The recent #ENDSARSNOW campaign which has been trending on social media was triggered by an online video showing the aftermath of an alleged killing of an alleged “yahoo boy”(Internet fraudster) by men of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad in the Yaba area of Lagos State. This led to a petition that was submitted to the National Assembly penultimate week calling for the scrapping of SARS by Mr Segun Awosanya which was signed by over 10,000 people. The social media campaign and the submission of the petition against SARS elicited reactions from the police authorities with the Inspector General of Police, Mr Ibrahim Idris announcing the immediate restructuring of SARS. The restructuring of SARS as announced by the IGP includes, the “federalization” of SARS with a Commissioner of Police in the Force Headquarters becoming the overall head of SARS under the Department of Operations, the setting up of an X-squad mandated to investigate compliance and abuse by SARS outfits, SARS members will now undergo training in police duties and human rights, and the release of police mobile hotlines for members of the public to lodge complaints whenever necessary.
All these measures by the police have however failed to assuage the feelings of Nigerians as millions of Nigerians have pressed on with the #ENDSARSNOW campaign on social media with rallies billed to hold in major Nigerian cities this week while describing the measures by the police authorities as tokenistic and vowing not to stop until SARS is totally scrapped.
According to the Police Act, the Federal Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department is the highest investigating arm of the Nigerian Police. This department is divided into 14 sections of which SARS is one of them. Some of the allegations against SARS include abuse, forceful confiscation of identity cards, women stripped naked and accused of being prostitutes, men forced to give up their phones and laptops after being accused of involvement in internet scams-and policemen forcing them to ATM’s to withdraw thousands of naira as “settlement fee”.
This is not the first time in our history that Nigerians have complained about the ineffectiveness or human rights abuses by SARS. We experienced a similar situation in Lagos in the 90’s which prompted the formation of Operation Sweep-a security outfit of about 4,000 officers drawn from the Police, Army, Navy and Airforce, during the tenure of Colonel Mohammed Buba Marwa as Military Administrator of Lagos. However, it did not lead to the scrapping of SARS. It is unfortunate that politicians who should know better have also joined the bandwagon of those calling for the abolition of SARS. Some like the Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike have gone ahead to make outlandish and unsubstantiated claims by saying SARS will be used by the APC-led federal government to rig the 2019 elections. I commend the proposals put forward by the IGP, Mr Ibrahim Idris, for the restructuring of SARS. He should take it a step further by studying the strategies and tactics used in Operation Sweep so as to learn how to fight criminality with effectiveness, minimal casualties and less abuses of human rights. Those who say that SARS is biased against the youths easily forget that we have a high rate of criminality among the youths especially in the area of internet fraud popularly called yahoo or yahoo plus. Also, in the event that SARS is abolished, is that not tantamount to giving free reign to armed robbers and criminals of all sorts to freely operate in the society? What is the alternative to SARS considering the fact that a huge chunk of our policemen are currently engaged in VIP protection duty? Are we going to replace SARS with ethnic militias and vigilantes who are not only poorly trained but also engage in extra-judicial killings? We cannot afford to throw away the baby with the bath water just because of the excesses of a few SARS Operatives and Commanders. Restructuring of SARS is the way to go.