Inspector General of Police Ibrahim Idris has been forced to respond to a growing social media campaign by agreeing to “reoganise” the now very unpopular Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). Running under the hashtag #ENDSARS #REFORMPOLICING, the campaign, led by one Segun Awosanya, is demanding “outright scrapping” of SARS and a reform of the police force under which the SARS functions. It alleges brutality, extortion, disappearances and extra-judicial killings by officers of the squad.
Awosanya, while speaking during a recent rally in Abuja, said SARS has “outlived its usefulness” as a crime fighting force. He said: “Its members have become engrossed in crime, murder, brutality, extortion and disrespect for the rule of law in a manner that makes any attempt at reform a waste of time”.The Campaign has three other demands: reorganisation of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) “in its entirety”; public hearings in the Senate “to enable Nigerians table their grievances before their elected representatives”; and “a thorough investigation” into complaints made against specific SARS officers. On this latter, the Campaign claimed: “We demand that such officers be identified and immediately brought to justice. In some cases, we will provide video and pictorial evidence against officers …”
However, IGP Idris’ offer to “reorganise” the SARS is unlikely to satisfy the campaigners and hundreds of thousand other Nigerians who have personal tales of woe to tell against the squad but are too afraid to go public. To show their disgust, the campaigners mobilised in greater numbers on Monday at Abuja’s Unity Fountain where they warned that if SARS did not go altogether, they “will be compelled to resort to other measures to embarrass them (police authorities) into taking action.”
The response of the IGP was an “immediate reorganisation” of SARS nationwide. A statement put out by Force public relations officer, Chief Superintendent Jimoh Moshood, said the reform was to reposition the squad for “efficient and effective service delivery” to Nigerians who, according to Idris, are showing usually keen interest in the work of the squad. It was also to make its officers comply with what he called the “international core values” of integtity and respect for rule of law.
A key feature of the reform is that SARS now comes under the direct command of a commissioner of police heading the Operations Department at Force Headquarters in Abuja. Until now SARS was a power onto itself. However, the so-called restrucuring has left SARS untouched at zonal, state and divisional levels.
The irony is that it is at those levels that the atrocities alleged against SARS are pepertrated. At those levels, according to Idris, the normal police “will continue to operate crack squads” to fight crime. The question is: where will the fighting force come ftom? Will new officers be recruited and trained on the suddenly recognised need to conform to international core values and rule of law? We doubt very much. The personnel will be the same SARS officers recycled.
Indeed, if anything, what the police authorities have done is provide a smokescreen under which SARS will operate using the same methodology of brutality and killing in a different name. We doubt that the authotities want a new look SARS with a truly human face. In this light, we urge the campaigners to go to work on the Senate to hold public hearings on SARS. If the senators find a preponderance of views in support of scrapping SARS, it must go.