•Bans squad, tactical teams from stop-and-search patrol •Osinbajo, Nigerians hail action •Security experts react
Molly Kilete, Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja, Aloysius Attah, Onitsha, Christopher Oji, Romanus Okoye and Lukman Olabiyi
Reactions have continued to greet the banning of the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (FSARS), Special Tactical Squad (STS), Intelligence Response Team (IRT), Anti-Cultism Squad and other tactical squad of the Nigeria Police operating at the federal, zonal and state command levels.
The Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu, yesterday, banned the tactical squads from carrying out routine patrols and other conventional low-risk duties, stop-and-search duties, checkpoints, mounting of roadblocks, traffic checks, et cetera, with immediate effect.
The Force Public Relations Officer (FPPRO), Frank Mba, announced the ban in a statement issued in Abuja at the weekend.
Among those who had complained about the misconduct of SARS was Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who said in a tweet following recent allegations of abuse by SARS, “The safety of our residents is my number one duty as the CSO of Lagos. So, reading reports of seemingly unlawful exploitation by the people charged to protect is very worrying & needs to be addressed immediately. Be assured that appropriate actions will be taken, & speedily too.”
News of the ban has been greeted with criticisms as many see it as a ploy by the IGP to pacify Nigerians, who have been calling for the total scrapping of these squads for alleged extrajudicial killings and harassment of innocent Nigerians. They recalled that it was not the first time the IGP would ban the squads, whose commanders have more powerful contacts than the IGP himself.
For this reason, many critics believe the IGP’s latest order would not hold water. It was gathered that while the police authorities were not unaware of the achievements of these tactical squads, their mode of operation was said to be of concern, as most of them have gone completely out of their scope of duties. In addition, reports said incessant extrajudicial killings, interference in private matters other than serious crime and murder, as well as the inability of the squads to prosecute suspects arrested for various crimes in the shortest possible time were giving the police authorities sleepless nights.
To lend credence to Nigerians skepticism about the IGP’s order, some police officers that did not want their names mentioned have described the order as “audio directive,” saying this is not the first time the IGP is giving such orders.
Speaking to State House correspondents, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, while applauding the IGP, described the routine attacks on young people as infuriating. He described some of the officers in the police force as a few bad eggs “causing all of these problems because it is all over the place, in different states. There is a need to take serious action.”
Osinbajo also commended civil society organisations (CSOs) for speaking up against injustices meted out by some security operatives on young Nigerians. He said: “I am very concerned, in fact, very angry, about what I see happening to young men and women who are arrested, in some cases maimed or killed by men of the police force.”
According to the Vice President, such violations are “completely unacceptable because these are individuals who are meant to protect Nigerians. The arrest, maiming or killing of young people or anyone at all is completely wrong. It is unlawful and illegal and anyone involved in this act ought to be investigated and prosecuted.”
Osinbajo added that President Muhammadu Buhari was concerned: “The President and I have had discussions on this, he is very concerned about it. He wants to see a reform. You are probably aware that the IGP has issued a statement looking at all these issues, in particular, the warning against the use of these tactical units such as SARS for purposes of doing anything other than anti-robbery.
“For example, and I think in his statement, he specifically said that you cannot have a situation where SARS says they are investigating cybercrime by arresting young men and women carrying their laptops and phones. Cybercrime is an electronic crime. I don’t see how you can investigate that by seizing people’s phones in a taxi or in their cars.
“The IG’s statement today is a good first step. He has said clearly that policemen must wear police uniforms. You cannot say that, because you belong to a tactical unit, you can dress in your casual clothing and be armed, because people can’t even tell the difference between robbers and the police, if you are not properly dressed in police uniform. So, clearly, a reform is in the offing.”
However, the Vice President alluded that not all personnel of the units were bad. He said: “Many of them are doing their duties excellently well, but there are some of them who are engaged in these activities. So, we must see this as something we all must work together to achieve, as individuals, to bring to the attention of the police and government, where there have been violations.”
Former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, had earlier called for the review of the activities of SARS. The former Vice President made the call in a message posted on his verified Twitter handle, @atiku, on Saturday evening, condemning some alleged oppressive activities of some operatives of the squad.
According to the message, SARS, which was set up to confront some violent criminal activities, had metamorphosed into something of a machine of oppression that has subjected many legitimately striving Nigerians to all forms of torture.
“The Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) unit of the @PoliceNG was set up to confront violent crimes such as armed robbery, kidnapping and other related crimes. However, the unit has today metamorphosed into an oppressor of the Nigerian masses who strive every day for a better life. Reports of intimidation, harassment and outright extortion by officers of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) have continued unabated.
“I strongly condemn their cruel actions against our people, and I urge the government to rise to the occasion and nip this monstrosity in the bud with the seriousness it deserves.
“It is expedient that the activities of SARS are reviewed to ensure that the rogue elements are excised from the unit and sanity returned to its operations,” the tweet said.
On his part, human rights activist, Malachy Ugwummadu, said, “It is a welcome development but should not be stopped at mere pronouncements.”
He advised the police to separate the bag eggs among the others, punish them according to the law and introduce reward system to encourage the good ones. He said lives are involved and the police must demonstrate that they value the lives of Nigerians.
Meanwhile, former Aviation Minister, Osita Chidoka, in his reaction, called for immediate review of the current police funding and organizational construct. He said the Federal Government should fund personnel cost of police officers, while states should take over operational and capital costs.
The PDP chieftain, in a statement, said police organizational and funding framework would bring lasting change and reduce the need for special forces. The statement read, “SARS is symptomatic of a terminal disease. Their constant turning of their guns on Nigerians is abominable and criminal. It is a crime against the people and should be dealt with seriously. My simple solution is that the Federal Government should fund personnel cost of police officers while states should take over operational and capital cost. Transparency International said 29 states spent N241billion on security vote, being 70% of annual police budget. Current police funding and organizational construct is a joke and should be reviewed immediately. PLAC in a factsheet revealed that personnel cost consumes 92.4% of budget.”
Similarly, executive director, Prisoners’ Rehabilitation and Welfare Action (PRAWA), Dr. Uju Agomoh, said, “This is a welcome development, if the IGP’s directive will be effectively implemented. This hopefully will promote greater focus of these units on the respective objectives for setting them up. Given that all the reports of alleged violations by SARS and other police tactical squads are not limited to violations that occur in the course of patrols – stop and search duties, checkpoints, and traffic checks.
“ There is need for a holistic approach that will build the capacity of the SARS officers on human rights, positive attitudes as well as promote professionalism and efficiency in the discharge of their duties.”
For private security expert, Dr. Onah Ekhomu, there is no need banning all the units of the force mentioned by the IGP. Ekhomu said, “Much as there have been many records of excesses and harassment by FSARS and other tactical units, it does not rubbish the achievements of the units.
“There are bound to be excesses where we have people that do jobs that have to do with violence; it makes them behave like kings. All the units are painful necessity – I don’t think that #endSARS is the answer. You can’t say because the nose is quarrelling with the face and you cut off the nose. If you can see, the military is handing the duties of the police. It is unfortunate that the Police have shelved their duties. It is shameful that the police cannot live up to expectations. What the police should do is to find solutions not outright ban.
A group, Rule of Law and Accountability Advocacy Centre (RULAAC), has described the ban of SARS and other police tactical squads from routine patrols by the IGP as half measures that do not go to the root of the problem.
In a statement signed by its executive director, Okechukwu Nwanguma, RULAAC noted that the Nigerian government and the Nigeria Police in particular need to demonstrate that Nigerians’ lives matter. He stated that banning or disbanding police units was a knee-jerk reaction and perfunctory responses that would not change anything as long as cases are not investigated, perpetrators brought to account and victims accorded justice.
According to RULAAC, the new Police Act 2020 provides a new legal framework of policing which sets out its purpose and principles, stating that it provides for safety and security, protection of lives and property, protection of human rights, transparency and accountability, community collaboration and partnership in crime detection, prevention and eradication.
Deputy President of the Senate, Ovie Omo-Agege, also expressed dismay over the alleged atrocious activities of SARS in Delta.
In a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Yomi Odunuga in Abuja, expressed concern over the alleged incessant cases of extrajudicial killings and harassment of defenceless citizen by men of SARS.
He also expressed worry that some officials attached to SARS in different parts of Nigeria were harassing defenceless citizens.
Specifically, the Deputy President of the Senate cited the alleged shooting of a man by operatives of SARS in his constituency in Ughelli, Delta for alleged refusal to allow the operatives to search his phone.
According to him, there is another shooting of a youth in the town by men of the ‘Operation Delta Safe’ over the victim’s alleged refusal to also allow the operatives to search his phone.
This, Omo-Agege said, buttress his argument on the need for comprehensive reforms and overhaul of security units in the country. The senator called on the police authorities to fish out the culprits for the prosecution to serve as deterrent to others.