- Lawyers agree on FSARS’ reform
Notwithstanding divergent views on the propriety of the ban placed on operations of the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (FSARS ) by the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu, lawyers have charted a new course on how to end acts of impunity by operatives of the security outfit. AKEEM NAFIU writes
Not many Nigerians were surprised by the recent ban placed on the operations of the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (FSARS) by the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu. The ban came amidst public outcry over incessant killings, brutality, harassment and various abuses of human rights being perpetrated by operatives of the security outfit. The issue has, however, generated mixed reactions from some senior members of the Bar.
The lawyers both of the Inner and outer Bar despite condemning the actions of the FSARS operatives in strong term, could however not speak with one voice as to whether the IGP’s decision is appropriate considering the security situation in the country.
Those in support of IGP’s action believed it is most appropriate as SARS operatives have shown with time their unwillingness to change from their evil ways. However, those in opposition said the IGP’s action is akin to killing an ant with a sledge hammer.
They advocated for serious reforms and more discipline in SARS operations. Prior to the IGP’s announcement of the ban, photos, videos, tweets and posts calling for an end to SARS in Nigeria were trending for about 48 hours. The ban forbids personnel of the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (FSARS) from carrying out routine patrols, search duties, mounting of roadblocks and traffic checks.
A statement by Force Public Relations Officer, DCP Frank Mba, indicated that aside FSARS ban, the IGP also directed that operations of tactical squads of the force, including the Special Tactical Squad, Intelligence Response Team, Anti-Cultism Squad and others operating at the federal, zonal and command levels should be halted forthwith.
Mba added that the IGP has also ordered that henceforth no personnel of the force should embark on patrols or tactical assignments in mufti, saying officers must always appear in their police uniforms or approved tactical gear.
“Specifically, the IGP has warned the tactical squads against the invasion of the privacy of citizens, particularly through the indiscriminate and unauthorised search of mobile phones, laptops and other smart devices, but to concentrate and respond only to cases of armed robbery, kidnapping and other violent crimes when the need arises”, he said. The latest ban made it the fifth time within a space of four years that a ban will be placed on SARS operations.
Activities of SARS have earlier been banned with a call for the outfit’s immediate restructuring in December 2017, June 2018, January 2019 and in February 2020, by the top hierarchy of the police. In December 2017, while barring men of SARS from conducting stop and search operations, the then IGP, Ibrahim Idris, also promised to restructure and reposition the unit for effective service delivery.
Owing to the ineffectiveness of the earlier ban, a similar directive was again issued in June 2018.
This was followed by another order in August 2018 for an immediate overhauling of SARS in compliance with a directive by the then Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo. At that time, the IGP had in addition to the ban ordered an immediate medical and psychological evaluation of all SARS officers.
The IGP X-Squad was also mandated to immediately launch an enquiry into allegations, complaints and infractions levelled against SARS officials across the country.
In January 2019, an order directing the disbandment of the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (FSARS) was handed down by the current IGP, Mohammed Adamu.
At the time, the IGP equally ordered state police commissioners to command the squads in their locations. President Muhammadu Buhari had also in 2019, directed the Inspector- General of Police (IGP), Ministry of Justice and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to work out modalities for the implementation of the report of the Presidential Panel on the Reform of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) within three months.
Some of the panel’s recommendations included the establishment of state and local government police, renaming of SARS to Anti-Robbery Section (ARS) as well as making the outfit to operate under the intelligence arm of the police.
Despite the IGP’s ban on the operations of FSARS, thousands of Nigerians, mostly youths have continued with protests against police brutality across the country. The protesters maintained that they are not asking for a reformation of the SARS outfit, but its complete scrap.
A fall-out of the protests which happened in Lagos was the demand by the State House of Assembly for the proscription of FSARS and the introduction of a new and well-structured security outfit in its place. The lawmakers made the call Friday last week at an emergency sitting presided over by the House Speaker, Mudashiru Obasa.
They also called on the Senate and the House of Representatives to carry out a probe of allegations of killing, maiming and rights violations against FSARS operatives. In Delta State, the protest reportedly turned violent with the killing of a policeman.
The officer, Corporal Etaga Stanley, was said to have been killed during a clash between some youths, operatives of the Delta State Police Command and commercial motorcyclists otherwise known as Okada riders in Ughelli, Delta State. The Force Public Relations Officer, Frank Mba, in a statement, said Corporal Stanley was killed and his weapon, a rifle and ammunition stolen during the protest in Delta.
Victims of FSARS’ impunity
Many Nigerians have become victims of SARS impunity. While some are alive to tell their stories, others were not as lucky as they have been sent to their early grave.
For instance, two youths at Rumuosi in Obio/Akpor Local Government Area of Rivers State were on 9th July, 2019, reportedly killed by some operatives of the Federal Anti- Robbery Squad (FSARS) during a funeral of one, Aleruchi Woko, who was killed by an army personnel during a protest over the flooding of the community.
Trouble was said to have started when some Nkpolu youths went to a morgue in neighbouring Rumuosi Community to take Woko’s corpse for burial.
Reports had it further that before the corpse was taken away, some youths started robbing people, which caused FSARS operatives in the area to open fire on them. The shooting was said to have enraged the youths who then went on rampage, vandalising and looting shops, even as they also inflicted machete cuts on some people.
Another pathetic story is that of a player of Remo Stars Football club, Tiamiyu Kazeem, who was killed by an officer of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad in Ogun State on February 22, 2020. The SARS officer was said to have forcefully pushed the footballer onto the path of a speeding vehicle.
The incident happened along Sagamu road while Kazeem was in his car with one of his teammates, Sanni Abubakar Giving account of how the incident happened through a statement, Media Officer of Remo Stars FC, Dimeji Oshode, said some SARS men flagged down the footballer, labelled him an Internet fraudster and insisted on taking him to a nearby police station.
The SARS officers were said to have stopped Kazeem on the premise that he was a Yahoo Boy following which he brought out his identity card to identify himself as a player of Remo Stars FC but they insisted on taking him to the nearest police station in Sagamu.
“Kazeem and Sanni followed the SARS officers, only for them to notice that they (the SARS men) were driving towards Sagamu-Abeokuta Expressway. The guys asked to know where the SARS officers were taking them to, but this prompted them to stop the car and pushed Kazeem out of the car, and an unknown vehicle knocked him down.
“The player was rushed to Fakoya Hospital in Sagamu, where he was confirmed dead. Until his death, he was the assistant captain and a defender of the football team”, the statement reads. The police however refuted claims by the club that Kazeem was pushed onto the path of a speeding vehicle by one of its officers.
The Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO) in Ogun state, Abimbola Oyeyemi, said the player was arrested by a police inspector from the Zonal Intervention Squad for wearing a military cap and was being taken to ZIS office in Obada in a police operational vehicle when he jumped out. He said Kazeem was crushed to death by an oncoming vehicle while he was crossing to the other side of the Abeokuta-Sagamu Expressway.
“The fact of the matter is that an Inspector of police from ZIS went to arrest the deceased for putting on a military cap. On their way to Abeokuta, the vehicle developed a mechanical fault and while trying to rectify it, the man jumped down and took to his heels. While crossing the road, a fast moving, oncoming vehicle crushed him to death”, the PPRO said.
The ban on SARS operations by the Inspector General of Police has in the meantime been generating mixed reactions from some senior lawyers.
The lawyers while speaking on the issue at the weekend canvassed different positions for and against the IGP’s action. In his comments, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Chief Mike Ahamba, said the ban on SARS’ operations by the IGP is a welcome development. He said: “If SARS is banned, that’s a good news.
This is because SARS has so much messed up the image of police force. But, this is not the first time we are hearing this, previous IGPs have done similar thing, but the orders were not effective. I hope this latest one is for real.”
Ahamba was echoed by Mr. Malachy Ugwummadu who believed that the ban was necessary because SARS operatives have become almost incorrigible. “My reaction to this issue is in two folds. Firstly, I think there is a danger in throwing away the baby with the bathwater. There were very serious reasons why the outfit was put in place.
It is to deal with the exigencies of serious lapses in the nation’s security situation. The question then will be; has those situation dissapeared on account of the misdemeanor and malfeasance SARS operatives? The answer is no. “What has become challenging is that SARS operatives have become almost incorrigible.
Therefore, I want to say that we would have advocated for serious reforms and more discipline in SARS operations, but because these people have proved to be incorrigible, we are handicapped,” he said
Mr. Kunle Adegoke also hailed the IGP’s decision but expressed fears that it may not halt cases of rights abuses by the police. He said: “I believe the ban on the operations of men of Special Anti- Robbery Squad (SARS) is well-intended but it cannot halt abuse of human rights by police officers. These SARS men are policemen first before they were departmentalised into SARS. After the ban on the operations of SARS on the roads, these men are still in the Force as officers.
“We must look into the orientation and attitude of these men and seek to overhaul their mentality. Without such an effort, we are only winking in the dark. There must be a new approach to recruitment and training of police officers in this country.
“While this may not change those who are inherently corrupt and mentally deranged in the Force, it will minimise the rate at which their mentality is abused by the system that is hypocritical against itself and shields corruption in all sectors of the country. Majority of men of SARS and even the Police in general, are not fit to be in the Force.
They must be weeded out and re-trained.” Mr. Kabir Akingbolu said the ban was long overdue considering the many atrocities being perpetrated by the SARS operatives. He said: “The ban of SARS by the Inspector General of Police is a welcome idea that was long overdue. However, I am afraid if it’s not the usual ritual of lips service.
This is because it’s not the first time the IGP will be giving such directives without enforcement. “For goodness sake, SARS has become a tormenting tool or a nightmare of sort to Nigerians. They kill and main at will without recourse to their rules of engagement.
What is more? They are not professional in their dressing, they are not professional in their approach. They are not professional in the way they arrest and treat suspects. So, of what use is their existence?
“Ordinarily, they were set up to tackle incidents of robberies but overtime, they have become visible everywhere. They arrest for simple thefts, stealing, fraud, debt recoveries, disputes on simple contracts dealing with money and all sorts. Some even charge percentage on money recovered”.
However, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN) opined that the answer to SARS excesses lies in a complete overhaul, rejigging and rebranding of the squad to perform their statutory role, using best international practices, with a human face.
Ozekhome said: “I’ve heard about this type of order many times in the last 8 years. It has become an annual ritual. It will never happen. The reason is that it is virtually the moneyspinning arm of the Nigeria Police Force. They extort money from innocent, hopeless and hapless members of the public. They foray into purely civil, contractual, communal marital and other non-criminal matters. They carry out extra-judicial killings. They maim, torture and degrade their victims. “The answer does not lie in totally scrapping the SARS. Who will then confront armed robbers, kidnappers, bandits and small-time terrorists, which are actually their primary mission? The answer lies in a complete overhaul, regigging and rebranding the squad to perform their statutory role, using best international practices, with a human face.” Dr. Fassy Yusuf also sought for a total overhaul and re-orientation of members of the Nigeria Police Force as a way out of the problem.
He said: “The ban placed on the operations of FSARS and other similar agencies within the Nigeria Police Force by the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu, over gross misconduct and violation of human rights, is not the solution.
As far as I am concerned, the solution is in the total overhaul and re-orientation of members of the Nigeria Police Force. “I think something must be wrong somewhere, if those that are paid from public purse now turned around to inflict monumental and psychological assault on the people. It is inconceivable that such a thing will be happening in the 21st century of Nigeria. I think there’s more to it and we need to dig deeper into the remote and immediate causes of the problem.
“The police job is to protect lives and property of citizens, and not to destroy human lives, assault, oppress or humiliate people. I think the problem is more fundamental than we think and the police hierarchy needs to look deeper for solutions”. Speaking in the same vein, The Editor, Nigeria Weekly Law Reports, Mr. Oluwole Kehinde, called for an institution of a rejuvenation process of SARS in the nation’s interest.
He said: “I agreed that the operations of the SARS of the Police need to be re-examined and fine-tuned. But, it will be killing a small ant with a sledge hammer to demand its total scraping. The SARS is the main anti-robbery and rugged organ of the Police. It’s therefore either naive or unpatriotic for anyone to ask that it be put in total suspension.
That extreme posture itself may ground suspicion of criminal gang up against the organ. Let the Police and other stakeholders commence necessary process for rejuvenation of the organ for the benefit of the SARS, the Police, and the entire society.”