SARS is still a menace but we need more than tweets to reform an overbearing Police Force

#EndSARSA

The debate on dissolving the most controversial unit of the Nigeria Police Force, Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), is one that has persisted for longer than tolerable. Stories of their horrendous activities have filled the media space more times than stories of their successes.

The police unit, founded in 1992 by former police commissioner Simeon Danladi Midenda, created to curb armed robbery and restore order in the country, became a topic of discussion again over a report that four suspected internet fraudsters were chased by the unit, Tuesday, September 15, where one reportedly died and others sustained injuries.

This is not the first time we have seen Nigerians call out the Police unit.

In December 2016, human rights advocate, Segun Awosanya made, popular, an online campaign to end SARS brutality in Nigeria. This campaign birthed the online campaign themed #EndSARS. Nigerians responded to this, calling out the unit and the government that seemed to not be interested in their demands.

The demand to end the unit became more and more prominent in 2017 following more cases of people sharing traumatic stories. From torturing to extortion to false accusations, and even unwarranted discharge of firearm often leading to death, Nigerians shared their experience on social media and it gained global attention.

But did the authorities listen?

In August 2018, the then Acting President of Nigeria, Yemi Osinbajo, ordered the “Overhaul” of the SARS following reports of human rights violation. Osinbajo ordered the then Inspector-General of Police Ibrahim Kpotun Idris to create measures to reform SARS as well as carry out an investigation on all the persistent complaints and reports on the violation of human rights violation. However, Osinbajo’s order to reform the unit only went as far as rebranding them as Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (FSARS) and the instalment of a human rights desk officers to check reports.

But, we all know that FSARS is far from being reformed. The brutality has gone on for too long untamed and might eventually lead to unrest – talk about Osogbo where youth are protesting.

In August 2019 while in a ‘raid’ in Ijegun to apprehend  ‘kidnappers’, SARS operatives fired several shots in a bid to subdue the kidnappers and during the course of action a stray bullet hit a pregnant woman. She died on the spot. The event created tension for locals who gathered and lynched two police officers on spot.

Another event in August 2019 saw four SARS operatives arrested and charged with murder after being caught on film manhandling and then shooting to death two suspected phone thieves in the light of day. The two suspected phone thieves were shot dead after they had been initially arrested.

Fast forward to February 2020 when footballer Tiamiyu Kazeem was chased down to his death by SARS operatives. His story, like the one that has opened the conversation today, is very similar.

Indeed, SARS has evolved to the opposite of what they should be. While Nigerians are tired of these killings and have been equally vocal about them, it is imperative to point out that we need more than just a social media trend to stop these atrocities.

The entire Nigeria Police Force needs to be reformed. Every unit and everything tied to the police – with the government educating officers and holding them to account when they go overboard and abuse their power at the expense of the rights of Nigerians.

 

The civil society itself also has a role to play if we want these atrocities put to an end. Asides from the outcry on social media, civil societies need to mobilise members of the public in regularised policy-making, peaceful protest and civil dialogues between stakeholders of the Nigeria Police Force and the government.

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