Public outrage over alleged atrocities by the men of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF), Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) reach a cross road after an order by Acting President Yemi Osinbajo to overhaul the outfit.
On 14 August 2018, Osinbajo directed the Inspector General of Police (IGP) Ibrahim Idris to dismantle the outfit, citing persistent complaints and reports on the activities of the SARS that border on allegations of human rights violations.
He ordered the IGP to overhaul the management and activities of SARS and ensure that any unit that will emerge from the process will be intelligence-driven and restricted to the prevention and detection of armed robbery and kidnapping.
The statement from the acting President noted that the IGP must 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 Humanitarian Law.
They were ordered to also respect the constitutionally guaranteed rights of suspects and that the operatives should also carry proper identification anytime they are on duty.
Change of name
Osinbajo also directed the National Human Rights Commission to set up a Committee that will conduct nation-wide 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.
In swift compliance with the Presidential directive, Inspector General of Police (IGP) Ibrahim Idris, ordered the immediate overhaul of SARS, across the country.
Police spokesman, acting DCP Jimoh Moshood in a statement said the outfit will now be known as Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (FSARS).
He said a new Commissioner of Police has been appointed as the overall head of the FSARS nationwide, adding that all SARS teams nationwide have been collapsed under FSARS.
He explained that the erstwhile FSARS under the Force Criminal Intelligence and Investigations Department (FCIID) is henceforth to operate under the Department of Operations, Force Headquarters Abuja.
He added that the Commissioner of Police (FSARS) is answerable to the Inspector General of Police through the Deputy Inspector General of Police, Department of Operations.
He said in observance of full compliance with the Presidential directives, the FSARS will be intelligence driven and will be restricted to the prevention and detection of Armed Robbery, kidnapping and the apprehension of offenders linked such offences only.
He said new FSARS Commanders are being appointed for the FSARS across the country that will now exist and operate in the State and Zonal Commands under the Commissioner of Police (F-SARS) at the Force Headquarters, Abuja.
He added that a Federal SARS Commander of a Rank of Chief Superintendent of Police (CSP) but not below Superintendent of Police (SP) will be in charge of FSARS in State and Zonal Commands across the country.
He noted that a new Standard Operational Guidelines and Procedures, and code of conduct for all FSARS personnel to ensure that the operations of the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad is in strict adherence to the rule of law.
He said it should give due regards to international human rights law and constitutionally guaranteed rights of suspects will be enforced in totality by the Commissioner of Police, FSARS.
The Police are also to set up Human Rights Desk Officers for 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.
FSARS personnel it was noted would not perform Stop and Search duties except on distress call to respond to armed robbery and kidnapping offences only.”
The Police promised to be transparent, cooperate, and work cordially with the National Human Right Commission on the special panel that will conduct an investigation of the alleged unlawful activities of FSARS.
“A committee of Senior Police officers, Technical Consultants, Human Rights/Civil Society organizations (CSOs) has been setup to review the activities of FSARS under the new arrangement.
“They are to pay unscheduled visits to FSARS formations across the country with particular attention to States with high complaints index, to assess facilities and situations in these States and submit report to the Inspector General of Police on regular basis.
In the wake of the decision to assuage Nigerians and check the alleged excess of SARS, Nigerians have been apprehensive about the practicability of the reforms.
The agitation to end SARS gained momentum following the creation of the #EndSars on social media platform Twitter and a rigorous campaign ensued that culminated with the decision of the Acting President.
In an interview with Daily Trust the convener of the #EndSars campaign Segun Awosanya said Osinbanjo’s order to overhaul SARS is a welcome development.
He noted that, “We received it with measured optimism, it is also a buildup of the dialogues we have had, I’m sure the acting President’s ears would have been full, with our petitions.”
Awosanya said, “I need to also let the public understand that it is not just a Twitter campaign, we have been having dialogue sessions with the Judiciary, and the Judiciary has contributed their quota by implementing the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, fully across the country.”
He said the campaign also influenced the passing of the Police Reform Act bill which has passed second reading in the legislature, “of course this is historical because since 1943, the Police Act has not been challenged as it is now.”
He said for the first time we are looking at how to repeal and replace the Police Act, not just to reduce the amount of injustices meted out to our people, but to make policing easy for our police officers and make life better for them.
“So often we focus so much on the end SARS campaign, instead, it is as holistic; #EndSARS and Police reforms campaign,” Awoyansa said.
The National Coordinator Network on Police Reforms in Nigeria (NOPRIN) Okechukwu Nwanguma said SARS is a reflection of the trouble with the NPF.
He said, “It reflects the prevailing culture of lawlessness, violence and leadership ineptitude,” adding that, “reforming the NPF will start, among others, with a review of the NPF leadership appointment procedure.”
He said this is to ensure only the best hands and the best brains in the police are appointed into leadership positions.
He said the IGP so appointed must enjoy security of tenure, operational autonomy and consequently, loyalty not only to the President and political party or regime in power, but especially, to the law and to the people through elected (democratic) structures.
Nwanguma said the culture of violence characteristic of SARS prevails because the leadership of the NPF is singlehandedly appointed and serves at the pleasure of the President and ruling party.
Andrew Braimoh, the Media Commissioner on the Board of the Police Service Commission (PSC) said, “I’m not aware of any complaints against the SARS to the PSC.”
“The public never avail itself of the presence of the PSC as the only Civilian oversight body that can discipline the Police Force,” he explained.
“Therefore, if no complaints are before the Commission, we cannot do anything,” he said, adding that, “We are happy with the IG’s immediate response to the order of the Acting President.”
Braimoh said the PSC is monitoring the compliance, noting that, “We believe that the ongoing reforms will make FSARS people’s friendly and professional.
He added that the PSC is working to ensure the NPF is professionally departmentalized and effective, “Let’s give the ongoing reforms the necessary support.”
Commissioner of Police (CP) rtd, Emmanuel Ojukwu said the trending demand by the Nigeria public to end SARS is in line with the wish of the people to have their police accountable.
Ojukwu said the overriding duty of the Police is to protect lives and property and largely prevent crime, adding that, “since the establishment of SARS many years ago, they have worked tremendously well in checkmating violent crimes in this country.”
He said, “The call for them to be overhauled and the order from the acting President are in order, the police are working in tandem to ensure Nigerians enjoy the rights as enshrined in our constitution.”
“I do believe the inspector General of Police would do the need full to reposition the SARS to make it more effective and responsible to their action,” Ojukwu said.
He said the officers need to be retrained, line with the complaints of members of the public and observe human rights.