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For some days now, rallies have been held in some parts of the country against the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigeria Police. The campaign against SARS, which began following the alleged shooting of a man by a SARS operative in Lagos, triggered protests nationwide, as many Nigerians who had had a raw deal from the Squad over the years came out with reports on their experiences.
Apart from the Squad members’ abuse of many Nigerians over the years, there are also many fresh cases such as the unexplained death of a certain man, Seun Ayoade, in SARS custody, in Akure, Ondo State. The now deceased Ayoade, whose case just came to light on Monday, was said to have been involved in an issue with a SARS operative before he was picked up with his brother, Abayomi, on October 17, and accused of armed robbery. His family has described his death as a case of vendetta, and called for an investigation. The SARS in Akure was said not to have informed his family of his death, and its operatives even beat up his stepfather, Mr. Femi Ajilo, who came to ask for him.
Beyond the individual accounts of the atrocities of SARS that have taken over the Internet since the Lagos shooting are the group accounts. Rivers and Kwara States, in particular, stand out in the campaign against SARS. Thousands of Rivers State residents were reported to have trooped out on Monday under the auspices of Grassroots Development Initiative to protest the alleged killings, kidnappings and electoral malpractice by operatives of the squad in the state. They accused the security outfit of lawlessness and called for the sack and trial of the SARS commander in the state, Akin Fakorede. They also described the SARS operatives in Rivers as “political criminals.” The pro-SARS rally, which was also said to have been held by the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state, was described by the anti-SARS protesters as a confirmation of the fact that the ruling party was using SARS to harass the people of Rivers State.
Youths from Kwara State also demonstrated against the agency, saying its operatives “had led many Nigerians to their graves.”
Lagos was not left out of the rallying as civil society groups in the state organised an anti-SARS rally at the Gani Fawehinmi Park, Ojota, Lagos, on Monday, while another group of Lagosians reportedly mostly from Ijora and Apapa areas of the city, held pro-SARS rallies around the National Stadium, Surulere. The anti-SARS protesters harped on the inhuman treatment of innocent persons and the extra-judicial killings carried out by the agency’s operatives, and called for the scrapping of the organisation, while the pro-SARS group praised the agency for keeping crime rate low in Lagos. The pro-SARS group, however, called for its reorganisation and the re-orientation of its personnel.
In the midst of these, the Nigeria Police has promised to investigate all the allegations against SARS operatives and bring the indicted ones to justice. The Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, had also earlier promised to reorganise the agency.
The #EndSARS campaign is a good example of citizens’ action. It is good to see the people rise up in a peaceful manner to protest a situation which they consider inimical to their well-being. There is no doubt that some SARS operatives have been highhanded in their handling of many innocent Nigerians. While it is important to have a special security agency that is solely devoted to the battle against armed robbery, and while SARS has been widely acknowledged as effectively carrying out this responsibility, it is important that the agency goes about its duties with respect for the rule of law.
The many reports of mindless killings by the agency’s operatives do not portray it in good light. The agency can go about its duties in a way that is civil and not injurious to innocent Nigerians. A situation in which its operatives kill and beat people at will, should be stopped immediately. Anyone of its operatives that is found to have injured or killed anyone should be brought before the courts and punished.
Going forward, the days of SARS as an agency where anything goes should come to an end. The promised reformation of the agency should be speedily done. It may be necessary to reorganise its leadership and re-orientate its operatives. All those that are unlikely to fit into its new image of a responsible organisation should be moved out to other responsibilities within the force, while all those who are found to have been involved in all the untoward activities that gave the agency a bad name should be shown the way out and prosecuted to send a clear message that it is no longer business as usual in SARS.
There is no denying the fact that SARS has contributed largely to the relative peace in Lagos and, I believe, some other cities in the country. It is a fearless organisation that has done well to combat crime, and it dares to march where the regular police fear to tread. It has also been responsible for the bursting of many criminal armed robbery and kidnapping gangs. Therefore, scrapping it may amount to throwing the baby away with the bath water.
While it may be true to say that it is the lacklustre performance of the regular police that informed the establishment of SARS, it is unlikely that a general overhaul of the force will bring it up to the task of confronting criminals headlong, in the SARS has been doing. Again, abrogating SARS may be cosmetic only. It will still be necessary to have a specialised organisation such as SARS which will be able to dare all in the effort to battle criminals. So, the way to go is to ensure a comprehensive re-training and reorientation of the agency to make it more civil in its approach to the people, while its unconscionable members are shown the way out.