YNaija Says: #EndSARS is an expression of everything that is wrong with Nigeria’s leadership

Nigerians have expressed outrage at the activities of men of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigeria Police Force. Top government officials are yet to react to the cries of Nigerians. This deafening silence from those meant to serve us is unsurprising as similar outcries and outbursts have been left unattended to.

Human Rights Group, Amnesty International (AI) published a report on September 20, 2016, titled, “Nigeria: You have signed your death warrant“. The report gave sordid tales of torture, assault, extortion, and even the execution of suspects, but the reaction from the Nigeria Police Force and government was tepid.

The Police accused AI of issuing a misleading report, saying that “It is incumbent on the force to educate the writer that the Nigeria Police and its officers are committed to upholding the fundamental Human Rights of every Nigerian as enshrined in Chapter 4 of the Constitution and also in accordance to Africa Charter of Rights and United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. Our guiding principles are democratic policing and international best practices in criminal investigation. The Nigeria Police do not tolerate or condone torture in any form. The Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim  Idris, upon the assumption of office, conducted an audit of SARS rules of engagement.”

In the report, one of the respondents, a 33-year-old fuel attendant in Anambra, who was arrested by SARS operatives in January 2015 after his employer had accused him of being responsible for a burglary at their business premises, told AI that, “The policemen asked me to sign a plain sheet. When I signed it, they told me I have signed my death warrant. There were two policemen in the hall. They asked me if I knew how many people died there. They said that if I die, my blood will never be on their hands. They took me to the back of the building and tied my hands to the back. They also connected the rope to my legs, leaving me hanging on a suspended iron rod. They put the iron rod in the middle between my hands and the leg with my head facing the ground. My body ceased to function. I went limp. The IPO (Investigating Police Officer) came at intervals and told me to speak the truth. I lost consciousness. When I was about to die they took me down and poured water on me to revive me. They brought people from the cell to carry me inside the cell. I was detained for two weeks.”

The Special Anti-Robbery Squad is a branch of the Nigerian Police established to fight violent crimes including armed robbery and kidnapping. It is one of the sections of the Force Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department (FCIID), which is the highest investigating arm of the Nigeria Police. Other sections include the Anti-Fraud Section; The Central Criminal Registry (CCR); Special Enquiry Bureau; X-Squad; General Investigation; Special Fraud Unit (SFU); Legal Section; Forensic Science; Interpol; Homicide; Anti-Human Trafficking Unit; and CIB/SIB Force CID Annex Kaduna.

The FCIID is currently headed by Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) Hyacinth Dagala.

SARS operatives undergo special training so as to be able to cope with the demands of the job, which entails encounters with daredevil robbers and ruthless kidnappers. This training makes them hardened. To be fair to the men of the unit, some of them have done a good job in cracking down on criminals and bringing them to justice. But this cannot be said for the majority. This is because they have become a terror to Nigerians. Any ‘big man’ with ‘small change’, who is unhappy with another individual can employ their services for a few bucks. They would go ahead to harass, intimidate, and sometimes implicate the “big man’s” foe without any thorough investigation. There have been instances where people are tortured, maimed and killed based on a mere allegation or suspicion. There are also reports that whenever they embark on usual raids of the streets, beer parlours, football fields, etc, which leads to the arrest of innocent citizens, they swap them with hardened criminals.

In 2014, AI released a report titled, “Torture in  Nigeria”, where it recounted harrowing experiences of Nigerians with Policemen and the military.

It’s sad that in this age and time Nigerians still need to plead with the government to end obvious police brutality. This lackadaisical attitude of those in power to the plight of Nigerians speaks volume about the failure of leadership. There is an actual problem when citizens need to beg the government – those elected to protect their lives and properties – before something is done about an institution that has time and time again proven that they have no concerns about safeguarding the lives and properties of Nigerians.

There’s been no urgency in the tone of the government in their response to the outcry of Nigerians. As always, the political class isn’t taking Nigerians seriously. The presidency has kept mum on the issue. Abdulrahman Dambazau, the Minister of Interior, whose Ministry the Police is under is yet to make a statement or take any necessary action. In 2014, at least 20 youth were killed by the Nigerian government during the Nigeria Immigration Service recruitment. Reacting to the scandal, then Interior Minister, Abba Moro blamed the applicants for the stampede which led to the unfortunate deaths. Moro‘s reaction is a clear indication of how Nigerian leaders treat the citizenry. The victim is always to blame. Moro, who led the team that received N1000 each from each applicant is walking free despite supervising a deadly exercise.

As the #EndSARS call intensified, advocacy group, BudgIT on Tuesday reported that SARS operatives under the instructions of Senator Sani Mohammed representing, Niger South Senatorial District and Honourable Faruk Muhammadu ordered the arrest of Moses Motoni, its Project Tracking Officer in Niger.

The reaction by the Police IG, Ibrahim Idris to the #EndSARS call is a slap on the wrist, as the planned reforms of the unit is not the solution. There’s nothing to reform in a unit whose natural instinct is to cause harm to those it is meant to protect. SARS operatives have long abandoned their core duty, which is to fight crime, and have taken up the mandate of harassing young Nigerians for dressing well, ransacking the mobile phones of people, and arresting persons for carrying a laptop. In the early 2000s, the Police embarked on a massive recruitment to shore up its numbers. This recruitment was shoddy as majority of those accepted into the force were not properly scrutinised, background checks were not done, leading to a possible employment of hardened criminals into the Police.

The call by the Police to reform SARS is not going to see the light of day, as time and again attempts to reform the Police have yielded no fruits, and this would not be different. The Police should #EndSARS as a first step in embarking on the much-needed reform of the Force. Nigerian leaders should also endeavour to respond to the complaints of the citizens swiftly.

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