Special Anti-Robbery Squad popularly called SARS is a branch of the Nigeria Police Force under the Force Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department (FCIID) set up to deal with crimes associated with armed robbery, car snatching, kidnapping, cattle rustling associated to firearms. These duties by the squad have been engaged in numerous unlawful arrests, high-handedness, humiliation, unlawful detention, extortion, torture and execution of people. This has sprung out the familiar End Special Anti-Robbery Squad (END SARS) political campaign using the hashtag #EndSARS on various social media platforms to demand for Nigeria government to scrap and terminate the deployment of the squad.
Apparently, this is the fourth time in four years that the cries on the disband of SARS has been raised with the first campaign to end SARS started online in December, 2016 with lots of Nigerians sharing their SARS experience which then got international attention. The recent one ongoing is triggered by the alleged killing of a young man by officers of the special squad from the unit in the city of Lagos on Saturday 3rd of October, 2020. With the hashtag #EndSARS trending on the microblogging platform (Twitter) to call for their disband in which many people have voiced out their minds and shared stories of numerous brutality attributed to the police unit.
With all these various accusation being imaged on a unit meant to safeguard the people in protecting lives and curving violent crimes, lots of questions sweep around on why it is so difficult to getting some essential and tactical solutions right in this country and when we will embark to put things in the right order. Far back to 2016 till date, it is obvious that nothing tangible has been ‘actively implemented’ as regards this issue. On the 14th of August 2020, the acting president, Yemi Osinbajo ordered with immediate effect the total overhauling of the SARS units following reports of human rights violation. But the only move done then was the reforming of SARS to FSARS which has yielded no significant effect.
According to Amnesty International Nigeria, it documented 82 cases reported against SARS between January 2017 and May 2020. The rights group accused SARS officers of using torture and other ill-treatment to execute, punish and extract information from suspects. Amnesty International allegedly found the SARS squad to have targeted men between the ages of 17 and 30 respectively with description of young men with dreadlocks, ripped jeans, tattoos, flashy cars or expensive gadgets, thereby neglecting their duties and infringing on fundamental human rights. In addition, the actions of the squad has planted fears within the heart of innocent youths preventing their movement.
After the Nigeria Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu on Sunday 4th of October, 2020 banned SARS from carrying out the usual “stop and search duties” and settling up road blocks amid growing anger at routine harassment and atrocities committed by its officers, there are still reports with images circulating around the internet about the squad’s non-compliance to the inspector general of police pronouncement in which they still continue with their nefarious activities. This shows the weak connection and lack of ‘commanded respect’ that exist within the police force. The negative and irony activities of the entire police force at large is a national embarrassment in contrary to the motto ‘police is your friend’.
To talk on what has been the aetiology of these problems, the police have always had a long enduring negative reputation through their gross misconduct activities. The unit isn’t making itself attractive anymore for professionals to step in as many respectable individuals who wish to join the Nigeria Police Force have lost enthusiasm and are unwilling because of being labelled with the bad eggs in the unit. The police force largely lack professionals who are well sensitised for the unit and see the profession as a career they want to build their reputation on. The unit is short of like minds who values the law, ready to abide and continue with its proper implementation.
The Nigeria Police Force needs a total reformation. This can only be achieved though rebranding of the force. There should be a move on how to re strategize the recruitment procedure and screening within the unit. There should be the presence of proper implementation of the new police act, we need to develop a new standard of operating rules starting from the police act and be sure these rules are enforced and complied with. There should be serious consequence for non compliance and they must operate in a way that conforms with the law so that same old story will not spur out.