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SARS: Grounding Police terror machine

After weeks of protests across states of the federation against the Police 1Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), the Inspector- General of Police (IGP), Mr. Mohammed Adamu, on Sunday, ordered the disbandment of the tactical unit and other related squads. SARS was formed in 1992 and is one of the 14 units in the Force Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department, which was established to investigate and prosecute people involved in crimes like armed robbery, kidnapping and other forms of criminal activities. According to Adamu, all officers and personnel attached to the special unit are to be redeployed to zonal, states and other commands/formations of the Force across the country.

T he IGP, who made the orders during a press conference in Abuja, said a panel comprising civil society organisations (CSOs) and other relevant stakeholders would soon be constituted to probe cases of alleged extra-judicial killings, brutality and extortion levelled against SARS. There is no doubt that Adamu’s hands were forced after he visited the Presidential Villa, last week, where he met with President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice-President, Yemi Osinbajo. Osinbajo had, also last week, voiced his opposition to the squad, insisting that the police cannot be killing innocent citizens they are paid to protect.

Buhari himself had also joined his voice, telling Nigerians to be patient, as the right thing would be done. He said he was aware of the protests across the country against the dreaded Police “militia.” But we are not carried away by the latest move by the IGP on SARS. We are aware that this is not the first time the now public enemy unit of the Police had been banned from operation. After each ban, they still found a way to the roads, terrorising innocent citizens of the country.

The duties of SARS became so amorphous that they meddled in ordinary business transactions between individuals and could pick up anybody under any guise. Such persons might just be lucky to return home after paying heavily in bribes. The bribes could be from ATM machines, direct transfer to bank accounts of police officers or cash given to them. Yet, those are ones that could be considered lucky. Others that are not so lucky are often dispatched to the great beyond over one disagreement or the other.

Many Nigerians had died unexplainable deaths in the hands of these police officers. Adamu had earlier banned the squad, alongside other tactical units such as the Intelligence Response Team (IRT) and the Special Tactical Squad (STS), from patrol operations, unauthorised search on mobile phones and laptops, among other excesses. The Police Service Commission (PSC) had planned an investigation into the activities of the group, but whether that would be overtaken by the IGP’s order would be a subject to be verified later.

But what is not in doubt is that in the past few weeks and days, Nigerians had poured into the streets under the #EndSARS campaign to call for the scrapping of the unit. That included CSOs, activists, youth groups, artistes and other concerned citizens. That eventually forced government to listen and stop the mess, which the Police unit had become. By Adamu’s admission: “Government acknowledges the inalienable rights of citizens to freedom of association and expression.

“The current agitation, in this context, is seen as a manifestation of the natural desire of citizens to participate in matters concerning policing and internal security in the nation. “This is indeed one of the fundamental principles of Community Policing, which we are currently implementing.” All across the country, there have been tales of police brutality against citizens, often traceable to the infamous unit.

That is why we believe very strongly that the action of the IGP should not stop at the dissolution of the unit. There must be a serious inquest into their activities and those they killed, with a view to bringing the culprits to book.

We hold this belief because of the very visible abuse of citizens by the police unit. While we hold that the entire police need a forensic overhaul, there is no doubting the fact that men of the SARS unit overstepped their bounds by treating ordinary Nigerians as common criminals.

It is not unusual to see police officers without uniforms frisking citizens on the streets, searching their phones, laptops and other personal effects. They even go as far as picking out youths for wearing dreadlock and jeans.

Now that the IGP has brought the reign of terror to an end, we hope he truly means it and would allow a thorough investigation into the activities of the inglorious group, with a view to reforming Police operations in the country. We dare say that the problem of the Force is not only SARS. There are other units in the Police, right from police stations, that act arbitrarily against innocent citizens. They all deserve attention for the health of the country and its people. Otherwise, anarchy might just start from the Police.

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