At the moment, many young and aggrieved Nigerians are at daggers drawn with a unit of the Nigeria Police – the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, otherwise known as SARS.
From Lagos to Osun, Oyo to Delta, youths in their hundreds are marching through the streets and chanting songs of rage. They are united in their demand, and their demand is clear. They want this special unit of the police force to be scrapped. They are pursuing this sole goal with the hashtag #EndSARS.
The heat is on, emotions are running fast and furious like a fountain of angry, untamed waters.
On Sunday, the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, announced the disbandment of the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad of the Nigeria Police Force.
He said the operatives would be redeployed to other police formations and commands.
Some of the inscriptions on the placards displayed by the demonstrators read: Looking fresh is not a crime; Be our friend, not our end; To be modern is not a crime; Say no to police brutality; Being a youth is not a crime; and SARS operatives are our phobia, among others.
This is not the first time dissatisfied Nigerians are revolting against SARS. This is more or less a re-launch to continue the campaign to push that arm of the police into extinction. It all started on the social media, calling on Nigerians to rise up against the police unit, which had consistently been accused of gross violation of human rights.
This time, the protesters appear not ready to listen to any routine political talk or promises. They want action to be taken without further delay.
While expressing their grievances and frustrations, many Nigerians have accused the squad of molestation, extortion, oppression, maiming and killing of suspects as well as innocent people. These security operatives have also been accused of a legion of human rights abuses, ranging from extrajudicial killings to extortion to unlawful detention and armed robbery.
With the renewed protests nationwide, more and more Nigerians have been voicing their concerns, some doing so vehemently. They are calling on President Muhammadu Buhari and the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, to scrap the agency forthwith.
A security expert, a retired officer of the Nigerian Air Force, Otakhor Okunbo, told Daily Sun that the #EndSARS protest again reveals that Nigerian youths were upset and the matter needed urgent attention.
He reminded the Nigeria Police Force that SARS was created to tackle robbery, kidnapping and other related crimes. But he lamented that this set of policemen were culpable of meddling into all manner of trivial matters.
“You see them intimidating youths with laptops and smart phones. In this age of information technology, there is no profession that does not require these gadgets. We understand that many young men engage in Internet fraud but it is not enough reason to be searching every laptop or sophisticated phone seen with these youths.
“If the police force cannot police itself by curtailing the excesses of these trigger-happy operatives, then the rest of the society is in trouble,” he said.
According to him, flagrant disobedience of laws that govern the rights and freedom of Nigerians and the country’s Constitution has no place in a democracy.
In response to the public outcry, the IGP has ordered the suspension of roadblocks and other activities of SARS across the country, pending when issues surrounding its operations would be resolved.
But many people are worried and asking what happened to the assurances given by the IGP in 2015 and 2017 that there would be reforms and reorganisation of SARS. From the latest order, it seems the previous attempts were unsuccessful or even ignored outright by the operatives.
Many stakeholders, including federal lawmakers, have also observed that it was difficult to differentiate between armed robbers and SARS operatives because of their dressing.
Indeed, there is hardly anyone who has encountered SARS that has not got one sad tale or the other to tell.
The accusations are endless. Many victims have shared their experiences on how they coughed out hundreds of thousands of naira under duress, for committing no crime. Paying such a huge amount of money was to escape further torture in the hands of their tormentors. Many of the cases are said to be settled even before getting to any station but not until a reasonable amount of money has changed hands.
Some victims of SARS have also accused its operatives of being willing tools in the hands of politicians and influential people in society who use policemen to settle scores.
When they strike, it is always in commando style. Explanations by the suspects are usually rebuffed. When one is on their black book, one is bundled into their ever-moving vehicle, and the victim could be taken from one state to another. The fellow could be locked up for days under harsh conditions.
However, not every Nigerian believes that SARS is entirely guilty of all the accusations against them. These people insist that, rather than disband the unit as some people are demanding, it should be reformed with caution, contending that not doing so would amount to throwing away the baby with the bath water. Their argument is that, if SARS is scrapped as it is being championed, armed robbery would be on a steady climb and everybody would be in for it.
In proffering a lasting solution, many pundits have canvassed encouragement for the personnel and appropriate disciplinary measures be meted out to erring operatives. They are also recommending that the police should be allowed to fish out the bad eggs in their ranks and sanitise the force.
Other commentators have said that there was the need to reform not only SARS but the entire police machinery, while particular attention should be paid to the education of operatives.
“It will shock you to know that most of these operatives know nothing about human rights, yet they are given rifles to handle. They should be conversant with the United Nations (UN) and African Union (AU) charters on human rights. They should be conversant with the rights of the people as enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution,” noted Akinyemi Ayobami, who lives in Lagos.
The #EndSARS peaceful campaign continued at the weekend with young Nigerians who occupied the entrance to the Lagos State House of Assembly Complex rebuffing efforts by the Deputy Governor, Dr. Obafemi Hamzat, Assemby, Speaker, Mudashiru Obasa, and others to vacate the area.
The protesters, who spent the night at the entrance of the complex, were demanding an immediate response and immediate disbandment of SARS.
Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, also stood still on Friday for more than five hours as students and youths staged the #EndSARS protest, which halted human and vehicular movement in different parts of the city.
On behalf of the governor of Lagos State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, the Commissioner for Information, Gbenga Omotosho, said that the state government has noted the protests against the reported highhandedness of the SARS operatives.
“We know how painful it is to be victims of police brutality. It is not good. The message of the protests is clear – such acts of brutality must stop. We agree. Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu is discussing the issue with the police authorities and hopes that the matter will be resolved in the interest of our teeming youths and in the spirit of democracy,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Delta State Police Command, last Friday, said that nine persons have so far been arrested in connection with the murder of a Corporal, Etaga Stanley, during the #EndSARS protest in Ughelli on Thursday, after which his service AK-47 rifle with 25 rounds of ammunition was stolen.
Lending his voice to the debate, a Lagos-based lawyer, Hafis Olalekan Olaniyan, said: “There has to be an end to police brutality, SARS harassment and unlawful killing of Nigerians, especially young and successful youths. Freedom can never be given voluntarily by the oppressors, but it can be taken by the people through persistent agitations.”
On his part, human rights activist, Kunle Adegoke, told the reporter that the campaign was a necessary reaction to what he termed the “idiocy” that has characterised police operations in Nigeria for quite a long time. He lamented that policing has been turned into an anti-people business of the government.
Said he: “I believe the ban on the operations of men of SARS is well-intended but it cannot halt the abuse of human rights by police officers. These SARS men were policemen first before they were departmentalised into SARS. After the ban on the operations of SARS on the roads, these men are still in the force as officers. Their orientation and corrupt nature remain with them as police officers, no matter the department they are sent to or whatever is the restriction placed on their operations.
“These men carry on their nefarious activities as men licensed to do so by the system, which in itself is corrupt and completely disoriented. We must look into the orientation and attitude of these men and seek to overhaul their mentality. Without such an effort, we are only winking in the dark.
“There must be a new approach to recruitment and training of police officers in this country. A police force with a vandal or brutal mentality cannot police a civil society that has long been a subject of human rights abuse. We must also look into the welfare and remuneration system of the police as an institution. While this may not change those who are inherently corrupt and mentally deranged in the force, it will minimise the rate at which their mentality is abused by the system that is hypocritical against itself and shields corruption in all sectors.
“The majority of men of SARS and even the police in general are not fit to be in the force. They must be weeded out and re-trained. The rate at which they brutalise and kill citizens only proves that they are less than human and cannot be restrained by a mere presidential fiat or IGP proclamation. The question is, who will police the Nigeria Police when they continue their violations of human rights in places far from the supervision of the top echelon of the force, or in places shielded against vigilant members of the public? I think there must be a total overhaul of the force to justify our claim to membership of a civilised race.”
Also showing concern, the Lagos State House of Assembly has demanded the proscription of the special squad and the introduction of a new and well-structured security outfit in its place.
The House also called on the Commissioner of Police in Lagos State, Hakeem Odumosu, to provide protection for the protesters while they express their grievances.
The call was made at an emergency sitting presided over by Obasa. The meeting was intended to add to the current call across the nation for an end to the alleged inhuman activities of SARS.