In the last five days, Nigeria has been roiled by protests in some States calling for an end to SARS. The hashtag #ENDSARS has been trending on major social media platforms in the country and other places. Celebrities, entertainers, and football stars, in some parts of Europe and the United States of America, have also joined the protest.
In response to the protest, the Police Authority announced the disbandment of SARS and promised to carry out some reforms. It also promised to investigate the abuses and violations alleged against the men and officers of SARS whom the IG said will be transferred to other units of Police.
The Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) is a branch of the Nigeria Police Force under the Force Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department (FCIID).
The squad deals with crimes associated with armed robbery, car snatching, kidnapping, cattle rustling, and crimes associated with firearms- violent crimes. It was established in 1992 in Lagos following the unfortunate killing of Colonel, Israel Ridnam by some policemen in Yaba, Lagos. The killing led to reprisal attacks on the police by soldiers irked by the brutal killing of one of their own. Policemen disappeared from the streets of Lagos, leading to an uptick in crimes necessitating the deployment of a secret police team to the streets. The effectiveness of the team in combating violent crimes led to its establishment across police formations in the country.
SARS has nothing to do with cybercrime, settlement of personal scores, eviction of tenants, land, property, marriage disputes and many others. But these are the areas that the grossest and gravest abuses and violations to the rights of the citizens happened leading to torture and murder in many cases and in so many places. It is commonplace to see operatives of SARS hanging around Banks and arresting some young people coming or going into the Banks.
I was involved in a case where operatives of SARS seised the brother of my neighbor who had gone to the Bank to cash the Western Union sent to him. They accused him of being a yahoo yahoo boy (fraudster), his protest and explanation meant nothing to them. They took him to an ATM and forced him to withdraw N30k for them. I took up the matter with the Police and got the men to refund the money to him. He was lucky to have escaped with his life because they kept threatening to kill him if he didn’t pay them. SARS became ruthlessly effective in abusing and violating the rights and privileges of our citizens than in performing their core duties- fighting violent crimes.
We need a specialized unit of the Police to fight violent crimes.
A sort of SWAT Team (Special Weapons and Tactics) – highly trained police officers who deal with very dangerous and violent criminals in the United States of America.
They, unlike SARS, are not engaged in all police activities like SARS. They are called upon to take down violent and dangerous criminals that the usual police officers may not be able to do. They have heavy weapons and are clinically efficient. SARS was established to operate like SWAT, unfortunately, like many things in Nigeria, it became everything to everyone in the police and country, leading to the protest to end it. Members of SARS are policemen.
The members with the same mindset, mentality, and attitudes, will be transferred to other units of the police thereby continuing with the abuses and violations, or accentuating them.
It is not only members of SARS that are guilty of abuses and violations of the rights of citizens, all police units, divisions, and commands in the country are involved. You only need to visit any police station in the country to see things for yourself.
On daily basis, I see policemen between Sheraton hotel and Opebi in Ikeja violate the rights of citizens by ransacking their vehicles, searching their phones, laptops, and persons like criminals. On many occasions I confronted them, and the response is always” what is your business, did we stop you”? My response has always been ”You didn’t stop me but it is my right to point out to you what you are doing wrongly”. They’ll smile and let them go.
But nonetheless, we need a specialized unit within the police to take on violent crimes that are on the increase in the country. The regular police are unsuitable and unfit to take on violent crimes.
The Police Authority must as a matter of urgency embark on thorough and effective reforms of the Force that will inculcate in the men and officers respect for the rights of citizens, global best practices, and the rule of law.
The issues of recruitment, training, retraining, remuneration, and welfare, should be given overriding importance. The practice of recruiting unfit and unsuitable people into the force must be discontinued in favour of fit and qualified people.
Many young people will be willing to join the Police if it is given the honour and respect it deserved.
I hope that in the future, we can call on the energy and resilience which we deployed to fight SARS to other important issues like Corruption, Costs of Governance, and so on!