By Ikeddy ISIGUZO
A Major Commentator on Minor Issues
IN a furious week of popular protests and caustic condemnations of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), the listening government of President Muhammadu Buhari “ended” SARS as demonstrators had demanded. It is a pyrrhic victory.
Mohammed Adamu, Inspector-General of Police, surprised many Nigerians, with the announcement of the dissolution of SARS whose officers are to be scattered in various units of the police. The sketchy Sunday statement skirted issues around SARS.
It was the obvious indication that government either did not know what to do about SARS or was unwilling to confront an issue that has been before it for more than two years. In that period, chaotic, conflicting conversations about SARS showed that the government did not solve the problem – it expected it to go away.
SARS grew on the wings of the unsupervised, mainly misappropriated, powers of security agents. Nothing is about to be done about it. Nigerians would be glad to see the government prove them wrong. Why are Nigerians celebrating? What comforts does Adamu’s vacuous statement provide? Was SARS the challenge Nigerians faced or the completely out of span police?
Thousands of Nigerians are detained in SARS facilities. Adamu was silent on their fate. He had the same treatment about officers who had been accused of abusing their powers. Yet Adamu found opportunities in the policing crisis to make audacious claims about community policing, another matter that should have been for another day.
Is the SARS that a mere Inspector-General of Police “ended” not the same one that Acting President Yemi Osinbajo speechified into a changed outfit in August 2018? Nigerians applauded. More SARS brutalities and killings followed.
What Osinbajo directed was closer to a serious action on SARS, and the police.
Osinbajo as Acting President in a press statement of Tuesday 14 August 2018, Laolu Akande, his media aide authored, which The Punch, among other media published, stated these:
“Following persistent complaints and reports on the activities of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad that border on allegations of human rights violations, Acting President Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, has directed the Inspector General of Police to, with immediate effect, 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.
“In the meantime, the Acting President has 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.”
President Buhari tweeted his receipt of a report on reforming SARS on 3 June 2019. Was the report the product of the directives of the Acting President? We were not told. The buck ended on the President’s desk.
The same President and the same Osinbajo have led Nigerians in circles in the past weeks with claims of their concerns and cares over the same SARS. There have been no mentions of their failed efforts. Has the current outcome not proven that the former initiatives were only impulsive responses to appease the public? Is there even an attempt to solve a problem?
None, as the government is delighted by its cosmetic approaches to issues. Is the President unaware that SARS is only a fraction of the same police that get away with all manners of maltreatment of Nigerians? Who treats cancers successfully with pain killers?
The police need to be reformed from the recruitment processes through training to binding Codes of Conduct on police officers. It would be just a beginning. There is an undisputed impression that the police are purpose-trained to unleash their frustrations on ordinary Nigerians.
Central to unprofessional policing and the SARS it spawned is the enthronement of torture as the strategy for dealing with suspects, and anyone so liberally designated. Offending officers are never punished because constitutional provisions against torture and sanctity of life are not being enforced.
Some police officers are celebrated as experts in torture and extortion. How did we get to a point that police officers take their victims to ATMs or “kidnap” them until families paid hundreds of thousands of Naira? Some bear POS machines for the same purpose. Those who are unable to pay are termed armed robbers.
Other security agents have enshrined torture in their operations. They are emboldened by the knowledge that they would suffer no adverse consequences for their illegal actions. Some victims do not survive.
If government does not end torture and unpunished mis-conducts of security agents, there would be more protests after “ending” SARS.
When the military, civil defence, and officers of other security agencies brutalise, extort, and kill Nigerians, should we be grateful that it was not SARS? What chimpanzee is replacing the monkey we called SARS? What happens to the “SARS” in other security agencies?
President Buhari can be different. Leaning on constitutional provisions, he can solve the problem in more meaningful ways. He has not.
Any pondering of the implications and importance of Section 14, 2 b of the 1999 Constitution – “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government” – would return the verdict that our governments have not only failed Nigerians but SARS and the police.
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