On Monday, the Senate asked its ad-hoc committee on Review of National Security Infrastructure to investigate allegations of human rights abuses by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
Commenting on the matter, Senate President Bukola Saraki observed that “it is clear that something wrong is going on and needs urgent attention. It is happening in all our constituencies. We must be seen to be responsive to some of these needs”.
The call for an end to SARS gained much traction on social media over the past week as many Nigerians revealed their various ordeals with the Police unit. Most of the horrid accounts shared bothered on harassment and humiliation, fatal injuries and death, making it imperative that urgent action be taken with respect to the continued existence of the outfit as part of a law enforcement organ of a democratic government.
As the representatives of the people, it is the duty of the Senate to ensure that the security of all citizens is not in jeopardy and that the dignity of all persons is not violated in the name of aggressive crime fighting. There are four major points of focus for the Senate on this matter:
WHAT ARE THE TERMS OF REFERENCE OF SARS?
Judging by its name, SARS is supposed to be an “anti-robbery” squad and it can be conceded that robberies are to be worried about in neighborhoods across the country. However, SARS are known to also go after kidnappers, cultists, advanced fee fraudsters and any other persons whom they may perceive as having committed a form of criminality. The Senate should determine the unit’s justifications for reaching beyond their specification as a unit specialized against robbery. Their inclination to cause mayhem could perhaps have something to do with their inability to restrict themselves to the duty of anti-robbery. But if SARS are empowered to capture kidnappers, assassins and ritual killers – a group of crimes which one could say require matching brutality with brutality – then what are the checks in place to limit the possibility of abusing their powers?
ARE OFFICERS TRAINED ON HUMAN RIGHTS?
This is perhaps a question that should be asked of all law enforcement agencies in Nigeria, from the NSCDC and Road Safety Corps, to the Police. But given the particular brutality with which SARS are known to treat persons they detain and those they harass on the streets, it should be required of the Inspector General of Police and the other officers in charge of the squad to show that SARS personnel are adequately trained to respect and uphold the dignity of all persons they interact with. Going by the evidence of the testimonies of torture against them, it is safe to say this does not appear to be the case.
SARS: RANK POLICE OFFICERS OR MERCENARIES?
Senator Misau, while moving the motion on the investigation of SARS, noted that the squad was one of 14 units under the Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department of every police command, reporting to the commissioner of police in each state. However, SARS men do not wear the usual police uniforms which have the names and numbers of officers visible to the public. This makes it uneasy to be able to report such persons when they offend. Most, if not all, of the SARS officers were plain black vests without the usual insignia that appear on other police uniforms. Questions should be asked on why theirs should be different, especially if they are going to stand on the highway and interact with ordinary citizens.
For the police to be seen as the friend of the public, there needs to be a safe space for interaction and that cannot happen if the identity of the SARS officers is concealed. Unless SARS personnel are mercenaries and not rank police officers, in which case it would be important to investigate why that is the case.
DOES NIGERIA TRULY NEED SARS?
It will probably be a waste of time if the Senate’s ad hoc committee does not at least push the authorities of the Police Force to provide strong justifications for not scrapping SARS. After the atrocities revealed against the unit, it definitely cannot be business as usual. The protestation by Police PRO Mr Jimoh Moshood that SARS is doing “fantastically well” does not hold water because there is ample evidence that they are also causing many abuses and striking much fear in the minds of the public. SARS may have been able to get away with some of its dark arts before but in the age of social media where public acts could be captured on video, the Police must prove that it can sufficiently reform the SARS to upgrade to modern policing standards or be retired as having lost its purpose.
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