The truth is that the directive to the police authorities with respect to the activities of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS of the police is commendable albeit it is coming a bit late. During the week, Acting President Yemi Osinbajo directed the Inspector-General of Police, IGP, Ibrahim Idris, to overhaul the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS with immediate effect. The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity (Office of the Vice President), Laolu Akande, said the directive followed the persistent complaints and reports on the activities of SARS that border on allegations of human rights violations.
The complaints have come from all over the country. It appeared that the SARS operatives were a distinct force by themselves doing things that completely put the integrity of constituted authority in jeopardy, more so, in a democracy. Akande said Osinbajo directed the IGP to overhaul the management and activities of SARS and ensure that any unit that emerges from the process will be intelligence-driven and restricted to the prevention and detection of armed robbery and kidnapping, and apprehension of offenders linked to the stated offences, and nothing more.
The statement read: “The Acting President has also directed the IGP to ensure that all operatives in the emerging unit conduct their operations in strict adherence to the rule of law and with due regard to international human rights law and the constitutionally guaranteed rights of suspects. The operatives should also bear proper identification anytime they are on duty.
“In the meantime, the Acting President has directed the National Human Rights Commission to set up a special panel that will conduct an investigation of the alleged unlawful activities of SARS, in order to afford members of the general public the opportunity to present their grievances with a view to ensuring redress.” The watch word in the directive by Osinbajo is in the area of “intelligence led” operation.
Indeed that is what the police ought to have done by themselves without waiting to be so instructed. The serial violation by SARS is such that deserve serious reforms. It will be foolish to say that unit should be disbanded but what the do you expect the public to do in a situation where the authorities superintending the police fail to act when the police fails.
Reports of highhandedness and outright killing of citizens by SARS men had become rampant. This unit run the worst detention camps in Nigeria and appears above the police hierarchy that constituted it. The Police Service Commission and the ministry of interior became bystanders in managing the excesses of the Police Force. It is not on record anywhere that the commission or the ministry at any time recommended any palliatives or even sought presidential approval for any reforms. Neither did they seek out the legislature to assist in legalising any legal instrument. SARS and the supervising authorities so far have failed Nigerians.
Reports also point to the fact that the police has responded to this directive. Speaking at a function, Idris said, police authorities have taken steps toward correction and implementing the directives of Osinbajo. The Inspector General of Police speaking at an event surprisingly lauded proponents of “end SARS” campaign. He said that members of the public were in a better position to know the atrocities being committed by police personnel: “I am not talking of SARS alone, I am talking of the conventional police, MOPOL and others. These people interface with you daily. They may see me or any senior officer coming and they behave as if nothing was wrong. It was through the #EndSARS struggle that we were able to know what was going on with SARS and the public. We need your assistance. Always report your experiences and this will help us in reforming the force.”
One area that the police must be followed up to ensure they do not end SARS and start a worse unit is their decision to put the unit that SARS will birth under the Police Operations Department instead of the Force Investigations and Intelligence Department. We hope that someone will call their attention to it and get them to comply fully with what the Ag. President had ordered. The operations of that unit must be intelligence led not operations led. And we hope that the police will not populate the streets with another version of SARS going forward.
We appreciate the hard work of men of the unit before its dissolution, however, their superiors failed to follow through thereby rendering the work of the dedicated officers’ useless. The new SARS must learn from the Abba Kyrari led Police Intelligence Unit on how to be effective without being ubiquitous.