Quentin Tarantino, an American Filmmaker, emotionally uttered some words that soaked my eyes in tears. He complained, “Just because I was at an anti-police brutality protest doesn’t mean I’m anti-police. We want Justice, but stop shooting unarmed people.” Incontestably, I know that it is hard to believe the disconcerting fact that the people you look up to for safety and security are the same people who are causing you so much griefs and pains. However, this is the sad reality we are contending with in Ogun State, today, which is a microcosm of what is obtainable in many other states as midwifed by the activities of the operatives of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad otherwise known as SARS!
SARS is one the 14 units in the Force Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department(FCIID)which was established to detain, investigate and prosecute people involved in crimes like armed robbery, kidnapping and other forms of crimes. SARS officers carry guns, but they neither wear Nigerian Police uniforms, nor do they wear badges. You will only recognise them by the name, “Special Anti-Roberry Squad” crested on their polo.
The operation of SARS in Nigeria started with death- It was founded in 1992 by a former police commissioner, Simeon Danladi Midenda, when Col. Rindam, a Nigerian Army Colonel was killed by police officers at a checkpoint in Lagos. When the information got to the Army, soldiers were drafted to the streets of Lagos in search of Police officers. The Nigerian Police withdrew from checkpoints, security areas and other places of interests of criminals. In the absence of Police for two weeks, crime rates increased and SARS was formed with only 15 officers operating in the shadows without the knowledge of the Army while monitoring police radio chatters- and it has continued to increase the number of death cases attributed to it. The Frankenstein monster they birthed and nurtured on our commonwealth is now fully grown and asking for blood. This arm of police has, in recent times, been at the core of allegations of extra-judicial killings, wanton arrests and dispossession of properties through physical assaults and other intimidation tactics.
For example, in 2018, a panel that was setup to investigate the case of some four officers of SARS- Sgt. Adeoye Adekunle, Sgt. Adekitan Adebowale, Sgt. Agbi Lucky and Sgt. Odighe Hehosa- recommended them for dismissal on the grounds of armed robbery, kidnapping, unlawful detention and intimidation, as well as threatening violence as occasioned by the report of investigation carried out on a petition (dated May 2, 2018) against them by Citizen Chukwudi Godwin Odionye, popularly referred to as ‘Bishop’.
The Police brief on the matter goes thus : “The petitioner stated that on June 4, 2017, he was in his house around Alagbado area of the state, when four armed men stormed his house to effect his arrest on the allegation of performing ‘Fake’ miracles.
“He stated that after his arrest, he was taken to one hotel at Agege, where he was detained and threatened to be killed, if he fails to cooperate.
“He explained further that the following day, June 5, 2017, he was taken to the bank where he was made to transfer N7 million to the account of one of the operatives.” This is a pure case of threat, harassment, psychological brutality amongst other things.
Similarly, sometime last year, the Governor of Rivers State, Nyesome Wike lamented, “Most of the kidnappings and armed robberies taking place in this state are done by men of SARS. They use exhibit vehicles to operate. As the Chief Security Officer of the state, you complain, but they choose to play politics with crime.
“They fight crime in some states but they refuse to fight crime in Rivers State. We are done with the elections, but they are using SARS to create insecurity in the state. As I speak with you, they will deny.
“I have never seen a country where they politicise crime. It is very obvious that they want to give the impression that Rivers State is unsafe. They want to instill fear preparatory to declaring during the elections that there are so many killings. Authorities deliberately trying to destroy a whole state and you want the people to be happy. I will no longer write (to the IGP). Now is the time to take my case to the public for the whole world to know what is happening”. Yes, he frontally accused the operatives of SARS in his state for Kidnapping and robbery cases in the state.
A policeman once told me that his friend who is an officer in the SARS unit once called him and remarked, “Kay, I now have a big flatscreen Tv o. We went to raid one yahoo boy’s home. Since he’s unable to pay, we have shared his properties amongst ourselves. I took the TV”. This is completely shameful and unprofessional. I believe any confiscated property, with necessary backups from a court of law, belongs to the government and not any individual.
Earlier last week, there was a sketchy news that a number of deaths were allegedly caused on Lagos-Abeokuta highway, Obada Specifically, by operatives of the SARS. I had just left my cousin’s house at Ile-Ise Awo when I saw dead bodies that were being conveyed to the mortuary. When I got to the spot where the accident had occurred, I saw a wrecked articulated vehicle that had mangled some two to three Toyota Micra. Eye-witnesses explained that a SARS vehicle had plied one-way which had led to the driver of the articulated vehicle’s reckless swerving that eventually marked the death of users of the road at that moment.
In a similar style, some few days after in Olomore, Abeokuta, another incidence surfaced. A mayhem broke out at Olomoore; as Hausa Fulani youths in the area barricaded the Sango/Abeokuta road where they protested the alleged killing of one of their kinsmen by some operatives of the State anti robbery squad- SARS. It was reported that they were after a “Yahoo boy” and they recklessly fired shots that killed a Hausa man. The Hausa/youths traders at the Olomore Market made bonfires on both sides of the dual carriage road and unrest rocked the day.
Last week Saturday, (22/02/2020) SARS hit the national headlines for the wrong reasons again, in Sagamu, Ogun State, on account of the death of a Remo Stars Footballer, Tiamiyu Kazeem otherwise known as Kaka. It was most unfortunate that unprofessionalism-by the men of SARS- was allowed to dominate security and a tragedy resulting in needless killings and destruction occurred, to the consternation of the world. A sparkling light was extinguished in its prime; it is execrably dispiriting at best and condemnable at worst.
As usual in such incidents, there has been a blame game between the Nigerian Police and the Citizens who have always been the victims of these violence. From available information, shred from exaggeration, the operatives of the SARS had arrested the young player, he was pushed down from the bus(although the Police PRO in Ogun State had noted he tried to escape from the bus) and a hit-an-run driver crushed him. Protests followed the player’s death in Sagamu. Some protesters allegedly attacked the police and some varying degrees of injuries were recorded on both sides.
The actions of the two sides are condemnable as two wrongs do not make a right.
Human life is precious and legal means must always be adopted before it is taken. A situation in which a fly was hit with a sledge hammer as was witnessed last weekend is a travesty of justice and a dent on the image of Nigeria Police- SARS. This is more so at a critical period in the life of the nation when damning corruption revelations and ongoing insurgency are not giving Nigeria the best of image. The words of that eminent American historian, Mary Frances Berry, a Geraldine R. Segal Professor of American Social Thought and professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania, are apt here, she thundered, “When you have police officers who abuse citizens, you erode public confidence in law enforcement. That makes the job of good police officers unsafe”. Little wonder many Nigerians have lost confidence in the protection of the Police.
As reflected by the foregoing, we do not have to be in a war ravaged area before we feel unsafe; we do not have to be a foreigner in a place before we feel unsecured. Certainly, we can be in our own Fatherland and have our heart in our mouth as midwifed by the trigger-happy policemen who we meet with at every junction and corner- they even come to our streets and houses to unleash fears and terror on us.
Conspicuously, taken the recent actions of the operatives of SARS into consideration, we wouldn’t be wrong if we conclude that Ogun residents are unsafe from attacks. This time, it is not even from robbers and kidnappers, it is from the police who are meant to protect them. When the protector turns the intimidator, who do we run to?
Laudably, this is where the governor of Ogun State, Prince Dapo Abiodun, comes in. The Governor exemplified humanity and leadership when these incidences happened as he either went to the scenes of these unrest in person or sent capable hands to the places. Ordinarily, when disasters happen, most Nigerian leaders visit the places and houses of eminent people who are affected. Most of them neglect the ordinary people that could have been affected too.
However, on Tuesday (25/02/2020), Governor Dapo Abiodun alongside the Deputy Inspector General of Police in charge of Criminal Investigations Department Force Headquarters, Peter Ogunyonwo, visited the family of the deceased player, commiserated with them and assured them that the state government will investigate the alleged killing of Remo Stars Football Club assistant captain, Kazeem Tiyamiyu, otherwise known as Kaka. He described his death as unfortunate and urged the players, management and supporters of the Football Club as well as the residents of Sagamu to remain calm, saying the killer would be brought to justice.
In light of that, it was reported that the Inspector-General of Police, Muhammed Adamu, on Tuesday, announced the disbandment of the Zonal Intervention Squad(ZIS), Obada-Oko, Ogun State as announced on his behalf by DIG Ogunyowo who was with the Governor on his visit to the deceased family- a commendable move as a first and giant step into the case.
It was reported that the governor assured the family and the people of Ogun that a proper, transparent and independent investigation would be immediately launched into the case, adding that his government will not take the lives and properties of the people of the state with levity. Contrary to most leaders’ lackadaisical attitude towards commiserating with the people they lead, this act is laudable and it validates some proverbial sayings in Yorubaland such as: “Ka dupe lowo eniti orini moju, aimoye eniyan ni o wo ibiti awa”, “eniti o di kuuku t’oni kagba, ti oba ni jube lo, yio se jube lo” these can be sparingly translated to be, “ the one who sees one and scornfully blink his/her eyes deserves to be appreciated as they had inadvertently acknowledged our presence, there are many people who wouldn’t acknowledge our presence”, “the one who had presented us with a clenched fist as gift has a good heart, if such person has abundant resources, he/she will give us out of it” respectively.
It is important to note, however, that on several occasions, the exploits of SARS had saved many lives, aborted robberies, assassinations and other crimes. On Lagos- Ibadan expressway, for instance, I had once profited from the quick and efficient intervention of men of SARS for which they displayed gallantry. There were reports that men of the underworld were operating some meters away from my bus on Lagos-Ibadan expressway, they sped past us; by the time we got to the point, we saw that they had arrested and disarmed the criminals. Yet, when they go overboard, when they seem to be agents and catalysts for the same crime they were supposed to combat, they should be scolded.
Undoubtedly, to be a Nigerian is to be an original victim of the many vices and problems associated with poor governance and bad leadership. To complicate our lamentable situations further is to induce violence- because of the highhandedness of security operatives- or conflict so that even the ordinary air being enjoyed will be difficult with disruption and destruction of life’s ecosystem. In essence, everyone is a victim-both citizens and security operatives- all together as the line and the fowl that perches on it are uncomfortable.
On the menace of SARS’ high-handedness and the security of the citizenry, some of the following may be considered: federal policing should be excused from our communities, except in emergency situations or to give support when the scope demands. Also, we should have proper State Police reporting to the governors and other local authorities with the inclusion of traditional rulers/leaders so as to engender an effective and efficient community-policing.
Incontrovertibly, an officer who is a native (and posted to) of a particular place or had been a resident of such place for many years- has his family(ies) settled in a locality- may never shoot someone dead in that place or commit a heinous crime in the place. As a matter of fact, this will effect a great sense of accountability and effectiveness in many ways.
Leadership is also a major requirement needed to address the hydra-headed problems of policing confronting us. And, in theorising leadership, I will consider it in the allegory of the prophetic conception of everyone as a leader or a shepherd responsible to some flock.
In other words, everyone is a leader, not only those who occupy political, traditional, religious and other formal and informal leadership positions. So, no one can pass the buck; it is everyone’s responsibility to be part of the solution, not only focusing on some distant leaders while idling and fritting away valuable time. Essentially, the intimidating monstrosity of the men of SARS and Police at large can only be tackled if all hands are on deck to address the issue through unity of purpose.
In conclusion, to transform these fears and overcome our challenges on this menace, it takes us all as leaders at all strata to do the needful in terms of maintaining social justice, deploying preventive diplomacy, promoting peace education, facilitating citizen-police dialogues, reporting crimes and suspected criminals activities in our neighbourhood to the police, prioritise discipline, character and the virtue of loving one’s brother as oneself, embracing Alternative Dispute Resolution, engendering rule of law, giving social security to people and practising and preaching peace while we all shun and disallow violence.
Fatai, a corps member, writes in from the Ministry of Information and Strategy, Oke Mosan, Abeokuta, Ogun State