By O’star Eze
The newly appointed Inspector General of Police (IGP) Muhammed Abubakar Adamu, recently promised to embark on a more thorough reform of the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad F.SARS. This promise was conveyed by the Force Public Relations Officer, DCP Frank Mba, during a recent interview on Channels Television.
When Mba said the reform would go beyond “cosmetic”, one could not but recall how the immediate past IGP, Ibrahim Idris Kpotun, went about “reforming” the unit after an attempt to resist the nationwide protest against it following allegations of abuse of human rights by this special unit of the Nigerian Police Force.
It all started with the #ENDSARS campaign on twitter which swept across the media with more and more Nigerians, including celebrities and similarly exposed persons, cuing in to speak out against the perceived excesses of the squad.
Ycee tweeted, “Not one person has come out to speak good of sars yet some people are talking about reform ♂️ #EndSARS.”
“The entire police force needs some serious revamp. SARS are particular notorious for brutal attacks on innocent youth. The police is not our friend #EndSARS,” Falz tweeted.
Olamide was not left out in the campaign.
“#EndSarsBrutality plenty suffer man de face. Guide and protect the people not make life miserable for them due to the pressure that comes with your work or what you going through at home. A man with gun should be mentally balance and well oriented,” he tweeted on December 2, 2017. And so the campaign continued daily for weeks and months on end.
These people kept filing in petitions in the social media in which they narrated various instances of such excesses. Prominent among them was the allegation that young men were being arrested, harassed and, sometimes, shot by members of SARS merely for being well dressed and wielding an iphone.
One such twitter posts read as follows,
“Be Young, Look good, Own an iPhone, Dress well, Own a car
Extortion, Harassment, Time wastage, Detention, Invasion of privacy, seizure of phone #EndSARS”
It was so bad that Ekene Odigwe, an On Air Personality, in his contribution to Cable news online, published on July 1, 2018, wrote, “Nigerians are being robbed by the Nigerian Police force through the SARS and the government is sitting idle, watching, someday in a twinkle of an eye Nigerians will revolt, taking no more of an idle government that doesn’t understand a singular thing about safety. For someone that has been in the force, security tactics and rules of engagement seemed to be far from his skills.”
Odigwe also made some reform recommendations which included F SARS operatives wearing body camera; introduction of headcount and clocking in for duty and off duty; charging superiors should to stop asking for returns; and putting them back on uniform.
National Assembly intervenes
The call became deafening such that the National Assembly had to wade in. In the first week of December 2017, Senator representing Bauchi Central Senatorial district, Isah Hamman Misau, called on the senate ad hoc Committee on national security to investigate the activities of Special Anti-Robbery Squad.
Confirming receiving series of petitions against SARS accusing it of extrajudicial killings and abuse of human rights, Misau recommended that the SARS should start reporting to the state Commissioners of Police through the ACP in charge of CID. This was in December, 2017
Reform, not scrap
It was until August 14, 2018, following recommendation at the plenary and an order from Vice President Yemi Osinbajo that the IG of police should reform SARS, that the IGP finally acted rolling out his 11 point agenda for the reformation of SARS. A pro-SARS rally also held at the Eagle Square, Abuja calling on all to “let SARS be.” Their rally worked the thin line between denial of allegations against SARS as fabricated and agreeing to the need for a reform.
While the protesters were tagged members of a civil society organisation, a closer look showed that they were actually drawn predominantly from the police community relations committee.
Their argument was that SARS had relevance and should not be scrapped but should rather be reformed. “SARS is a unit of the Nigeria Police Force created specifically to combat armed robbery, kidnapping and other violent crimes,” they said. They called on Nigerians to support the move to reform the unit by IGP Idris.
IGP Ibrahim Idris went ahead to roll out his reform policy for the SARS which, however, did not align with the recommendation of the senate to decentralise the unit. He changed the name from Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) to Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (F SARS). However, it was gathered that had always been addressed as F-SARS in official documents.
According to Idris, ‘‘In the new arrangement, a Commissioner of Police is now the overall head of the Federal Anti-Robbery Squad nationwide under the Department of Operations, Force Headquarters Abuja. ‘The Police Zonal Commands, State Commands and Divisions will continue to operate anti-crime units/sections, crime prevention and control squads and team’s imperative to prevent and detect crimes and criminalities in their area of responsibilities, and other crack squads necessary to sustain law and order and protection of life and properties in their area of responsibilities (AOR).
‘‘Federal Anti-Robbery Squad (FSARS) will now exist and operate in the state and zonal commands under the commissioner of police (F-SARS) at the Force Headquarters. A Federal SARS Commander of a Rank of Chief Superintendent of Police (CSP) and not below Superintendent of Police (SP) will be in charge of FSARS in State and Zonal Commands across the country. All commissioners of police have been directed by the inspector general of police to comply with this directive with immediate effect and warn their personnel not to pose as SARS operatives. The IGP X-Squad has been mandated to go round the Commands and Police Formations nationwide to ensure strict compliance and apprehend any erring police officer.”
Weeks after, Idris ordered FSARS operatives to stop engaging in indiscriminate search of citizens especially commuter drivers.
Despite the fact that part of the effect of the reform was that it was announced that every SARS office would have a Human Rights Complaints Desk, the situation didn’t seem to be satisfactory to Nigerians. An editorial by The Nation was captions “SARS or FSARS” published on August 21, 2018 suggested a more wholesale reform of the SARS. It casted doubt on the unit’s ability to comply with the agenda to the later when it said concerning the agenda, “These are laudable measures if they are carried out sincerely.” The last paragraph of that editorial read as follows,
“Crimes generally, and armed robbery specifically, have turned Nigeria into the Hobbesian state of nature where life is short and brutish.
“They must be tackled headlong without subjecting Nigerians to sub-human treatment. SARS or FSARS, a change of name is too cosmetic to tame the monster that the anti-robbery squad has become.
“A wholesale reform is not what the IGP alone can come up with immediately. So, the Police Service Commission, Police Council and Ministry of Interior should be brought into designing a new body to combat the crimes.”
Fast forward to January 15, 2019 when the new IGP, Muhammed Abubakar Adamu was appointed by President Muhammed Buhari, with the retirement of Ibrahim Idris Kpotun. One of the first things Adamu did was to decentralise FSARS nationwide and obviously implement the recommendation made by Senator Misau in December 2017.
Explaining the reason behind the move, NPF spokesman, Frank Mba, said it was one of the moves being made by Adamu to “correct every anomaly, bureaucratic bottleneck and bring the police closer to the people.”
Already, the Anambra state police commissioner, Mr. Garba Baba Umar, while interacting with the press recently in Awka Police Headquarters announced that he had set up an anti-robbery unit that is under his watch. He went further to say that anyone still parading himself as a member of FSARS should be reported to the police.
Explaining further the reason behind the move by the police force, the Anambra State Police Public Relations Officer, SP Haruna Mohammed, said that it was indeed to achieve “effective supervision” of this obviously essential unit of the police.
It appears that the light at the end of the tunnel in Nigeria policing is closer as the incumbent IGP seems to have a good grasp of what the challenges of effective policing in Nigeria are. He also appears ready to work with the legislative arm of government (implementation of SARS decentralization as a case in point) in applying effective solutions to these challenges in order to give Nigeria a safer, civil society.