Until recently, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), of the Nigerian Police, was one of the most respected arms of the country’s Police essentially for its efficiency in combating violent crime.
SARS was created as a child of necessity in 1992 and charged with tackling the problem of violent crime in Lagos, especially robbery. It first operated as a faceless, 15-man team that went about its assignments in two unmarked buses, with its officers often wearing neither uniforms nor name tags.
As a result, it was difficult for criminals to identify them. Because of their efficiency in tackling robbery, and other violent crimes like kidnapping and banditry were added to their lists of operation, while the unit was upgraded to become a main arm of the Operations department in the country’s Police with operations in the 36 states of the Federation and the FCT.
With the passage of time, however, SARS deviated from its noble principal assignments and started indulging in gross human rights abuses, especially in brutality against youths.
It was accused of targeting young people who appeared well-dressed, and molesting them for money, as well as torturing and abusing and even killing those who resisted them.
Amnesty International reported that it documented more than 82 cases of abuse and extrajudicial killings by SARS officers from January 2017 to May 2020.
Of course, there have been spontaneous reactions against SARS in the last few weeks with some of the greatest protests witnessed across the country for a long time as a result of their unleashing of atrocities against some civilians .
Nigerians in their thousands, especially youths , have been demonstrating against the continued existence of the anti-robbery squad of the Nigerian Police with protests across the country and in Diaspora communities around the world. The Federal Government early in the week announced the immediate ban of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and other Police tactical squads from undertaking routine patrols in its response to the protests.
A statement by the Police Public Relations Officer of the Force, DCP Frank Mba, stated that the Inspector-General of Police, IGP M.A Adamu, has banned the personnel of 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 and other Tactical Squads 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.
In addition, no personnel of the Force is authorized to embark on patrols or tactical assignments in mufti. They must always appear in their police uniforms or approved tactical gear.
The IGP’s directives, the statement added , came against the backdrop of findings by the leadership of the Force that a few personnel of the Tactical Squads hide under this guise to perpetrate all forms of illegality, contrary to the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP), Code of Conduct and Rules of Engagement establishing the squads.
Specifically, the statement said the IGP has warned the Tactical Squads against the invasion of the privacy of citizens particularly through indiscriminate and unauthorized search of mobile phones, laptops and other smart devices. They are to concentrate and respond only to cases of armed robbery, kidnapping and other violent crimes when the need arises.
He however condemned every act of unprofessionalism, abuse of human rights and high-handedness by some personnel of the Squads. He has therefore, ordered the X-Squad and the Monitoring Unit to embark on immediate and massive nationwide monitoring of activities of Tactical Squads and other police officers on the road.
They are to ensure prompt arrest, investigation and prosecution of all erring police officers who violate these directives and other extant regulations of the Force.
We welcome the government’s decision to ban SARS and other related units of the Police Force in line with the demands of many aggrieved Nigerians.
By this, the government has demonstrated that it could once in a while be sensitive to people’s yearnings and respond to them accordingly. It is not just enough to ban SARS for the sake of it. All cases of human rights abuse perpetrated by the former bodies must be investigated with actions taken on those culpable.
That is the only way the Police can restore its confidence, which has suffered great damage among many Nigerians, especially the youths. No matter the grievances of Nigerians, the Police still need to devise special means to tackle violent crime like robbery, kidnapping, banditry which have been on the increase.
Nigeria needs a more people- oriented, civil and a more professional police that will be on top of crime and criminality in the country. The government owes the nation a duty and responsibility to fund the police and equip it as well, to be on top in its assignments and responsibilities.