OPINION: Adieu SARS

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Salisu Na'inna Dambatta.

The decision to scrap the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigeria Police Force following a well-oiled campaign against some of its crime-bursting methods has generated mixed-feelings among Nigerians, reflecting the plurasim of the country.

Reviewing the activities of SARS to assuage the negative feelings caused by some of its methods among those affected negatively is a good move, but for, others who benefitted from its work and the feeling of safety and sense of being secured the activities generated, feel that its scrapping is an over-reaction to the media onslaught and street protests by those bent on seeing an end to SARS.

The establishment of SARS was a desirable exercise. An entry in several sources say: “The Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) is a branch of the Nigeria Police Force under the Force Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department (FCIID). The squad deals with crimes associated with armed robbery, car snatching, kidnapping, cattle rustling, and crimes associated with firearms.”

While it worked, SARS recorded successes in bursting dozens notorious criminal cells. That falls within the roles assigned to it. But it somehow allegedly veered off its tracks by turning into a Unit that while performing its duties, engaged in activities outside its tailor-made assignment.

Indeed, there have been hundreds of complaints against SARS based on the outfit’s activities that were outside its officially-stated purposes. The complaints against SARS included extra-judicial killing of suspects, arrests of innocent citizens and degrading treatment of suspects. Some evidence were produced to support many of such claims.

Just to illustrate vividly, a friend narrated to this writer how SARS operatives in Kano took away three cars from his in-law, which have been converted to use by the operatives. Additionally, some of its operatives extort money or confession through threats. They also allegedly harass and extort money from keepers or drivers of vehicles fitted with tinted screens by manufacturers.

There are equally a good number of favourable reports and commendations on the good job it did for the country. While it functioned, SARS was truly an effective Unit of the Nigeria Police Force that lived up to the expectations of its founders and many victims of crimes: “SARS was established to combat armed robbery. It was to operate with the element of surprise as a faceless unit.”

Its founder, a retired superior police officer, Simeon Midenda told the media that the secret for its operational success was based on its conception as a faceless and secretive outfi. It certainly bursted countless criminal gangs of robbers, fraudsters, kidnappers, bandits. Their stop and search efforts resulted in the discovery and seizure of illegally-held weapons. Many Police personnel in SARS were killed in the course of their duty.

Even though it is not easy to clearly see when it slipped into something other than the original SARS that has clearly noble objectives of fighting crimes such which were making citizens sleepless, its scrapping was justified by the Inspector General of Police, Muhammadu Adamu.

The IGP, had in line with the responsive orientation of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration emphasised that the Police Force has a convenant of service with Nigerians: “Our valued covenant with the citizens of this nation is to serve and protect them and integrate their concerns and views into our practices, especially within the dictates of community policing principles, which constitute a critical component of the National Policing and Internal Security Strategy of the Federal Government.”

“In the finest spirit of democratic, citizen-centred and community policing, the Inspector-General of Police, IGP M.A Adamu, has today, 11th October, 2020, dissolved the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) across the 36 State Police Commands and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) where they hitherto existed,” a statement from the Force headquarters said.

The Inspector General of Police promised transparent investigations into the alleged infractions by men and officers of the scrapped unit. The civil and human rights communities and other relevant stakeholders will join the investigation by the Nigeria Police Force to identify offenders and treat the findings in accordance with the law.

Now the question is, is the scrapping of SARS equal to ending the fight against crimes in the country by the Police? The Inspector General of Police (IGP) said no. He explained reassuringly: “New policing arrangements to address the offences of armed robbery, and other violent crimes that fall within the mandate of the dissolved Special Anti-Robbery Squad shall be presented in due course.”

The President has earlier in his Twitter handle announced that, “The IG already has my firm instructions to conclusively address the concerns of Nigerians regarding these excesses, & ensure erring personnel are brought to justice. I appeal for patience & calm, even as Nigerians freely exercise their right to peacefully make their views known.”

Prior to the latest instructions on SARS, President Muhammadu Buhari had in 2019 directed an overhaul of SARS in a way that will end the type of tactics Nigerians complained of whenever they have an unpleasant encounter with elements of the unit.

The IGP has complied with the firm instructions of the President regarding SARS. The next step will be the establishment of a new crimes fighting unit, meting out punishment on the men and officers who committed infractions.

Hours after scrapping SARS, President Muhammadu Buhari said during a public event that scrapping SARS is the first step in the process of reforming police service delivery in the country. “The disbanding of SARS is only the first step in our commitment to extensive police reforms in order to ensure that the primary duty of the police and other law enforcement agencies remains the protection of lives and livelihood of our people.”

”We will also ensure that all those responsible for misconduct or wrongful acts are brought to justice,” he said.

The President emphasised: ”Meanwhile, it is important to recognise that the vast majority of men and women of the police force are hardworking and diligent in performing their duties. The few bad eggs should not be allowed to tarnish the image and reputation of the force.”

Salisu Na’inna Dambatta writes from Kano.

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