It started as Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) then became notorious. A gang of goons in police uniforms. Nigerians raged at their bestialities. Nigerian Police authorities in typical fashion pledged reformation. It simply rebranded it by adding Federal to the SARS to read FSARS. That’s all that happened. FSARS became even more deadly. Nigerians didn’t even notice the so-called reformation because it achieved nothing; changed nothing. They went into overdrive: Killing, maiming and stealing at gunpoint. Now, it seems life has gone full cycle for the mob of killers and thieves.
Now, everybody is talking about the evil of SARS. The National Assembly. The Presidency. Fathers, mothers, students. The verdict is the same: SARS is evil. SARS needs to be tamed, reformed, beaten into shape. Some want an outright end for the SARS. I disagree. We should not end SARS. But we can rejig the beast, reform it and make it people-friendly without weakening it.
A public hearing on SARS organised in November 2018 by the National Human Rights Commission in the South West 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 visited on Nigerians by persons paid to protect them.
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 September 2017. 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.
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 twitted: ‘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 i-Phone, 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.
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 brutish portrait of SARS is an indictment on IGP Mohammed Adamu and his leadership. They must redeem their image by punishing all those SARS officers linked to crime and bestiality. That is the most effective first step in the reform process. But we all must raise our glasses to the boldness of Governor Wike who first blew the whistle.
Other governors have had their citizens under their noses whipped, robbed, even killed by SARS men but they chose to stay dumb rather than speak out. That is not leadership. I like the manner the National Assembly leadership has come out to condemn the ills of SARS. Other leaders and statesmen should lend their voices. Nigerians cannot be insecure abroad and be far worse at home.
The recent gory stories of SARS butchery in Abuja, Delta and River State point to a gang manifesting traits from hell and betrays a deep-seated dysfunction within the ranks of the police. IGP Adamu must take responsibility.
I do not subscribe to the “EndSARS” campaign. We need SARS but it must be a thoroughly reformed and tamed SARS (F-SARS). Let’s not end SARS, let’s end the savagery of SARS.