A coalition of civil society groups under the aegis of the Action Group on Free Civic Space has released a new well-researched report detailing the atrocities perpetrated by the now-disbanded Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS).
The report, the product of a fact-finding mission of the coalition, gave a rare insight into the workings of SARS, especially in the South East where its operatives were believed to be the deadliest.
In the report, evidence and all relevant proofs of SARS victims were well documented, patterns of torture established, and identities of the erring operatives revealed.
The report also focused attention on Awkuzu, the deadliest unit of SARS in Nigeria—and Enugu, documenting the personal experiences and eye-witness accounts of several victims and indigenes of the communities who were terrorized and dehumanised by SARS operatives in the two states.
The coalition during in a press statement that followed the launch of the report on Friday that “The fact-finding mission team documented twelve established patterns and motivations for extreme violence by SARS operatives in Anambra, Enugu as well as other parts of the country. These patterns include the deployment of SARS to settle personal scores; use of pseudonyms to disguise their real identities; prolonged detentions, including denial of access to family members and lawyers; the use of torture to elicit information from victims or to request bribes to facilitate their release; killing detainees for fun and according to mood swings; deliberate starvation of detainees with intent to kill slowly and without proof; incriminating innocent persons; keeping detainees in overcrowded cells, forcing them to sleep in shifts on top of each other or to sleep while standing; keeping decomposing dead bodies in the cells together with the living detainees; extrajudicial execution of detainees that refuse to pay bribes in exchange for freedom; trading of dead bodies especially to the university teaching hospitals in Nigeria. Politicians also used SARS as a willing tool of oppression to deal with perceived enemies and political opposition,”.
The report also identified the individuals – politicians and policemen who aided or perpetrated the SARS abuses.
The erring SARS operatives identified in the report include Ugochukwu Ozuode, also known as Ugo SARS, late Jude Agbanijelu, nicknamed Okpontu which literally means ‘the nailer’ because of his notoriety for driving nails into his victims’ skulls, Orthopedic, a man notorious for breaking the bones of his victims, Pele, and Too-Much-Money.
“These pseudonyms over the years have helped notorious officers escape recognition and culpability because victims are often at a loss regarding their torturers’ true identities,” the statement said.
Commenting on the report, activist and the executive director of the Rule of Law and Accountability, Advocacy Centre (RULAAC), Okechukwu Nwanguma, said the police have not changed in orientation from the colonial days when it was created as an occupation force rather than a service force.
He said successive police reforms have also failed to yield the necessary results because they were driven by the government that would refuse to implement its own recommendations.
The Spaces for Change executive director, Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri, rights activist and legal practitioner said the report also made various recommendations to the federal government, state governments, police and civil society organisations, just as she explained further that “it is a one-stop report that laid everything bare as far as the EndSARS protest, police brutality and their behind the scene atrocities are concerned”.
Richard Inoyo of Citizen’s Solutions Network said police brutality is a product of a broken system of governance which well-meaning Nigerians must invest in collective efforts to fight for citizens’ rights to access justice
Tijah Bolton of Policy Alert, said civil society organisations represent a strong bulwark against the constrictions on the civic space, hence the need to continue to work together.
The Executive Director, Youths and Environment Advocacy Centre (YEAC), Fyneface Dumnamene, said the media represents a powerful ally in the fight against police brutality, urging them to work with the civil society in exposing police brutality and holding earring officers accountable to their crime.