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Radical action beyond words needed urgently on SARS

The killings and financial extortions of Nigerians by a ‘rogue’ police unit called Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), are unacceptable and calls for immediate policies to address this insanity once and for all.

The menace posed by the illegal actions of SARS are too significant to overlook and must be followed with necessary actions rather than mere words of displeasure. The unit has outlived its existence and should be disbanded immediately. It is time to defenestrate its amoral personnel, reform those amenable and throw the books at the criminals in their ranks.

Sadly, the anti-robbery police unit committed with the responsibilities of protecting lives and properties has become the robbers who put properties and lives in peril. This puts the image of Nigeria in jeopardy especially in the eyes of investors. Most especially, the illegal activities of SARS are a symptom of policy failure and portray the lack of government control on SARS.

When SARS was created, there were already three Anti-Robbery Squads operating in Lagos – Force CID at Alagbon Close, Zone Two Command and at Panti, Lagos state CID. There were also special anti-robbery squad units in each state police command.

Midenda’s unit, however, was “special”, it lent some mystic.

They operated in plain clothes and drove unmarked cars unlike regular police patrol teams. They did not visibly carry guns or walkie-talkies; the idea was to blend in. Intelligence and surprise were their most potent weapons.

Operatives though were always fully combatant, remained undercover and monitored all police communications. When there was a reported robbery, they laid in wait to capture the fleeing robbers. At other times, they simply captured them on their beds, hotels or other leisure places.

They did not interface with the public, didn’t stop people on the streets or pry into their phones. They relied on intelligence, smart police investigation and were the most successful unit in the police. This is why it was replicated at every police command in Nigeria.

That SARS is history. In its place is the stuff of nightmares. Hiding in plain sight which helped them fight crime has become a tool to harass Nigerians. They are dreaded more than armed robbers.

Thus the directive by Mohammed Adamu, the Inspector General of Police, to ban the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (FSARS) and other Tactical Squads of the Force including the Special Tactical Squad (STS), Intelligence Response Team (IRT), Anti-Cultism Squad operating at the Federal, Zonal and Command levels, from carrying out routine patrols and other
conventional low-risk duties – stop and search duties, checkpoints, mounting of roadblocks, traffic checks, etc. – with immediate effect, is unconvincing. This is the fourth time such an order has been made.

In a country where the order of the IGP carries the same efficacy as singing to a corpse and hoping it will dance, it is important the federal government swings into action immediately. While we condemn the illegal actions of the police force, we can’t also imagine our roads and vicinities without security personnel. Hence, we call for critical reforms in Nigeria’s police force.

The entire police force is long-overdue for reform. Compare the year-long protests in Hong Kong which resulted in two deaths, 7,300 arrests and over 2,600 injuries to the deaths that followed protests in Abeokuta and the sad video of Tiyamiyu’s father.

Shutting down some stations won’t do. The IG must provide clarity. Will the alleged killer police officers be brought to book? What happens to other notorious police formations including the Ogudu Police Station, Awkuzu, in Anambra State, and Port Harcourt in Rivers State?

After years of protests like the #EndSARS campaign, #killSARS is trending lately. People are now tired of crying out and now taking matters into their hands. In Portharcourt, for instance, cultists of different divisions flooded the street with axes and machetes in response to the killing of a young man in front of Wetland Hotel, Ughelli in Delta State. This is dangerous. To do nothing is to provoke mob action when next SARS officers misfire.

President Buhari must lead by example with a radical action, beyond holding meetings with his security chiefs. Nigerians are living in fear from herdsmen, bandits, cultists, kidnappers, terrorists, and shockingly police officers.

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