ON August 14, the then Acting President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, ordered the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Ibrahim Idris, to immediately embark on a total overhaul of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). In the same vein, Osinbajo 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 Osinbajo, 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.
It will be recalled that the public space had, for a long time, been inundated with complaints and grievances of Nigerians who saw SARS as a brutal outfit whose main focus was to inflict tyranny, death and sorrow on members of the public. There was hardly a day when the newspapers and other information outlets were not replete with cries of gross abuses and the use of SARS as an instrument of coercion causing the citizenry sorrow. The human rights abuses had reached a frightening crescendo that no responsible government could turn a deaf ear to.
However, shortly after the presidential directive, the office of the Inspector General of Police told Nigerians that he had fully complied with it. The force spokesman, Jimoh Moshood, added that it had even introduced new measures to curb crime in the country. One of such was the change of name: SARS would now be known as the Federal SARS (F-SARS). “The Inspector General of Police, in compliance with the presidential directive, has ordered the immediate overhauling of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) to address complaints and allegations of human rights violations against some of the personnel of SARS from members of the public in some parts of the country,” Moshood said. In his words, the “reformed” SARS men would now wear tags as a symbolic manifestation of the overhaul that the acting President ordered.
It appears that the IGP either did not understand the import of an overhaul or believed that the tokenism he offered could becloud the demand which the presidency gave. Clearly, the change of name and administrative operations which Mr. Idris has carried out were not what the presidency had in mind when that order was issued. It was the groans of Nigerians, many of whom had been victims of SARS’ human rights abuses, that necessitated the order for the police outfit to undergo total transformation, not only in form but also in content. The activities of SARS are antithetical to democracy and the overall well-being of the people of Nigeria. What the acting president wanted was the mutation of SARS from a draconian ensemble into a reformed apparatus with a human face. Obviously, Nigerians desire an outfit which would carry out its lawful duties without mindlessly mowing innocent citizens down on a daily basis, one that is mindful of the rights of the people in a democracy.
Surely, radical systemic change could not have been effected in just a few hours. To achieve this objective, the police would need to critically examine the findings of the panel of enquiry investigating past abuses by SARS. The memoranda received from victims of SARS over the years would allow the panel to curtail the trend of terror in the operations of the outfit. Truth be told, Nigerians expect SARS terror to end and that is the key issue. What Mr. Idris however did with his administrative tokenism is analogous to dressing a cracked surface with wallpaper, thus hiding the cracks which could cause the collapse of the whole structure. This is objectionable to the people of Nigeria and should be rejected by the presidency.
To be sure, SARS’ terror in virtually all the nooks and crannies of Nigeria is a culmination of the rot in the Nigeria Police over the years. It goes without saying, therefore, that the beneficiaries of the decades of rot will never want an end to it. That would signpost an end to their dividends from illegality. This is why the presidency must follow its order through and ensure total compliance.