Many Nigerians expressed a sigh of relief last week when a directive was issued by the Acting President Yemi Osinbajo to the Inspector of Police, Ibrahim Idris, to ‘overhaul’ the Special Armed Robbery Squad (SARS). The Acting President had asked the IGP to reorganise the SARS with immediate effect and to restrict its activities to the prevention, detection of armed robbery and kidnapping. Indeed the words were barely out of the Acting President’s mouth before the IGP swung into action.
Not only did Mr. Idris order a name change for the unit, it is now to be known as the Federal Special Armed Robbery Squad (FSARS), he also ordered that the force should stop conducting stop and search operations except in response to distress calls on armed robbery and kidnapping.
The SARS had given the Police a bad name and ruined the human rights records of Nigeria in the eyes of the international community. The regular, periodic damning reports of international civil society organisations have been consistent that the unit rather than solve problems has constituted a problem by itself. SARS had been widely accused of crimes ranging from extrajudicial killings through torture and cruelty, to all manners of brutality.
Gory stories have been told in numerous instances in which SARS was indicted for corruption, extortion and blackmail. The #EndSARS online campaign was so intense in calling for the disbandment of the unit that when the Police seemed to ignore the protests, it morphed from online into street protests in various parts of the country.
The Osinbajo directive was specific in its demands that any unit that would emerge, the FSARS, must be intelligence-driven and restricted to the prevention and detection of armed robbery and kidnapping as well as the apprehension of offenders linked to state offences, and nothing more.
In other words, the era when SARS had a field day, and unlimited scope for fishing expedition, which mostly led to mischief, is over. We commend the Acting President for this initiative and it is equally encouraging that, this time, IGP Idris did not ignore the president’s directive as he once did over the Benue killings a few months ago.
It is heartwarming to hear that members of FSARS would conduct their operations in strict adherence to the rule of law and with due regard to the constitutionally guaranteed rights of suspects. To demonstrate that the IGP means business, a special squad has been charged with observing, monitoring and apprehending erring officers.
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SARS was under the Force Criminal Intelligence and Investigations Department. The new FSARS would operate under the Department of Operations to be led by a commissioner who would report to the IGP through the Deputy Inspector-General of Police. Even more important is the commitment to retrain the FSARS personnel on basic human rights laws, the observance of due process, and how to take care of suspects in custody. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has been directed to set up a panel to investigate the unlawful activities of the squad apparently to hold officers accountable for their conduct.
Nigerians are not celebrating over these laudable reform proposals because following the national outcry and the intense heat from online community’s #EndSARS, the same IGP Idris last December ordered an immediate reorganisation almost in identical structure as is now being proposed. Nothing good seems to have resulted from that exercise. We appreciate the self-serving defence of SARS put up by the Police. This is one reason many Nigerians think the unit is irredeemable and should be scrapped for good.
But we believe in redemption and Nigerians would bear to give the Police a second chance. So, the ball is in the court of the Police. Before they return to business as usual, they should reflect on the fact that the Nigeria Police is ranked as the worst police organisation in the world. The 2016 World Internal Security and Police Index (WISPI) released in November 2017 by the International Police Science Association and Institute for Economics and Peace was emphatic that Nigeria’s Police Force came last of 127 countries.
We urge the Police to look inwards, and do an honest self-appraisal. No police man or woman should walk out of any police station without proper uniforms, except the plain-clothes agents.