Over the last week, some Nigerians have taken to the social media platform, twitter, to call for the scrapping of the Special Anti Robbery Squad (SAS) following repeated complaints of assaults, harassments, inhuman and degrading treatment and torture, unlawful and extrajudicial killings by SARS operatives. Many people took to twitter to share their experiences in the hands of the dare-devil operatives. An online petition, with tens of thousands of signatories, has been submitted to the National Assembly seeking the scrapping of the unit. The twitter campaign was triggered by a twitter user who tweeted in shock that a SARS officer just shot a boy in the head right in front of him. Before long, the hashtag #endSARS was created to demand the scrapping of the unit.
To be sure, the Special Anti Robbery Squad is a branch of the Nigerian police created to fight violent crimes especially armed robbery and kidnapping. It evolved overtime from outfits created by different states to fight armed robbery, kidnapping and other violent crime into a full fledge unit under the criminal investigations department of the police command. Although the police high command says it trains officers on human rights, experiences of Nigerians in the hands of the SARS operatives shows a force that has become more dreaded than the robbers and kidnappers they were created to fight. A twitter use – Uncle Ajala twitted that “SARS: Special anti robbery squad are now doing the robbery in Nigeria. Most of the tweets equally reported cases of harassment, arbitrary arrest and extortion of Nigerian youths especially. SARS that were created to stop robbery are now robbing people.” Even a former policeman, Senator Hamman Misau, representing Bauchi Central and a retired Deputy Superintendent of Police, also supported the scrapping of the unit. In his contribution on the floor of the Senate the Senator said “… I have in the last few months received several petitions from my constituency against SARS. The complaints vary from extra-judicial killings, brutality, torture, arrest for bribe and other menacing conduct by the men of the unit.”
In a 2016 report on the activities of SARS by Amnesty International, the global human rights watchdog has this to say about the SARS unit.
The Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a special branch of the Nigeria police created to fight violent crime, is responsible for widespread torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (other ill-treatment) of detainees in their custody. Amnesty International’s research shows that detainees, both men and women, are subjected to various methods of torture and ill- treatment in order to extract information and “confessions”. Such methods include severe beating, hanging, starvation, shooting in the legs, mock executions and threats of execution. Amnesty international’s research also shows that SARS officers involved in the torture and other ill-treatment of detainees are rarely held to account and in some cases are transferred to another location to avoid punishment.
The issue of corruption and arbitrary use of powers by the police has been a longstanding one with political authorities over the years proving incapable of reforming the police. Even with the change mantra and anti-corruption stance of the present administration, the police have remained incorrigible.
On this page on August 3, 2017, I shared my experience of the police thus:
Last week I travelled, by road, through Benin, Anambra and Enugu, to Benue state. The entire stretch of the road was littered with policemen, Federal Road Safety (FRSC) officials, Customs and at times soldiers. The sheer number of these security officials on the road presents a picture that all of Nigeria’s insecurity problems were at the highways – I was left wondering how many police personnel were left to protect citizens in cities, towns and villages. At every stop – which can be only 2 kilometres apart in some cases – these security men kept harassing, extorting and delaying travellers on the road. The policemen were not particularly bothered about checking for contraband or incriminating materials but just checking car documents to discover any anomaly, which they will seize upon to extort money from the drivers of the vehicles. So hungry and beggarly did they look and behave that, most times, they didn’t wait to discover any anomaly with vehicles before demanding settlement in threatening tones. The unspoken threat was “It’s either you settle us or we’ll keep you here with us”.
What was more, in September, the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in collaboration with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the European Union released the report of a study that listed the Nigerian police as the most corrupt institution in the country. This is not the first time a survey is showing the Nigerian police as the most corrupt institution in Nigeria. Practically all surveys done on corruption in Nigeria since 1999 have ranked the police tops in corruption in the country.
Equally, same month, Senator Misau accused the Inspector General of Police of wanton corruption and bribe-taking in discharging his duties. The Senator accused the IGP of pocketing over N120 billion annually from payment for special security services rendered by the police to corporate organisations and very important personalities. Hear him: “The IGP, on good authority from within the force, collects over N10billion on monthly basis as money for special security provided by men of the Force to corporate bodies and highly placed individuals, including criminals, running to N120billion on yearly basis without any reflection in Police annual budgets or internally generated revenue.”
Sadly, according to Misau, the over 50, 000 police personnel deployed to perform such duties don’t benefit from the money. The organisations and individuals requiring their services have to settle them separately.
Senator Misau didn’t stop there. He further alleged that postings of officers in the force such as state Police Commissioners (CPs) or Mobile Commanders are usually on the basis of N10million to N15million bribe payment. In summation, Senator Misau described the police under Idris as “a cesspool of corruption, nepotism, indiscipline, favouritism.”
But instead of probing the allegations made against the IGP and police, the Senator was charged to court by the Attorney General for levelling unsubstantiated allegations against the IGP.
Following the growing outrage against SARS the IGP, on Sunday sought to assuage the complainants by ordering the immediate reorganisation of the notorious units. This is a well travelled route.
Since 1999 there has not been a police boss that has not hypocritically ordered the dismantling of the notorious police road-blocks in Nigeria. But till date, those road blocks still exists in all nooks and crannies of the country and serve as the medium for the extortion of, and killing of Nigerians and road users who refused to settle the policemen.
For now, the complainants have rejected the reorganisation ordered by the IGP and are insisting on the complete scrapping of the units. I hope they will stay the course and see not only to the complete scrapping of the units but the wholesale reform of the police to one that will serve and protect the citizenry as it was constitutionally mandated to do.