Outcry As SARS Officers Extort Residents

By Shina Abubakar

Residents of major towns in the State of Osun have lamented the high rate of harassment and ridicule they are subjected to in recent times by men of the Special Anti-Robbery Squads of the Nigeria Police Force, popularly referred to as SARS.

Many of those who spoke with Osun Defender medium disclosed that the special unit has turned into a virus, feeding on the innocence of the citizenry it is supposed to be protecting, while crime activities are perpetrated sometimes in broad light unchecked.

Mr Kehinde Oni who spoke with the medium in Ilesa disclosed that SARS as a unit of the Police Force is no longer in tune with reality because it has actually turned into another crime syndicate that harass and intimidate members of the public for personal gains.

He stated that the unit has now specialised in using spies in banks to alert them when young men has transactions, with a view to extorting such persons, sometimes,  on the excuse that they are too young to be in possession of such money.

Sometimes, Oni added, the spies are banks security personnel or, even cash transaction officials in the banks, who later get their share from the proceeds made by the gun-wielding police officers.

According to Qodri Alani, a resident in Ogo-Oluwa area of the state capital, the attitude of SARS officers is becoming irritating, particularly with regards to bully and intimidation of young people who go about for their lawful businesses.

He narrated how officers of the unit extorted money from him even after he had identified his place of work.

“I was coming out of a bank along Ogo-Oluwa when a mini-bus popularly referred to as ‘korope’ parked beside me and a gun-wielding guy wearing a black T-shirt with SARS inscription on it approached me asking me of my means of livelihood.

After telling them of my means of livelihood, one of them insisted I must enter the bus with them and before I could protest, I was pushed in and the driver moved towards Ola-Iya and on getting to Fakunle area the vehicle was parked and I was asked to transfer fund into another guy’s, (who I met in the bus), account number before I was allowed to leave”.

He disclosed that many other young men have been in police cell for refusing to part with their money or sometimes their mobile phones or laptops.

An NYSC member in Ile-Ife disclosed that when he was arrested and presented his NYSC identity, the officers told him the identity was just temporary and he must part with his money before he could be released.

Similarly, a youth corp member in the state who pleaded anonymity call for the dissolution of the unit due to their recklessness and blatant disregard for the rules of law, especially with regards to cyber crime law in the country.

He said most of the police men in the unit are involved in crime activities while adorning uniform as law enforcement agents.

Speaking on the development, a Lawyer in Osogbo, Barrister Bukola Onifade disclosed  that what the men of SARS are doing is contrary to the position of the constitution because it guarantees the right of individual to own property, account and transact business legally without being harassed by anyone.

He said the SARS officers just drive around town in commercial vehicles and burgle people into the vehicle indiscriminately, drive them into a corner and intimidate them into paying ‘ransom’ to secure their r elease before getting back to the station.

Onifade added that in the case that their victims are taken to the station, such victims are neither arraigned in court nor their cases investigated to ascertain their innocence rather, they are kept in police detention perpetually until their families can meet the police demands.

“Many Nigerians now want to join the police force, not to service, but because they presume it is easy to extort money from people being an officer of the law”, he added.

The learned fellow however called on Nigerians not to allow ignorance lead them to suffer injustice, stressing the need for them to always call on their lawyers as soon as they are burgled by SARS officers unnecessarily.