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Making SARS deliver on its core mandate

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Making SARS deliver on its core mandate

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo’s recent directive that the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) should be overhauled has elicited widespread commendation.
The reason for the overwhelming support for the then acting president’s order is not so difficult to surmise. The police unit, which was set up to combat armed robbery and sundry crimes, had derailed greatly from its original mandate.
The special unit was accused by Nigerians of engaging in all sorts of rights abuses. Some of these include extortion, abduction, torture, harassment of law-abiding Nigerians, unlawful detention and random killing of innocent people. Also, SARS operatives were often conscripted by individuals in their effort to recover debts, by politicians for election matters and even over land dispute. They were, similarly, accused of picking people from the streets, taking them to ATM to withdraw money under duress. The list of their atrocities is not exhaustive.
These violations of people’s rights finally got to a head when a group, #EndSARS, coalesced into a movement to put a stop to the dastardly activities of the unit whose mandate was to protect the people, but have unfortunately turned around to terrorise them.
At the height of the cry to abolish SARS, the Senate even got involved. The upper legislative chamber mandated its ad hoc Committee on Security to investigate allegations of human rights abuses against the special force.
The motion was raised by Senator Isa Misau who said: “I have in the last few months received petitions from my constituency, both online and physically, against SARS on violence ranging from extra-judicial killing, brutality, torture, arrest, bribery and other menacing conduct by men of the unit.”
It is in view of this widespread brutality by SARS and incessant terrorising of innocent Nigerians, that the order by Osinbajo is viewed as being very timely and worthy of praise. Also, commendation is the swiftness with which the police hierarchy responded. The Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, immediately directed that the elite squad, which was hitherto under the Force Criminal Intelligence and Investigative Department (FCIID), Force Headquarters, will henceforth be coordinated and supervised by the Operations Department.
Again, a new commissioner of Police has been appointed for the anti-robbery squad, just as zonal and state commands of SARS will now be headed by officers not below the rank of chief superintendent of Police.
“…In observance of full compliance with the presidential directives, the F-SARS (which will be the new unit after the reorganisation) will be intelligence-driven and will be restricted to the prevention and detection of armed robbery, kidnapping and the apprehension of offenders linked to the stated offences only,” Force Public Relations Officer, Moshood Jimoh, said in a statement.
“All commissioners of police have been directed by the IGP to comply with this directive with immediate effect and warn their personnel not to pose as SARS operatives. The IGP X-Squad and Monitoring Unit had been mandated to go round the Commands and Police formations nationwide to ensure strict compliance with the presidential directives and apprehend any erring police officer.
“A new Standard Operational Guidelines and Procedures, and code of conduct for all F-SARS personnel to ensure that the operations of the squad is in strict adherence to the rule of law and with due regards to international human rights law and constitutionally guaranteed rights of suspects will be enforced in totality by the Commissioner of Police, FSARS.
“FSARS in every state to take complaints from the public and forward same to Force Headquarters. The officer will be answerable to the Commissioner of Police, FSARS, at the Force Headquarters and not Commander, FSARS, in the states.
“Again, medical/psychological evaluation of all FSARS personnel will be carried out immediately. Redesigning of new uniform with identity name tag for all FSARS personnel throughout the country will be done immediately. Henceforth, FSARS personnel will not perform stop and search duties, except on distress call to respond to armed robbery and kidnapping offences only.”
These are highly reassuring comments from the police and we quoted the statement copiously not only to align ourselves with it fully, but to underline the fact that we will hold the police accountable if they fail in this very crucial task.
We cannot emphasise enough the need to ensure that all the activities of the new unit must be intelligence-driven. This is the way of modern policing. The brutish tactic of hounding and intimidating people on the streets without proper investigation must stop forthwith.
The need to have proper identification for operatives and to subject them to medical/psychological evaluation cannot be overemphasised. Operatives who do not have the requisite psychological balance should not find their ways into the special unit. As the name suggests, the special anti robbery squad is ordinarily meant to be made up of the best, not only in terms of training, but also in character. In this regard, no effort should be spared in ensuring that only the very best in these virtues are recruited into the special force.
Like the Amnesty International rightly said, “this is an overdue, yet hugely important move by Acting President Osinbajo. The growing outcry over the brutality of Nigeria’s notorious SARS police unit has finally got the attention of the country’s authorities.”
So, we cannot fail in this task as the world is watching.

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