We want to make our position quite clear from the start. The nationwide End SARS/Police brutality has gone on for so long the organisers have to bring it to an end. Our reasons are these: one, there is no guarantee from the organisers that they can continue to keep the protests peaceful. Most of the dozen deaths that have occurred have not been at the hands of the police but protesters. Secondly, the government has made rare concessions, promising a raft of measures to try to appease the popular anger.
Following a clear order from President Muhammadu Buhari, police chief Mohammed Adamu announced on Tuesday the Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS) was being replaced by a new SWAT outfit. He assured that no members of the former unit would be eligible for the new one, promising its officers would be “barred from indiscriminate and unlawful searches.” He added that police officers must no longer work in plain-clothes but always appear in their uniform or approved tactical gear.
Adamu also warned the special units “against the invasion of the privacy of citizens, particularly through indiscriminate and unauthorised search of mobile phones, laptops and other smart devices.” He said their remit was limited to cases of armed robbery, kidnapping and other violent crimes “when the need arises”. Authorities would continue to monitor police officers and discipline those who contravene the rules.
These directives have come against the backdrop of findings by the leadership of the Force that a few personnel of the Tactical Squads hide under these guises to perpetrate all forms of illegality,” Adamu statement said. According to him, two SARS agents and a civilian accomplice have been arrested in Lagos “for acts of professional misconduct including extortion and intimidation of innocent citizens.”
Prior to the ongoing youth protests which are anything but spontaneous, there had been calls in recent months for the police investigation branch to be shut down over accusations of unlawful arrests, torture and even murder of suspects. Numerous stories of abuse have been posted by citizens on social media under #EndSARS. The unit, a branch of the Nigerian police under the Criminal Investigating Department (CID), was already reorganised in 2017 over similar allegations. It developed from different forces in the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, , which were, by law, brought under the federal police force to confront violent crimes such as armed robbery, kidnapping and communal clashes.
Unfortunately, SARS had transformed into a Frankenstein, terrorising and killing innocent citizens it was meant to protect from enemies of society. Local and international rights bodies have long called for the special squad to be eliminated. In June, Amnesty International said the unit “continues to commit torture and other human rights violations while discharging their law enforcement duties”. The ongoing protests have been loud and clear about the nation’s present mood. And the government has been equally loud about its resolve to reform the police to make it more people friendly.
Yes, people are right in asking what the new SWAT will do differently from the disbanded SARS. They deserve a forthright answer that is also assuring. This said, we think the government has given the strongest signal yet that it understands Nigerians’ grievances and is already working to meet their genuine demands. Therefore, it is time to end the protests before some opportunistic politicians turn the campaign against the Nigerian State. There has to be a peaceful country for citizens to live within it to press home grievances. Besides, one person’s right to protest along the streets, legally, cannot be an obstacle to the right of other road users as the ENDSARS protesters are making it seem.