kozhin, who represented the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Information and Press Department, at the panel discussion on media.

According to his interpretation, this extremely low representation of African media hardly meets the level of current dynamically developing relations between Russia and Africa. “We invite all interested parties to open news bureaus and expand media cooperation with Russia,” Kozhin said at the gathering, inviting Africa media to Moscow.

Nearly all the panelists noted precisely that western media dominates in Africa. “Often times, unique news offerings created by the Russian media simply do not make to the users and viewers in many regions, including Africa. Evidently, this vacuum gets filled with one-sided information from other players in the media market. This information can be biased, or outright hostile towards Russia and residents of other countries,” said Mikhail Bogdanov, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation and Special Presidential Representative for the Middle East and Africa.

During the Russia-Africa Summit, Professor Alexey Vasiliev, the first appointed Special Representative of Russian President for Relations with Africa (2006-2011) and currently the Head of the Center for African and Arab Studies at the Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia (2013-2020), told the audience there in Sochi: “Africa is largely unaware of Russia, since African media mainly consumes information the Western media sources and then replicates them. And all the fake news, the Rusophobia and anti-Russian propaganda, spread by the western media, are repeated in the African media.”

“Measures are needed to enable us to better understand each other,” suggested Professor Vasiliev, who regularly advises the Presidential Administration, the Government of the Russian Federation, both chambers of the Federal Assembly, and the Russian Foreign Ministry.

Some experts have consistently argued that Russia has discriminated against sub-Saharan Africa. That trend remains unchanged even after the first Russia-Africa Summit, in Sochi with the primary aim of helping identify new areas and forms of cooperation, put forward promising initiatives that would bring collaboration between Russia and Africa to a qualitatively new level and contribute to strengthening multifaceted cooperation between the two regions.

Let that be the acceptable case, but both Russia and Africa have basic questions that still need quick answers. The questions raised at the panel discussion on media in Russia-Africa gathering: What issues are currently encountered in the formation of the modern media landscape? What role does the media play in Russian-African relations? What are the prospects for collaboration in the information sphere? What needs to be done to develop a Russian media agenda in Africa? What is the role and place of Russia in the information space of Africa today? What role can African media play in promoting further Russia’s image in Africa?

In practical terms, the highly successful spade-work was the first Russia-Africa Summit. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has to layout some new mechanisms and adopt a more favorable approach that could readily attract African media to operate in the Russian Federation.

Russia and Africa need to examine every sphere based on shared partnership interests and redefine practical approach to realizing whatever plans on media cooperation. Media and NGOs, as instruments for improving adequately public knowledge, especially on developments and emerging opportunities, have not been persuaded to match the desired future objectives and policy goals.

The stark reality is that Russia needs Africa media and Africa needs Russian media, in order for them to enlighten ties in the economic spheres, to promote a better understanding among African elites and the middle class through media reports.

Professor Vladimir Shubin, the former Deputy Director of the Institute for African Studies, explained in an interview with me that political relations between Russia and Africa as well as the economic cooperation would attract more and more academic discussions, and such scholarly contributions, in essence, would help deepen understanding of the problems that impede building solid relationship or partnership with Russia.

In order to maintain this relationship, both Russia and Africa have to pay high attention to and take significant steps in promoting their achievements and highlighting the most development needs in a comprehensive way for mutual benefits using appropriately the media, according to Professor Shubin.

“African leaders do their best in developing bilateral relations,” he added. “Truly and passionately, they come to Russia more often than ten years ago, but a lot still has to be done; both Russian and African media, in this case, have a huge role to play.”

Perhaps, one of the reasons why some African leaders appear to have “written off” Russia has been lack of adequate information about Russia, or rather plenty of distorted information they have received from the Western media coverage of Russia, Professor Shubin concluded.

“Russian media write very little about Africa, what is going on there, what are the social and political dynamics in different parts of the continent. Media and NGOs should make big efforts to increase the level of mutual knowledge, which can stimulate interest for each other and lead to increased economic interaction as well,” said Fyodor Lukyanov, Editor-in-Chief of the Journal ‘Russia in Global Affairs‘ and also the Chairman of the State Council on Foreign and Defense Policy.

“To a certain extent,” Lukyanov said, “the intensification of non-political contacts may contribute to increased interest. But in Russia’s case, the main drivers of any cooperation are more traditional rather than political interests of the state and economic interests of big companies. Soft power has never been a strong side of Russian policy in the post-Soviet era.”

Similarly, Bunn Nagara, a Senior Fellow of the Institute of Strategic and International Studies, member of the Valdai Discussion Club, has observed that “Russian businesses face a number of challenges. First, there is little information available internationally about the opportunities and possibilities for partnerships between Russian and foreign businesses.”

“Russia is a large country spanning both Europe and Asia. So, it can do much to bring Asian and European business linkages together and build on them. Better public relations and improved information dissemination are very important. To do this, it needs to do more in spreading more and better information about its achievements, the progress so far, its future plans, and the opportunities available,” Bunn Nagara said.

Early October 2019, the Valdai Discussion Club released an ebook titled “Russia’s Return to Africa: Strategy and Prospects” jointly or collectively authored by Vadim Balytnikov, Oleg Barabanov, Andrei Yemelyanov, Dmitry Poletaev, Igor Sid and Natalia Zaiser.

The Valdai Discussion Club was established in 2004, with a goal is to promote dialogue between Russian and international intellectual elite, and to make an independent, unbiased scientific analysis of political, economic and social events in Russia and the rest of the world.

The authors explicitly suggested the need to take steps in countering Western anti-Russia clichés that are spreading in Africa and shaping a narrative whereby only dictators and outcast partner with Russians. Therefore, efforts to improve Russia’s image must target not only the continent’s elite, but also a broader public opinion. It would be advisable to create and develop appropriate media tools to this effect.

Media and NGOs, working with the civil society, have to support official efforts in pushing for building a positive image and in strengthening diplomacy. Displaying an attentive and caring attitude towards the African diaspora in Russia, the key objective is to overcome racist stereotypes that persist in marginal segments of Russian society. Helping highly qualified educated migrants to integrate through employment. This will, in addition, showcase and shape public opinion about Africa in the Russian Federation.

According to the authors, building a more and consistent positive public opinion within Russia and Africa should be considered extremely important at this stage of relations between Russia and Africa. Should Russia assist other countries for political purposes only? Will the recipient countries be willing to lend Russia their political support, and can they be trusted? Should Russia build its partnerships exclusively based on the principle of economic expediency?

The authors wrote: “Russia will have to answer these questions as it moves towards implementing its African strategy. Its experience in working with public opinion and governments across Eurasia to shape public perceptions will come in handy in Africa.”

In the context of these existing challenges, leaders on both sides have to draw a roadmap. Inside Africa, Africans have had enough of all these public debates. The time has come to make progressive changes to the current approach, create a new outlook or simply call it “media facelift” instead of maintaining the old status quo. It means taking concrete practical steps toward media cooperation, this will substantially not only broaden but deepen two-way understanding of current developments in Russia and in Africa.

The irreversible fact is that there is the need to have an informed African society, and this has to be done largely, systematically and necessarily through the media. Africa has the largest number of young people, who look at the world with open eyes and are ready for cooperation with partner countries. This is a good opportunity to inform the young generation, bring them together through knowledge from Russia, Eurasia, and Africa. According to UN forecasts, the Africa’s middle class, constitutes a very huge vibrant information-consuming market, will exceed 350 million by 2025.

MD Africa Editor Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and writer on African affairs in the EurAsian region and former Soviet republics. He wrote previously for African Press Agency, African Executive and Inter Press Service. Earlier, he had worked for The Moscow Times, a reputable English newspaper. Klomegah taught part-time at the Moscow Institute of Modern Journalism. He studied international journalism and mass communication, and later spent a year at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. He co-authored a book “AIDS/HIV and Men: Taking Risk or Taking Responsibility” published by the London-based Panos Institute. In 2004 and again in 2009, he won the Golden Word Prize for a series of analytical articles on Russia's economic cooperation with African countries.

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It is time to end the illegal sanctions on Zimbabwe

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At the UN General Assembly (UNGA), African Leaders signalled to the West that it is high time to end the illegal sanctions that have been crippling Zimbabwe for over two decades.

The current Chairman of the African Union, South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa, led the call which was subsequently echoed and strongly endorsed by the Heads of State of Namibia, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and others in their respective addresses to the General Assembly. 

I am immensely grateful for this support. Indeed, it could not be more timely. Our African partners understand that a better Africa equals a better world. But, the continent is facing unprecedented challenges. Coronavirus has significantly exacerbated already existing health, economic and food-security challenges on a scale not seen for more than one hundred years. Sadly, for African nations, coronavirus is just one additional burden to be borne: on top of devastating droughts, locust infestations of biblical magnitude and relentless floods.

The West often expects so much from our nations, and world leaders often analyse us through the lens of their own success. But, in doing so they are only adding to the suffering of millions of Africans.

When President Emmerson Mnangagwa won the election in 2018, he pledged to bring about change, to forge a new relationship with the citizens of Zimbabwe and with the nations of the world.

In the face of endless criticism, we have made and we continue to make significant progress. Most recently, we achieved closure on the long-outstanding issue of compensation to farmers whose land was acquired during the Land Reform Programme of the late 90’s and early 00’s.  The sum of US$ 3,5 billion, for improvements effected to the land prior to its acquisition, was agreed-upon by way of negotiations between government and the farmers. 

Elsewhere, we repealed two antiquated laws (AIPPA and POSA). We passed a new Freedom of Information Act, and draft legislation to address the Constitutional requirement for an Independent Complaints Mechanism will shortly be tabled before Parliament. Other constitutional amendments designed to further modernise and open up government are  already before Parliament.

The reformed Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission has received global plaudits, with some notable and important arrests, including two sitting cabinet ministers. The “audit of the rich”, currently being undertaken, is expected to yield further fruits of transparency and accountability.

We have also initiated the most ambitious set of privatisations in the history of Zimbabwe, with 43 of Zimbabwe’s 107 state-owned enterprises earmarked for reform.

We know these reforms are essential if we are to show the world that we are changing our nation’s trajectory. We want to be more open, to grow our economy, to strengthen our public services, to improve the lives of our citizens and we want to play a positive part in the globalised world.

We acknowledge that we still have a long way to go but we are resolute in our determination to modernise Zimbabwe. Even in the midst of the shattering economic impact of COVID-19, we are committed to the path of reform.

I believe the new Zimbabwe has shown sincerity in its willingness to compromise with the West. However, rather than less criticism and an easing of sanctions, we have in fact faced more pressure from the United States. Those who believe these so-called ‘targeted’ measures only hurt the rich and powerful, are profoundly mistaken. The UN recognises that economic sanctions have worsened existing inequalities. They have crippled our banking sector and have negatively impacted upon the performance of businesses both large and small. Our exclusion from lucrative trade benefits afforded under the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), in particular, is holding back our entrepreneurial potential.

Sanctions, and the enhanced country-risk factor they generate, have also made it close to impossible to attract meaningful foreign investors from the West. And a lack of foreign exchange continues to impinge on the very basics of economic life, from raw materials to life-saving drugs.

Our request to the West is very simple: end these sanctions, allow us to respond more comprehensively to the coronavirus pandemic and support us on our journey towards a new Zimbabwe. The desire to squeeze us into a corner serves only to maintain unjustified isolation from the West, to foster negative sentiment towards those who punish us and, most importantly, to perpetuate the suffering and privation endured by our already hard-pressed people.

A better Zimbabwe results in a better Africa and a better world.

It is time to end the illegal sanctions on Zimbabwe.

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SADC, Zimbabwe and Sanctions

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Emmerson Mnangagwa, President of Zimbabwe. Copyright by World Economic Forum / Sikarin Thanachaiary

Reports suggest the South Africa Development Community (SADC) is growing increasingly impatient with President Mnangagwa’s willingness to impose repressive measures. The speculation emerged in part because President Chakwera, the incoming SADC chair had left Zimbabwe after two days, even though he was meant to spend three days in the country. The suggestions were that SADC was considering sanctions on Zimbabwe. Conversely, there are reports that the SADC countries are pushing for the easing of Western sanctions. In 2001, the US and the EU have imposed sanctions on 141 individuals and around 60 companies. The sanctions relate to allegations of gross human rights abuses.

The Zimbabwean government claims the sanctions are hurting Zimbabwe and ordinary people, limiting its ability to gain lines of credit from international monetary institutions or attract foreign investments. The US-Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (ZDERA), for example, prohibits American companies from working with companies and individuals on the sanction list. Failure to abide by the legislation has led to financial penalties as seen with the US government’s decision in April 2019 to fine Standard Chartered bank $18 million for dealing with a sanctioned country.

The SADC and the Zimbabwean government assert that removing the sanctions would allow Zimbabwe to revamp its economy, as the country could attract foreign direct investment, which in turn would help the region by reducing the number of Zimbabweans searching for work but also encouraging greater economic development. One should not forget that for decades, Zimbabwe served as the region’s breadbasket, something the Mnangagwa administration is keen to resurrect.

Political Outlook

The push to remove the sanctions comes despite growing authoritarianism in Zimbabwe. The government has introduced a host of policies to limit protests and demonstrations and punish those opposing it. It has also adopted measures aimed at countering increasing tensions within ZANU-PF.

In September, the government introduced the Patriot Act. The measure is meant to respond to a ZANU-PF claim that groups within Zimbabwe, primarily the MDC-Alliance, are not only reaching out to foreign governments but are concocting stories about factionalism within ZANU-PF. State Security Minister Owen Ncube has also spoken of attempts to smuggle guns into the country and establish violent militia groups aimed at destabilising the country and bring forth foreign intervention.

The Act speaks of “conduct aimed at undermining the country” under which Zimbabweans speaking to foreign governments without the express permission of the regime itself will face criminal sanctions. Conduct includes private correspondence and making false statements influencing foreign governments. The Act is likely to impact the opposition and human rights groups who often look to get support from a foreign government.

More of a concern to President Mnangagwa is internal tensions with ZANU-PF. For example, following the chaos in the Kwekwe Central constituency during primary elections on October 3, President Mnangagwa convened a special meeting with provincial executive members. There were youths, women, and war veterans’ representatives. The President warned leaders against manipulating the ZANU-PF constitution by imposing preferred candidates through vote-buying. He also warned against attempts to use the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission voters’ roll in conducting primary and district coordinating committees’ elections. Important leaders in ZANU-PF have been expelled Cleveria Chizema and Tendai Savanhu, claiming they were causing divisions and factionalism in the party and province. The party also expelledKiller Zivhu because he called for a dialogue between First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa and MDC-Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa’s wife Sithokozile. It seems President Mnangagwa favours this method of asserting his will on the party, like those that show contrition are allowed to rejoin.

An additional concern for President Mnangagwa is unhappiness from the veterans regarding his plan to compensate white farmers for the 2000-2001 land reform program. President Mnangagwa’s overture towards the white farmers involves either revoking the offer letters given to black farmers, resettled on the land formerly belonging to white farmers and if restitution proves impractical, the intention is to white farmers land elsewhere. Included in the package is $3.5bn in compensation “for infrastructure on the farms they lost”. In September, a group of former fighters filed an application with the High Court against the measure.

The MDC-Alliance is facing several key challenges. First, since the death of Morgan Tsvangirai in 2018 from colon cancer, the group has been unable to challenge the ZANU-PF. Second, the opposition must be circumspect in criticising what is taking place in Zimbabwe as such action would sustain the sanction regime thus harming ordinary Zimbabwean. Consequently, the opposition must balance its actions: encourage demonstrations and opposition to the government while making sure ordinary Zimbabweans are not too affected further by the sanctions.

Economic Outlook

In 2018, the Zimbabwean government introduced the Transitional Stabilisation Programme, which included the re-introduction and stabilisation of the Zimbabwe dollar, rationalisation of the civil service to contain wages, and the foreign currency auction system. Interfuse within this program was controlling Zimbabwe’s runaway inflation.

In September, the Securities and Exchange Commission of Zimbabwe (SECZ) issued a licence for the Victoria Falls Stock Exchange Limited. VFEX is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange. The purpose behind VFEX is to facilitate the inflow of hard currency to Zimbabwe. VFEX is currently finalising the listing and membership requirements, setting up of the trading and depository systems, modalities on the clearing and settlement of transactions. There are also discussions as to the listing bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, depending on the digital asset issuers getting “regulatory approval.” The SCEZ has yet to determine what are cryptocurrencies; they may follow the Nigerian example and classify cryptocurrencies as securities. Notably, over the last two years, the Zimbabwean Central Bank has shifted its position on cryptocurrencies. For example, in 2018 it banned Golix, Zimbabwe’s largest cryptocurrency exchange to noting the value of digital currencies. The Bank may be seeing the potential for bitcoin mining in Zimbabwe, an endeavour that demands a tremendous amount of energy as seen in Ghana which opened Africa’s first mining facility Ghana Dot Com.

The US/EU Aspect

Brian A. Nichols, the U.S. ambassador to Zimbabwe, who has had an interesting relationship with the Mnangagwa administration who at one point labelled him a thug, has spoken on how to improve US-Zimbabwean relations. This change could be related to rumours that the United States is hoping that Zimbabwe could help Mozambique deal with the Islamist insurgency raging in Cabo Delgado. The US Agency for International Development (USAid) will provide approximately US$60 million to the World Food Programme’s Lean Season Food Assistance programme in Zimbabwe. The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention currently has several experts working with the Zimbabwean authorities on healthcare issues.

The EU is less likely to publicly change its position on the sanctions, however, due to the persistent humanitarian crisis, the EU is unlikely to weaken its support for the country. The EU is in the midst of devising a new humanitarian budget as the 2014-2020 budget needs revision (the next budget is due in 2021). The EU would like to see more engagement from regional actors such as the SADC. Nevertheless, despite the imposition of sanctions, the EU’s European Development Fund has continued to support Zimbabweans in three main areas: health, agriculture, and institution-building. This type of support is likely to do continue especially as the EU is showing greater interest in Mozambique due to the huge liquid gas field find and the insurgence in Cabo Delgado.

Summary

Zimbabwe is on the precipice of major changes, some of which are in its hands whereas others depend on the region and the world.

President Mnangagwa has introduced some structural reforms aimed at improving the state of the economy, which have slowed down the economic collapse, although the country is affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and the sanction regime.

It is presumptuous to assume President Mnangagwa is politically safe. He is facing pressure from within ZANU-PF. There is opposition within ZZANU-PF to some of his policies. He is also contending with pressure from a disorganised opposition, which is why he has introduced several new measures all aimed to secure his reign. These measures include weeding out potential threats from within the party and further weaken the opposition.

President Mnangagwa does enjoy some support from his neighbours whose priority is a stable Zimbabwe. There are concerns across the region about growing authoritarianism (including unhappiness with gross human rights violations) in Zimbabwe and a return to Mugabe-style rule. However, the key to many in the region is economics. In other words, there is a belief that by ending Zimbabwe’s economic woes, stability and democracy would take hold. This is why there seems to be regional support for the easing, ideally lifting of sanctions. It is likely the SADC is likely to explore. The SADC may find receptive ears in Washington and Brussels who see great value in Zimbabwe, as both are concerned with the increased Chinese presence in Southern Africa.

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#EndSARSProtests: A Chronicle of Nigeria’s #BlackLivesMatter

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The chilling murder of African-American, George Floyd, back in May, by a couple of ‘white’ police officers in Minneapolis, the United States, would go down as one of the defining moments of 2020. Not only did the unnerving incident further expose the century-old racial cleavages among Americans, it also resulted in weeks of a universal eruption of riots and protests to demand racial equality in America and beyond.

Watching Nigerian youth take to the streets to force an end to police misdemeanours reminds one of the events – which are still ongoing in some cities – in the US after Floyd’s murder. So far, close to a dozen lives have been lost, some fallen to police bullets, since the outbreak of the protests.

Throughout the organic settings of human existence, how to secure lives and maintain social decorum formed a major strand of communal concerns. It is for this reason that, at different stages of mankind’s evolution, the task of security remains atop of other considerations.

According to history, the term ‘police’ is derived from the Latin word ‘polis which loosely translates into the ‘public’. Its popularity is traced to the era of the Greek dominance of world affairs, although the act of policing was first introduced by Egyptian Pharaohs, around 3000BC, to guarantee peace amongst their subjects.

Except for a brief age during the reigns of the Roman Empire when ex-convicts and men of unsound morals were given the policing responsibility, societies the world over always reserve the job of police to untainted individuals simply because they carry an extended authority of a State. In other words, the legitimacy of the political authority in a given society is reflected in the police as an institution. 

A Test of Political Legitimacy

Talking of political legitimacy, the echelon of Nigeria’s leadership appears to be in complete disarray these past days. It has been a period of an unexpected and ceaseless gush of rage by young adults who, for once, surmount the courage to brace the socio-political odds. For far too long, governments across Africa’s Sahara region seemed insulated from mass angst.

While popular citizens’ protests landed like a hurricane and swept away long-standing dictators in North Africa: Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya in the so-called Arab Spring of 2011, political leaders in other regions of Africa escaped the wrath, but only for another day. For the Nigerian youth, the discontent being expressed through the viral #EndSARSProtests is an exhibition of their accumulated frustration against the social inequality and economic deprivations which successive administrations have visited on them.

As usual of leadership from whose grasp power is drifting, the Nigerian government has yielded its hitherto uncompromising posture to assuage the angry youth, but only to be confronted with increased resistance on the streets, daily.

Police as Colonial Construct

For the protesting youth, while their civic role in fixing a particular malady has drawn worldwide applause, it would be more appreciable for all to realize that the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) unit was(is) a mirror through which the larger tumult within the Nigeria Police Force can be viewed. And to extend that elucidation, it is equally pertinent to be told that the problem with the police in Nigeria is as old as the existence of the country.

The western-styled police system as introduced to Nigeria in 1930 by British colonialists was meant – as a protective force – to safeguard the interests of Britain in an alien land. This instrument of colonial construct was established when the Britons stole power and relegated traditional rulers after their conquest of the colony, hence only the stern, unyielding, and unsympathetic are allowed a lapel as police recruits in those days.

With 12,000-men in 1960, the already maligned status of the police became more stunted post-independence, especially when the military took charged of Nigerian affairs in 1966. The police were denied access to adequate funding, basic professional equipment, commensurate remuneration, timely training of personnel, and so forth. Over time, being called a police officer became unappealing to the best brains academically and morally, thus the floodgates were opened largely to unpolished, uneducated, poorly trained persons who see the force as the last route to survival while living in squalors in the name of barracks.

It is, therefore, unsurprising that the police have over the years maintained the unenviable status of the ‘most corrupt’ public institution in Nigeria. In November 2005, a former boss of the police, Tafa Balogun, escaped with a slap on the wrist in the form of six-month imprisonment upon conviction for stealing $100million because – according to the trial judge – the guilty had “shown remorse”. Apparently embarrassed by the brazen degeneration of security across the country, some State Executives in Nigeria recently resorted to launching sub-national security outfits with a mandate similar to that of the ineffective federal government-controlled police force.

Whilst that decision is contested as provincial insubordination to the national government which may eventually spell doom for the county considering its fragility, many see it – nonetheless – as the most fitting response to a social haemorrhage which Abuja lacks the capacity to fix.

Litany of Rights Violations

Earlier in the year, Amnesty International had documented 82 cases of violations of human rights by officers of the dreaded SARS unit between January 2017 and May 2020 hammering on the urgency for reforms and calling for justice to victims of the assaults which include extortion, torture, rape, and killing. In the same vein, the World Internal Security and Police Index (WISPI) ranked Nigeria “the worst performing country” globally in terms of policing in its 2016 report in which concerns were raised that: “There are 219 police officers to 100,000 Nigerians”.

Although the Nigerian government had in 2017 signed the Anti-Torture Act into law, yet the reality on the ground contradicts the letters of the law. Many of the abuses recorded by Amnesty’s investigation into the operations of SARS revealed a similar pattern of excruciating body and mental torture of victims in the hands of the security agents. A 2020 documentary by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) entitled “The Torture Virus detailed how Nigerian security operatives, including members of the defunct SARS, regularly employ a painful torture technique called ‘tabay’ on suspects in their custody.

Unconfirmed reports indicate that as many as 150,000 of the current 400,000 personnel in the Nigeria Police serve as personal guards to Very Important Personalities (VIPs), mostly politicians, musicians, moguls, expatriates etc; basically to anyone and everyone who can personally afford to service the personnel financially. This leaves the policing obligations of the majority of the estimated 200million population to an insignificant 250,000 police officers, representing a ratio of 1 police officer to 668 persons, a far cry from the United Nations’ standard of one police to 400 persons.

It remains to be seen how the faltering political authority in Nigeria is able to turn the table in the face of a popular resentment by the youth. However, it is safe to presume that, judging by the latest happenings, the younger mass of Nigeria’s population would henceforth refuse to be pacified with the superficial lullabies of the past.

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