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SARS: Beyond name change

In the last 10 days or more, Nigerian youths have been on the street, protesting, calling for the scrapping of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), an arm of the Nigeria Police. The protest, which is fast assuming the features and stature of a revolution, has not only been total and comprehensive, but also very effective.

The protest is not just an expression, but an outpouring of long-bottled up hatred, frustration and apparent loss of confidence in the special police unit, especially in its mode of operation which has presented the unit as a killer-squad.

The protest, which has been largely peaceful, is also the only way the youths are telling the Police authorities and, by extension, the Nigerian government that they have had enough of the nuisance SARS has become unfortunately.

At inception, SARS was a noble idea and to be called to the squad was dignifying. Today, it is disheartening that such a good initiative meant to assist the police effectively and efficiently crack down on hardened criminals and notorious armed robbers has been hijacked by crooks in the police force.

A squad that used to be the pride of the police and one that used to send shivers down the spines of die-hard armed robbers, especially through their sting operations, is now being dragged in the mud by its own acts of omission and commission.

Perhaps, a significant aim of the protest has been achieved, or so it seems, with the Federal Government causing the police authorities to disband the notorious SARS whose stock-in-trade now is brutalising innocent Nigerians, especially the youths who they brand all sorts of names in order to extort or kill them mindlessly.

With the speed of light, the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu, disbanded SARS, but no sooner had he done that than he came up with Special Weapons and Tactics Team (SWAT) which is an acronym for Special Weapons and Tactics, thereby raising both concerns and questions.
The thinking around town is that SARS has not, strictly speaking, been disbanded, but has simply undergone a name change which, in our view, does not translate to anything dependable or trustworthy.

We are of the view that name is simply a badge and it is not enough in the present circumstance. Name change does not transform the character, behaviourial pattern or innate qualities of an individual or an organisation like SARS. Changing the name of a shrew to a squirrel, for instance, does not change or even reduce the offensive ordour it is known with.

We believe that changing SARS to SWAT will not make any fundamental difference in the wicked make up of the individuals in the squad. Therefore, we are calling on both the government and the police authorities to look beyond the name change, because that is not enough.

There should be a new thinking and fresh orientation of the SARS in particular and the police force in general. It is not difficult to see, even without looking deep, that there is something ethically and professionally wrong with the Nigeria police force.

Despite all the unprintable things they have done and the many ignoble names they have been called in the past couple of weeks, we still share the belief of some Nigerians that SARS is still relevant in the country’s security architecture, but that is to the extent that the squad should be re-oriented and also reformed.

That SARS, as presently constituted, has lost the full respect of well-meaning Nigerians is just an understatement, especially with the way most of the operatives now go about their duties, behaving like area boys and mobs. Their mode of dressing sometimes makes it difficult for the public to distinguish between them and armed robbers.

These, arguably, are strong grounds to believe that this squad has been infiltrated and hijacked by “bad eggs” in the police force, who have turned the squad into another terror group, inflicting pains and sorrow on innocent Nigerians.

At any encounter with innocent Nigerians the SARS operatives exhibit raw power and arrogance. They have suddenly turned themselves into another cult group within the police, assuming greater powers than even the Area Commanders, meaning that there is something in them that needs to be corrected.

It is no longer news that SARS has assumed undue powers to harass, detain, maim and, in some instances, extra-judicially kill people they claim to be investigating. Cases abound of innocent people across the country that have been murdered by SARS.

Nigerian youths are calling for the scrapping of both SARS and SWAT, contending that the name change which the killer squad has undergone is not enough. We cannot agree more and, for us, the time for IGP Adamu to take that action is TODAY.

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