In one moment of derring-do and uncommon courage, he accused men of SARS in Rivers State of being behind the robberies and kidnappings in his state.
The public hearing on the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) organised by the National Human Rights Commission has just ended in the South West. It threw up blood-chilling revelations about the beastly side of a division of the Nigeria Police specially created to fight critical crimes. It was an avalanche of gory tales. Despicable acts by ignoble men. A moment of extirpation of the pains and pangs of afflicted Nigerians.
But we must never forget the genesis of the SARS debacle. Nyesom Wike, the governor of Rivers State, hit the anvil one fateful day. In one moment of derring-do and uncommon courage, he accused men of SARS in Rivers State of being behind the robberies and kidnappings in his state. That was brutally audacious. Even controversial. It was the ranting of a politician, some said. Crucify him, was the chant from others. Yet, there were some who felt a sense of relief that a strong voice has at last amplified their grumbling. Black rights activist Rosa Parks once said: “You must never be fearful about what you are doing when it is right.”
It was hard to fathom if Wike was fearful about his scathing scalp at SARS. Perhaps, he might have been goaded by the inimitable Dianna Hardy in the great work: Return of the Wolf. Hardy wrote: “It only takes one voice at the right pitch to start an avalanche.” It is like a revolution. It starts not from the madding crowd. It starts with one man raising his voice where other men have lost theirs. It starts with a few. In the case of the SARS implosion, it started with one man; one voice at the right pitch.
Before the Wike rage, SARS was a terror on the roll; a terrible terrier hounding everyone including its owners. And because they are goons with the gun who accounted to no one but themselves, their victims were hushed into mortifying silence. Men retreated at the sight of SARS. You need not be a criminal to bolt to safety. Everybody and everything was a suspect. SARS was the accuser and the judge in their own court. So, you are guilty as charged no matter your innocence. Such impudence.
Put aside the cockish infantilism of Senator Dino Melaye, there is so much truth and essence in his mantra: “If you speak the truth you die, if you speak lie you also die.” This has been Dino’s preface to his legislative peregrinations. And in his word, he would rather speak the truth and die. Every nation at a point in history is faced with circumstances that require people to speak the truth and damn the consequence. Martin Luther King had to speak truth to white power; to white domination in America. He damned the consequence. But generations after him now profit from his burst of courage. Rosa Parks was just another black woman in that train. But she raised her voice to the right pitch against an unjust and inequitable system. She pulled no trigger. King threw no bomb. They simply raised their voices to a decibel louder and more potent than the sound of guns and the boom of bombs.
The Nigerian system is a long chapter of incongruities. This is a system where the Army, the highest pillar of military strength of any nation, are terrified and affrighted by a ragtag army called Boko Haram. These insurgents, unschooled and often unskilled in the mastery of weaponry, invade and overrun our Army in broad daylight; kill our uncles, brothers and husbands in their hundreds; seize their arms and march triumphantly to safety. And the authorities tell us not to talk about it; not to count our dead; in some cases not to even report it. Let’s not digress too far.
Back to SARS. These men have done much havoc. No one is spared. Poor man, rich man, youths and old men including women have been robbed, abducted and in some cases killed by SARS men. Think of the case of Mr. James Ibe-Anyanwu, a writer and businessman who was harassed in Lagos by men of SARS who accused him of being a fraudster and subsequently marched him to his bank to withdraw money to buy himself freedom. He got smarter than his accusers and deployed social media from his hiding place, the toilet of the bank, to alert the public. He was saved at last.
Sensational singer, Reekabo Banks, once tweeted: ‘I don’t even know the difference between SARS and thieves. The ones I met today overtook me in a regular car, no uniforms, immediately pointed their guns and asked that we came down from the car; then calmed down when they noticed me. Biko, what if I wasn’t me.” You see what I mean? SARS had no respect for anyone. Everybody must submit to their extortion machinery and donate to their lucre cabinet. Earlier, his Mavins Record colleague, Dr. Sid, got a raw dose of the SARS broth.
What about Citizen Adetokunbo, a 200-level philosophy student of the University of Lagos. SARS men saw him with an iPhone, and pronto, he must be a Yahoo-Yahoo boy, our homegrown euphemism for an internet scammer. He was led to an ATM where he withdrew N70,000 meant for his school fees and upkeep to buy freedom. The list is too long. A list of atrocities of what ought to be a noble division of the police.
Still in Lagos, a panel once recommended four SARS men for dismissal based on the report of investigation carried out on a petition (dated May 2, 2018) against them by Citizen Chukwudi Godwin Odionye, popularly referred to as ‘Bishop’.
Here is the police brief on the matter: “The petitioner stated that on June 4, 2017, he was in his house around Alagbado area of the state, when four armed men stormed his house to effect his arrest on the allegation of performing ‘Fake’ miracles. “He stated that after his arrest, he was taken to one hotel at Agege, where he was detained and threatened to be killed, if he fails to cooperate. He explained further that the following day, June 5, 2017, he was taken to the bank where he was made to transfer N7 million to the account of one of the operatives.”
For this, they were fired. Too many other gory tales from the diary of SARS. But it has not all been bad news. Some SARS men have foiled armed robberies, aborted critical crimes and rescued captives of men of the underworld. I commend such breed.
The good news however is SARS is being reformed. Now called Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (F-SARS), it has been handed down a regime of code of conduct. Such reforms would never have happened but for the avalanche from Wike and those who raised their voices calling for an end to SARS. I do not subscribe to the “EndSARS” campaign. We need SARS but it must be a thoroughly reformed and tamed SARS (F-SARS).
The police must take heed to the recommendations of the Tony Ojukwu-led panel for therein lay the nuggets that would conduce to a truly reformed anti-robbery squad. Let’s not end SARS, let’s end the savagery of SARS.