By Yaya Ademola
The decision by the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu, on 11th October, 2020 to disband Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) was a good step in the right direction. SARS was created in 1992 by the former Lagos State Police Commissioner, Simeon Danladi Midenda.
Although, there had been in existence about three anti-robbery squads at that time, Midenda SARS was unique. It was operating covertly – not allowed to wear Police uniform or publicly carry gun or walkie-talkies. Its men used unmarked vehicles with no licence plates or private numbers for operations.
But there was a major reason why the Midenda SARS was created. A soldier was killed by policemen at a checkpoint in Lagos. The reported news of the killing infuriated the Nigerian Army, with combatants dispatched into the streets of Lagos, searching for any policeman. Just any! Who born monkey? Nigeria Police withdrew from checkpoints and refused to report for duties. In fact, some policemen resigned, while others deserted.
For two weeks without police on duty, criminals had their free day. To checkmate them, Midenda created SARS of 15 officers, operating in shadow without the knowledge of the Nigerian Army. After a while, however, the Nigeria Police had a truce with the Army and normalcy returned.
Hence, SARS Unit within the Nigeria Police was officially commissioned. Ever since, it had done tremendous job in preventing and fighting crimes, especially armed robbery and kidnapping. Although, it was originally meant for Lagos, its delivery in nailing criminals made it admirable and it eventually expanded and replicated in all the states. Over time, however, degeneracy ensued.
Right from 2017, there had been agitations by spirited Nigerians for a restructure or outright disbandment of SARS. In its 2016 reports, Amnesty International accused SARS officers of indiscriminate and regular detention of young adults unlawfully and extortion of money from their families. The reports revealed how their victims were tortured and forced to confess to crimes they did not commit.
Instead of fighting crimes, SARS officers were notorious for hitting innocent people, especially young adults, with the gun-butt during arrest; dehumanising and treating people like common criminals; threatening to kill and that no one would find out. They did burst into tertiary institutions to harass and arrest students with their laptops and phones. It had gotten to the level that every young adult did not feel at ease with any policeman. SARS had been linked to acts of human rights abuses, killings of innocents, torture, framing and blackmail.
They operated as if they were licensed to kill without consequence. They lacked rules of engagement. If you had had an encounter with them, you would appreciate how dreadful they were.
Just last month, 15th September, 2020, Joint Task Force (JTF) operatives in Osogbo, chased alleged internet fraudsters also known as “Yahoo-Yahoo boys” till their car, Toyota Corolla Sport Car marked KUJ 533LY , skidded off Oba Adesoji Aderemi East Bypass and hit the electricity pole. One of the four occupants died instantly, while the remaining three sustained various degrees of injuries.
The young men were coming out of Osun Mall, located at Fakunle area, where they had gone to buy food. This provoked a 2-day protest by the youth against police atrocities in the state capital, with the promise by the authorities that perpetrating officers would be fished out to face the full wrath of the law.
On that very day, 15th September, after a very hectic work, I sat down at a beer parlour, about three minutes drive to my house, to cool down a bit before heading home. Right in front of me, the SARS officers descended from a commercial minibus, popularly called Korope, and demanded from the owner of the shop, “where is the boy that parked this car”? They were referring to my car. The woman replied them, “boy or what did you say?” She eventually pointed at me and said, “That man is the owner.” They looked at me unhappily and left.
If I had been a young adult, I would have been harassed, arrested and extorted. Any youth with dreadlocks, cars, and/or expensive phones was in trouble. That had been their style.
SARS harassment and provocation got to its peak in the last two weeks, in turn provoking sustained streets protests by the youth, tagged #EndSARS across major cities around the country, including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). Because of the relentless tempo of the protests, SARS had to be stopped. Hence, the IGP ordered the disbandment of security outfit on 11th October, 2020, with immediate effect. But there is a need for a new crime-fighting outfit within the police.
Pertinent questions being asked by well-meaning Nigerians, however, are: will the officers and men/women that will work with the new outfit, Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team come from the moon? Will they not be assembled from same rotten institution? What will be their new conditions of service and what manners of training and rules of engagement will they be given? In the past, police used to collect bribe clandestinely but now, it is done openly.
The disbandment is good but it was just a scratch. There was need for total overhauling of the Nigerian system. Something is wrong everywhere one goes. Everybody is scheming everywhere to undermine the system for personal aggrandisement. It is corruption from the market men and women, civil servants, artisans, religious centres, governments and Non-Governmental Organisations, students and labour movements, while even the judiciary which used to be touted as the last hope of the common man is not spared!
The lesson to learn from SARS disbandment is that struggle pays if we focus on our mission and vision. The next challenge is staying focused and following the immediate gains through to logical conclusions, which calls for more tact and organisation than holding off the streets. Failing to do so and merely continuing to hang on the streets will only lead to undesirable consequences.
Our strength lies in our collective will to struggle together. It is our inability to stand together and speak with one voice that has made us to be where we are today – motion without movement. Our capacity to stand up as a people and say NO; irrespective of tribes, religions, social statuses, etc surpasses military and artillery powers. It is this kind of united will that is required to put in place a
Government that will heed the yearnings and aspiration of the majority of the people for a better and decent working and living condition with subsequent re-orientation of our value system. Congratulations to the Nigerian youth for their titanic struggle to end SARS. If we fight we may win, if we don’t, we have lost.