Residents of Kwara State have expressed their resentment against the Special Anti-robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigeria Police Force.
This is not unconnected to the trending #EndSARS advocacy, demanding the scrapping of that arm of the force as a result of various allegations of extortion, harassment and violations of citizens’ rights.
The Deputy Chairman of one of the branches of National Union of Road Transport Workers in the state, Rasaq Maroof, who spoke with newsmen, explained how extortion of commercial drivers and harassment of commuters by SARS operatives had become rampant.
“No transport worker is happy with SARS because they’ve become thorns in our flesh,” said Maroof.
“Drivers are now at their mercies as we go about our daily business. They collect a high percentage of our charges. Along Oro town to Omu-Aran which is less than 30 minutes drive, they’ll collect nothing less than N100 at different check points. And it’s the same with other routes.”
He further stressed the negligence of duty on the part of the operatives.
“They will tell you if you can’t pay the N100, they will find one fault to drag you to their station. After all, by 7:00 p.m., you won’t meet them at their duty post, where they are meant to protect lives. The government should help us,” he pleaded.
Also, a rice distributor, Bisi, pointed out that the SARS operatives contributed to the high cost of goods, by extorting money from transporters.
“By the time our drivers get to different police check points, they demand for fifty naira on each bag of rice. These are what we add to our cost price and retailers tend to buy at a higher price,” Bisi said.
Another trader who identified himself as Ishola, told Premium Times about a case of a suspected internet fraudster who was extorted by SARS officials.
According to him, “They only checked his phone and concluded that the guy is into ‘Yahoo Yahoo’. The guy paid them N100,000 through transfer and the policeman confirmed it after a bank alert was sent to his phone. They discharged the guy without further investigation.”
In his reaction, a police inspector, who sought anonymity called for restructuring of the force..
“Police itself needs restructuring and not only SARS. Though we have greedy officers but most of the time, the division will not provide for the maintenance of the vehicle for patrol and the welfare of the personnel. That is why most of our bosses can’t kick against extortion thoroughly.”
However, in an interview, the Police Public Relations Officer in Kwara State, Ajayi Okesanmi, said that the force had been receiving several complaints against SARS and such complaints were attended to.
“People are complaining and as they are complaining, police is taking action. Recently, a lady complained about a SARS operative. Immediately, we acted and this man was dealt with to the utmost surprise of some of the NGOs present. Nigeria Police is number one of those organisations that disciplines its erring members.”
“Scrapping SARS is just like destroying the whole part of the body because of a deficiency in one part. Scrapping it is synonymous to scrapping the police force itself,” he said.
When asked why SARS has taken so much roles assigned to other institutions ranging from collecting money from commuters over transportation of goods to checking of tyres and cars accessories, the spokesperson added that it is within the powers of the police to do such.
“Nigeria constitution bestow on us, an unlimited power when it comes to the issue of criminality and crimes generally. Whether they function as Road safety or Customs, they have rights to arrest anyone under Section 4 of the Nigeria constitution.”
“But they are not meant to molest or harass and extort from anyone,” he said.