Inspector General of Police Ibrahim Idris implemented Acting President Yemi Osinbajo’s directive last Tuesday to reform the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) wing of the Nigeria Police force at a speed that shocked Nigerians. It is not the first time that the IGP would announce a similar reform. In 2017 he had released a similar document in reaction to the national outcry against the activities of SARS in 2017. The fact that the lamentation became louder this year meant that the earlier ‘reform’ was not implemented.
The statement from the Acting President’s office read thus: “Following persistent complaints and reports on the activities of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) that border on allegations of human rights violations, Acting President Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, has directed the Inspector General of Police (IGP) to, with immediate effect, 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, and apprehension of offenders linked to the stated offences, and nothing more. The Acting President has also directed the IGP to 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 Human Rights Law and the constitutionally guaranteed rights of suspects. The operatives should also bear proper identification anytime they are on duty. He also directed the National Human Rights Commission to set up a Special Panel that will conduct an 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 response to this directive in 24 hours, the IGP scrapped SARS and replaced it with Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (FSARS) which centralises the operations of the anti-crime agency under the authority of a Commissioner of Police. Then the statement stated the obvious that their operations will be “intelligence-driven,” and restricted to tackling “armed-robbery, kidnapping and apprehension of offenders lined to the stated offences.” Also, a “human rights desk,” will be set up to work hand-in-hand with the Nigerian Human Rights Commission which “will conduct an investigation of the alleged unlawful activities of FSARS to address grievances from the public against the personnel of FSARS in compliance with the presidential directives.” For those who have been following the outcries against SARS and the Police’s responses, these phrases and clauses are not new.
The way to go is simple – the police should ensure the observation of the provisions of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (2015) which provides in Section 8(1) that: a suspect must:-“(a) be accorded humane treatment, having regard to his right to the dignity of his person; and (b) not be subjected to any form of torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.” Other sections of this Act insist that suspects should be allowed access to their lawyers before they make confessional statements.
These should be enforced by the police and those who contravene these provisions should be punished. The operatives of SARS have been accused of torturing, humiliating and extra-judicially killing suspects because the police have turned a blind eye against such blood thirsty personnel. The IGP’s job is well cut out for him – punish SARS operatives who violate the law.