Endless SARS reforms

THIS week, for the fourth time in four years, the office of the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) banned personnel of the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (FSARS) from carrying out routine patrols, stop and search duties, and mounting of roadblocks and traffic checks. The IGP was reacting to public outcry, particularly the hashtag #ENDSARS which had trended for about 48 hours, with photos, videos, tweets and posts calling for an end to SARS in the country. In a statement by the Force Public Relations Officer, DCP Frank Mba, the IGP, Mohammed Adamu, also banned other tactical squads of the force, including the Special Tactical Squad, Intelligence Response Team, Anti-Cultism Squad and others operating at the federal, zonal and command levels with immediate effect. He added that no personnel of the force was authorised to embark on patrols or tactical assignments in mufti, stressing that officers must always appear in their uniforms or approved tactical gear.

Specifically, the IGP warned the tactical squads against the invasion of citizens’ privacy, particularly through the indiscriminate and unauthorised search of mobile phones, laptops and other smart devices, urging them to concentrate and respond only to cases of armed robbery, kidnapping and other violent crimes. The latest announcement, like the others that came before it, came on the heels of the outcry by Nigerians on various social media handles about incessant killings, brutality, harassment of youths and various abuses of human rights.

To say the least, the latest order by the police headquarters does nothing to move the needle regarding the endless atrocities by SARS operatives. Nigerians have travelled this road of bogus orders before. For instance, while announcing the prohibition of SARS from stop and search operations in December 2017, the then IGP, Ibrahim Idris, had promised to restructure and reposition the unit for effective service delivery. He had followed up by another order in August 2018 for an immediate overhauling of SARS, this time in compliance with a directive by then acting president, Professor Yemi Osinbajo. Osinbajo had directed the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to immediately set up a committee which would be entrusted with conducting a nationwide investigation into alleged torture and other malfeasances perpetrated by SARS operatives over the years. According to him, the aim was to give members of the public the opportunity to present evidence of SARS brutality so that appropriate measures could be taken towards revamping it. Thus, IGP Idris ordered an immediate medical and psychological evaluation of all SARS officers, and instant inquiry by the IGP X-Squad of the force into the allegations levelled against SARS personnel across the country.

Then in January 2019, the current IGP disbanded the FSARS and ordered state police commissioners to take over the squads in their locations. Shortly afterwards, President Muhammadu Buhari also directed the IGP, Ministry of Justice and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to work out modalities for the implementation of the report of the Presidential Panel on the Reform of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) within three months. Among others, the panel had recommended the establishment of state and local government police and the renaming of SARS to Anti-Robbery Section (ARS), its original name, and to make the section operate under the intelligence arm of the police. Next, following the killing of Remo Stars Football club player, Tiamiyu Kazeem, in February this year, by operatives of ZIS SARS, Obada-Oko, Abeokuta, the IGP had announced the disbandment of SARS offices nationwide. Now, vice President Osinbajo, governors and other highly placed Nigerians have again called for an end to SARS brutality, with many others calling for outright proscription of the outfit.

What the IGP’s latest orders shows, in our own view, is that the authorities have been taking Nigerians for a ride all along. Regardless of the hollow promises by the government and the police hierarchy, SARS operatives have continued to harass, brutalise, kill and maim hapless citizens without let. As if to bring their utter insincerity into bold relief, the authorities only make pronouncements regarding the restructuring of SARS after grievous acts of terror by members of the outfit. Realising that the pronouncements of their bosses and the government are mere sound bites, the SARS operatives have become even more emboldened to perpetrate the most infamous crimes. If recent reports are any indication, they have continued to extort, rob and kill innocent citizens at will. They subject women arrested in lieu of their boyfriends or lovers to the most bizarre lines of questioning, committing sexual harassment under the guise of fishing for evidence. In a heartrending incident, a lady even narrated how the operatives forced her to get dressed in their presence after invading her room while looking for a male suspect in the same house, and finding her in a state of undress. This is no longer policing by any stretch of the imagination.

Against the backdrop of the serial crimes by SARS operatives, it amounts to toying with the emotions of Nigerians to be issuing fresh orders to SARS operatives without the slightest evidence that previous orders have been obeyed. On current evidence, SARS has become a lawless oufit quite beyond the control of the Force Headquarters. In previous editorials, we  came to the conclusion that SARS has to be wound down if improvements in the conduct of its personnel cannot be guaranteed, noting that it had continued to contribute significantly to the low life expectancy in the country. That is still our position.

 

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