Chioma Okezie-Okeh And Lawrence Enyoghasu
If the disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) operatives could have their way they would have liked to be sent to any of the United Nations peacekeeping operations taking part in many parts of the world, rather than being asked by the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, to come to Abuja for debriefing, psychological and medical examination, and possibly retraining. As far as some of them are concerned they find no redeeming feature in the Inspector General’s directive.
If beggars can be choosers too, they would have loved to start their own hashtag movement to counter the harsh criticisms directed against their operations because of some bad eggs among them. And that will be #STOP-THE-HARSH-CRITICISMS-AGAINST-SARS. And, in their interaction with this reporter they gave the reasons it would have enjoyed as much followership as #ENDSARS protests currently rocking the country. As for the police authorities decision to allow them to see the promised land called Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT), with their eyes, like the Bibilical Moses did, but not allow any of them who served with the disbanded SARS to step their feet into it, they wish them good luck.
Operatives, officers lament sufferings, Nigerians’ ingratitude
Some of the SARS operatives in Lagos who spoke with Saturday Sun lamented that IGP’s order that they should move to Abuja for psychological evaluation will force them into unplanned debts as they may need to borrow money for transportation, accommodation and feeding, at their own expense although the order did not make it very clear whether the police management will eventually bear the costs by reimbursing the operatives.
According to a Deputy Superintendent of Police, most of them are currently seeking for places to borrow money to fund that movement. “We do not love ourselves in this country especially policemen,” he said. “In Lagos alone about 700 policemen are affected. You can imagine the number that will be moving from across the country. Who will pay for their accommodation in Abuja for the number of days that they might end up staying? We know how these things work; so don’t be deceived even if they tell you that the money will be refunded. We are already stressed out and paying for the sins of few bad eggs in the police. I know that it is the right thing to do by listening to the yearnings of protesters but whatever decision that is to be made should also have a human face. Those evaluators can be sent to states to handle that. I just finished paying school fees for four kids and my account is empty. Buhari, please we also need help,” he lamented.
Lost in thoughts, an Inspector spotted at a makeshift restaurant simply said that the protest might bring the change they desire in the police. “If we are going to be used as the sacrificial lamb for change to come to the force, then it’s okay,” he said. “I am not making case for those who left their jobs and decided to dine and wine with Yahoo boys. I have put my life on the line severally. I guess you have observed that I no longer walk properly; it was bullets pumped into me by armed robbers during a clash in 2014. I nearly died but God kept me alive. I paid for my treatment because there was no provision for such. I am even happy that we can be posted to areas where we can relax a bit and enjoy police work. Our barracks is an eyesore; you cannot even survive based on the salary paid. We buy uniform with our money and we are expected to use our money to investigate cases. The only place that I enjoyed police work was at Ilupeju branch. There the PCRC (Police-Community Relationship Committee) does a lot for us to support our welfare.”
Obviously affected by the current development, a constable on overhearing what his colleague said, shouted: “Madam journalist tell them to send us to United Nations for evaluation. We will love to be posted to guard oil companies. Let those who have been receiving dollars as allowance come home and fight violent crime. We are all policemen. I work 24 hours straight most time six times in a week they said we should go home. I have lost about eight of my colleagues while trying to keep Lagos safe. Their wives are suffering because we are not insured. I know that you will argue why did I join Nigerian police and my answer will be because it’s the only available job.
“All those that suddenly started patronizing fraudsters are doing it to change their story. Most of the rank and files retire from police and become beggars. If you are not lucky to have trained your children to the point that that they can take care of you then you are doomed. I personally want to leave SARS but please do not send me to railway where I will finally die of poverty.”
Another sergeant who currently serves with Rivers State Command said that he is relieved that they were disbanded. “Let them send us to United Nations where policemen are paid with dollars. I will have the opportunity to change the destiny of my family. I have served in Lagos since 2010, when bank robbery was the order of the day. Who complained about anything? Everyone was excited at our job and gradually we fazed it out. I am not justifying the acts of those who took laws in their hand but everyone should note that most of these persons crying foul are confirmed criminals. Go and ask that lawyer whose wife and children were raped in his presence. Every day, he will land at SARS claiming human rights and succeed in releasing so many criminals. The day they visited him, it was horrible. He came back with a long list of those he released that it is confirmed that they are criminals. We have done a lot as to warrant such treatment by Nigerians.”
Although Frank Mba, the Police Headquarters PRO said that none of the disbanded members of SARS will be recruited into the newly formed SWAT, a former PRO in Lagos State insists that it’s the same set of policemen that are trained to fight violent crime that will be fit for the SWAT job. “Who is going to do the job? If you are in doubt, just throw a simple firework around where the regular policemen are and see the reaction,” he said. “I cannot do that job of fighting hardened criminals, it’s just that they need proper supervision. They know that we need them; that’s why it is so at the moment.”
SWAT: IGP made a mistake –Ekhomu
Meanwhile renowned security expert, Ona Ekhomu has frowned at the decision of the top management of police to mention the name of a new team within days of disbandment of SARS. His grouse: “The Special Weapons and Tactics Team is a name that is also used in the United States for squads that respond to violent crime in progress. They have technologies that will enable them perform above the normal police formation and they have procedures that help them. It is just similar to the disbanded SARS. If I were in the position to advise the police I would have asked them not to release the name yet. The important thing is to put in programmatic administrative and technological means to reorder the tactical teams so that they can achieve the purpose for which they were designed.
“An administrative name will just to have given blanket name to members of the public that there is a new team. It takes time to put together manpower for a new tactical unit like that because of the training requirements needed. The IGP and the top management team should have hesitated in naming the name, the endsars protestors not understanding what government is doing said you are just changing names.”
On the proposed psychological evaluation of members of the disbanded SARS, he insists that it should be meant for all policemen. His reason: “The point here is that the police management needs to embrace the fact that psyche evaluation is a standard part of policing. In United States you must take the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) test because they must know whether you are a psycho. I have a test that can help me determine if an employee has the tendency to commit crime. Psychological testing is a part of policing. You are going to bring in people that are going to be -part of people’s life and they are going to be armed. So you must know their psychological profile. It is not only for the disbanded SARS team.
“Secondly, why do you want to take that number of persons to Abuja when all you need is to get a psychological centre here in Lagos and let them go in batches? When they get a clean bill they will be deployed. We always want everything to come to Abuja; you can make it regional and why does it have to be immediately? You have disbanded the agency then you set up the processes to know the people who you want to retain or release because of disability.
“You are just creating mass suffering for the policemen and criminal tendencies. Some will say, okay I will go but somebody will pay for it. We are not all that lucky. Some have to enter trailer carrying cattle to Abuja. This is de-humanizing. The policemen are dehumanized as part of their training. I don’t know if it is the police management or government that does not want to take care of its personnel, so you get this type of outcome.”
Untold story of the unforeseen revolution sweeping through Nigeria
It all started like a joke on the Twitter, when an account registered in the name of the Nigerian pop musician, Ayodeji Ibrahim Balogun, fondly called, Wizkid, replied to a post on an account allegedly registered in President Muhammadu Buhari’s name, and in which the President wished Donald Trump, USA president quick recovery from the COVID-19 sickness.
Tweets of trouble
In the tweet, Wizkid asked the President to leave Trump to sort out himself, but mind his country. He wrote: “Donald Trump is not your business! Police/Sarz still killing Nigerian youths on a daily basis! Do something! Nothing concern u for America! Face your country!!’ From there all hell was let loose. The drum of protest started. Celebrities started talking and tweeting about a possible protest. The tension increased as the day went by.
On October 5, 2020, Douglas Jack Agu fondly called Runtown inspired the youth to fix a date for the protest. A few hours after his post, Folarin Falana, aka Falz twitted to join before you could say Jack Robinson, October 7 was fixed for the protest. The movement is a faceless one. Some days it’s Rinu, others it’s Aisha, then Macaroni, then Falz, then Laycon, then Wizkid, then Davido, then Tiwa, then Bobrisky (who donated N2m). Today it’s Ojah B and Oxlade. Tomorrow, it might be another person.
Protest commences, spreads
From the first day, the protesters stood in the sun in the day and the rain at night. It was not easy for them. They knew it was never going to be easy yet they forged on, without any plan except just to occupy Lagos State Police Headquarters and State House of Assembly for three days. But to their surprise, different sectors related to the subject matter. People related to what they tagged the endless brutality of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS, the incessant killings by the police and endless harassment of men in black uniform.
On the third day, October 9, when Saturday Sun reporter spent the night with the protesters, it was obvious that they were all at one time or the other, victims of SARS or police brutality. As they sat on the railings, the cold of the night forced some to use their blanket. Some took to their alcoholic gin and others took their cigarette smoking to warm their bodies and ward off the cold. They kept sharing, from lighter, shot-glass to blankets. The ladies were told to sleep in the tents and cars, while the men kept watch.
Victims killed, injured
As the protest continued on Monday, October 12, three lives were lost and many injured. One of them is Ikechukwu Ilohamauzo. According to the Ikechukwu’s boss, Samuel Okafor, the 55-years-old had alighted from a car to urinate when a stray bullet allegedly hit him.
“All of a sudden, we started hearing gunshots from those policemen there,” Okafor said. “The bullet struck him and he fell. He was a good man who cared so much for his family. He has dedicated his life to his family. There is no day he doesn’t make a positive statement about the country. Whenever we discuss this country, Ikechukwu would say ‘Nigeria will be better but we should be ready to make the sacrifice.’”
Another victim was Chizaram Ugochukwu, who was going to his place of work at Ojuelegba, he was bruised as the police thought he was part of the protesters. Chizaram was rushed to the hospital at Lagos University Teaching Hospital.
“I was on my way to work when I heard a shout,” he said. “The person shouted that I should run but I didn’t care because I was on the other side of the road not participating in the protest. The next thing I heard from my back was a slap and a punch. I found myself on the floor immediately and that was the end. I was bitten without giving a chance to explain myself.”
Protesters, police count their loses
According to Amnesty International, at least 10 persons have died during the protest. One of the persons that died was Jimoh Ishiaq who was killed by a stray bullet fired at protesters. He was standing some distance from the protesting crowd in Ogbomoso southwest Nigeria according to his family. “The police bullet shot hit his abdomen and came out from the back,” Jimoh Kazeem, his elder brother, said. Three other persons were killed at Ogbomoso last Sunday. Another man died on Monday during a protest in a suburb of Lagos, the country’s commercial nerve centre. The man identified as Ikechukwu Ilohamauzo was hit by a stray bullet fired by police officers, an allegation denied by police who blamed it on hoodlums.
As at press time only two police personnel were reported dead as a result of the protest while several were injured. Amongst the dead was a police Inspector, Erin Ayodeji, attached to Surulere Anti-Kidnapping Unit. The story was that the protesters came in their numbers with the intention to break into the station of the Surulere unit and free some of the convicted criminals. They were heavily armed with shotguns and fired shots at the officers on duty who were trying to prevent the incidence and uphold the integrity of the station. Meanwhile Inspectors Ekei Joshua and Peter Agabi who were also badly injured are receiving treatment at Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, Ikeja.
The second incident took place in Delta where a policeman identified as Corporal Etaga Stanley was killed and his weapon, a rifle and ammunitions stolen on Thursday during the EndSARS protest. It was learnt that the protest which was generally peaceful turned violent after they reached the Police Area Command, Ughelli at Otovwodo area of the city leading to the killing of the police officer.
Financial moblisation, funding
Yet the protesters are not about to give up, at least, as at the time of filing this report. They reportedly started an online donation that had netted in about N65 million for any issue that might crop up including injuries and feeding. Adeleke Psalm, an online sports journalist, claimed that the youths are donating for the protest by themselves and not from any external body.
“The money came from youth like us,” he stated. “It came from abroad and Nigeria. Many people liked what we are doing but they are can’t join because they are not self-employed but they are contributing to the cause. Most people think that we are being funded by Yahoo boys but that is not the case, nine out of 10 boys had been harassed by these people. I had been harassed many times because I have a beard. If the police have a signal that someone has committed fraud let the person face the music but randomly harassing youth and brutalizing citizens needs to end.”
Aside the central financial war chest, other people are privately donating to anyone who wishes to join the protesters. Some people are willing to feed and clothe anyone ready to take up the cause. Kharimat Aya Calabar, a Facebook entrepreneur posted that she would be willing to send anybody some amount of money to join the protest. She wrote: “I want my son to grow up in a safe environment and his father to come home without the fear that he was going to be harassed. I want him to keep beard because he looks attractive on it and not become an ATM for SARS.”
Strong supporters of the protest
But in Abuja and Lagos this week, armed thugs attacked protesters. Sanwo-Olu appealed to them to go back to their houses noting that many state governments are currently addressing their demands. Ifeanyi Okowa, governor of Delta State noted that the protest is a reflection of leadership failure. Stranded motorists, commuters lamented as protests triggered traffic gridlocks in many parts of the country. #NotoSWAT protests rocked Warri. Awkuzu SARS were placed under lock as protesters paralysed Awka. #EndSARS founder, Segalinks dissociated self from protests claiming that it has been hijacked by politicians and hoodlums.
Pastor Enoch Adeboye was quoted to be in support of the protest as long as it continues to remain peaceful. Osinbajo, Buhari’s daughters also lent their support in posts on their Twitter handles and instagrams. Genevieve Nnaji, popular Nollywood actress shared the story of how SARS operatives slapped her 13-year-old niece for daring to question their decision to take away her laptop for examination. In supporting the protest, Pastor Tunde Bakare called for the prosecution of SARS officers found to have committed crime in the course of their duty.