•Appoints CP to head new unit, orders states to obey with immediate effect
•New SARS operatives to wear name tags, no more ‘Stop and Search’
•SARS detains Premium Times reporter over stories
•It’s positive step but reforms must be robust — AI
•Methodist Church, NOPRIN react; SARS victims recall ordeal
By Johnbosco Agbakwuru & Eric Ugbor
ABUJA—The Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, yesterday directed the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, to commence investigations into allegations of abuses by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad of the Nigeria police, otherwise known as SARS.
He also ordered the Police boss to overhaul the squad with immediate effect, to make it strictly intelligence-driven and restricted to the prevention and detection of armed robbery, kidnapping, and apprehension of offenders linked to the stated offences, and nothing more.
Osinbajo’s directive to the police boss came following the outcry against the special police squad by members of the public nationwide.
This order came as the Methodist Church of Nigeria called on the federal government to overhaul the nation’s security apparatus to curb the wanton destruction of lives and properties in different regions of the country.
New directives for SARS
The Vice President in a statement signed by his spokesman, Laolu Akande, in Abuja, further directed that operatives of the squad should, henceforth, bear proper identification anytime they are on duty.
The statement read: “Following persistent complaints and reports on the activities of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS, that border on allegations of human rights violations, Acting President Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, has directed the Inspector General of Police (IGP) to, with immediate effect, overhaul the management and activities of SARS and ensure that any unit that will emerge from the process, will be intelligence-driven and restricted to the prevention and detection of armed robbery and kidnapping, and apprehension of offenders linked to the stated offences, and nothing more.
“The Acting President has also directed the IGP to ensure that all operatives in the emerging unit conduct their operations in strict adherence to the rule of law and with due regard to International human rights law and the constitutionally guaranteed rights of suspects. The operatives should also bear proper identification anytime they are on duty.”
He also directed the National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, to set up a special panel to conduct an investigation of the alleged unlawful activities of SARS in order to afford the public the opportunity to present their grievances with a view to ensuring redress.
In recent times, there had been a groundswell of opposition against the activities of SARS, which compelled the public to call on government to either scrap the squad or overhaul it.
IGP overhauls SARS, appoints CP as new head
The Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim idris in apparent response to the Acting President’s directive, yesterday ordered the immediate overhaul of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS to address complaints and allegations of human rights violations against some of its personnel.
A release signed by the Force Public Relations Officer, Force Headquarters, Abuja, Ag. DCP Jimoh Moshood, said in the new arrangement, a new Commissioner of Police had been appointed as the overall head of the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad nationwide.
He said the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad previously under the Force Criminal Intelligence and Investigations Department (FCIID) is henceforth to operate under the Department of Operations, Force Headquarters Abuja and that the Commissioner of Police (FSARS) is answerable to the Inspector General of Police through the Deputy Inspector General of Police, Department of Operations.
He said: “In observance of full compliance with the Presidential directives, the Federal Anti-Robbery Squad will be intelligence-driven and will be restricted to the prevention and detection of armed robbery, kidnapping and the apprehension of offenders linked to the stated offences only.
“New FSARS Commanders are being appointed for the Federal Anti-Robbery Squad (FSARS) across the country that will now exist and operate in the State and Zonal Commands under the Commissioner of Police (F-SARS) at the Force Headquarters, Abuja. A Federal SARS Commander of a Rank of Chief Superintendent of Police (CSP) but not below Superintendent of Police (SP) will be in charge of FSARS in State and Zonal Commands across the Country,” he said.
Jimoh said all Commissioners of Police had been directed by the Inspector General of Police, IGP, to comply with this directive with immediate effect and warned their personnel not to pose as SARS operatives.
“The IGP X-Squad and Monitoring Unit have been mandated to go round the Commands and Police Formations nationwide to ensure strict compliance with the Presidential directives and apprehend any erring police officer.
“A new Standard Operational Guidelines and Procedures, and code of conduct for all FSARS personnel to ensure that the operations of the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad is in strict adherence to the rule of law and with due regards to international human rights law and constitutionally guaranteed rights of suspects will be enforced in totality by the Commissioner of Police, FSARS,” he said.
Other measures to be implemented by the Force in observance of full compliance with the presidential directives, he said, were that human Rights Desk Officers for FSARS in every State should take complaints from the public and forward same to Force Headquarters, as the officer will be answerable to the Commissioner of Police, FSARS at the Force Headquarters and not Commander FSARS in the states.
Psychological test for SARS operatives
“Medical/Psychological evaluation of all FSARS personnel will be carried out immediately. Redesigning of new uniform with identity name tag for all FSARS personnel throughout the Country will be done immediately. Henceforth, FSARS personnel will not perform Stop and Search duties except on distress call to respond to armed robbery and kidnapping offences only.
“The Force will be transparent, cooperate, and work cordially with the National Human Rights Commission on the special panel that will conduct an investigation of the alleged unlawful activities of FSARS to address grievances from the public against the personnel of FSARS in compliance with the presidential directives.
“Furthermore, a new training programme to be organized by the Force in collaboration with some Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), Local and International NGOs, and other Human Rights Organizations on core Police Duties, Observant of Human Rights and Handling, Care and Custody of Suspects have been directed by the Inspector General of Police for all Federal SARS personnel nationwide with immediate effect.
“A committee of Senior Police officers, Technical Consultants, Human Rights/Civil Society organizations (CSOs) has been setup to review the activities of FSARS under the new arrangement. They are to pay unscheduled visits to FSARS formations across the country with particular attention to states with high complaints index, to assess facilities and situations in these states and submit report to the Inspector General of Police on regular basis,” he added.
Jimoh, however, said aggrieved members of the public, who had any complaint in the past or present of violation of their rights by any SARS personnel anywhere in the country should report for investigation and redress.
Complaints against SARS
In one of the incidents involving SARS operatives, a man identified as Lucky Joseph, who was allegedly assaulted by operatives of squad narrated how the operatives allegedly stripped and pulled him by his manhood during a public assault on Thursday, March 8, 2018, at the Obio Akpor Local Government Area of Rivers State.
According to Joseph,I was passing when two SARS men stopped me and ordered me to raise my hands for a search. But I insisted on doing the search myself, so that they won’t plant anything on me.
‘’They disagreed and forcibly conducted the search and found only a white handkerchief in my pocket. To my shock, a wrap of hemp fell down, one of them picked it and ordered me to enter their vehicle. In a bid to force me inside, they attacked me with machetes and threatened to shoot me, pulling my manhood.
In yet another incident in Asaba, Delta State, an alleged assault by operatives of FSARS on a pregnant woman led to the loss of her pregnancy.
An Instagram user, Jane Mena, who claims to be the victim’s friend, revealed how the incident occurred in a long post, explaining that the expectant mother went into a coma following violent treatment by the operatives.
In Lagos, a woman, Mrs Asiata, reportedly slumped when information on the arrest of her son by SARS during a raid at 9, Ajenifuja Street, Ilupeju, Lagos, on January 24, 2018 , reached her.
Report said the hypertensive woman collapsed while trying to stop the policemen from taking away her 17-year-old son, identified as Muiz.
In Ondo State, operatives of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad also allegedly tortured a man identified as Seun Ayoade, who was in detention in Akure, the state capital.
According to reports, the policemen, led by one Inspector Oladele Ojelabi, arrested the victim as well as others on Tuesday October 17, 2017.
The arrest was perceived as an act of intimidation by Ojelabi, who was said to have shown interest in the wife of the deceased, identified as Mrs. Gbemisola Okoro.
In another incident in Lagos two months ago, some persons were reportedly shot by operatives of FSARS, around Fela Shrine, as revealed in a short video footage which went viral.
A voice heard in the clip expressed a feeling of shock while processing the attack by the officers.
Rivers State government also alleged threat by men of the Police Special Anti-Robbery Squad to kill the Senior Special Assistant to the State Governor on Social Media, Marshal Obuzor.
The development recently provoked street protest in Port Harcourt by teeming youths who called for an end to the recurring SARS brutality and extrajudicial murders across the state.
The operatives were alleged to have inflicted injuries on Obuzor, around Mandela Car Wash in Old GRA, Port Harcourt.
Narrating his ordeal, Obuzor said: “In Public view, they used machetes and rods to beat me and seized my phones. They repeatedly threatened to kill me. Even the government official who intervened was threatened with death. I was surprised that SARS has got to the stage where they don’t care that people are watching their activities.”
The protesters also matched to the Rivers State Police Command where they submitted two petitions and got the assurance of the authorities to investigate the issues, promising that any SARS operative found wanting would face the wrath of the law.
The genesis of the clamour for the scrap of SARS could be traced to alleged activities of operatives at SARS Awkuzu in Anambra State, between 2015 and 2016.
In that incident, suspects were not only brutalised but also killed.
Several petitions came from human rights organisations, among which was the Network on Police Reform in Nigeria, NOPRIN.
The petitioners called on the police authorities to address the high handedness of SARS operatives at Awkuzu but the petitions were reportedly treated with levity.
Amnesty Int’l reacts
Reacting to the development, yesterday, Amnesty International in a statement signed by the Director in Nigeria, Osai Ojigho, said: This is an overdue yet hugely important move by Acting President Osinbajo. The growing outcry over the brutality of Nigeria’s notorious SARS police unit has finally got the attention of the country’s authorities.
While this is positive news, it is crucial that any overhaul of SARS is far-reaching and immediately effective. Restructuring SARS is not enough unless the government takes concrete steps to protect Nigerians.
The reform ordered by the Acting President must translate into ending the torture, unlawful detention, extortion, extrajudicial killings and other serious human rights violations that SARS officers have been committing for years across Nigeria. That includes bringing to justice SARS officers found to have committed atrocities.
There is much compelling public evidence of human rights violations committed by SARS, some of it directly documented by Amnesty International, and this should now be used to aid an effective investigation into the unit’s crimes.
The special panel convened to investigate SARS must be independent and impartial. Its aims can only be achieved if victims are given time and protection to present their cases.
In September 2016, an Amnesty International report highlighted gross violations by SARS, including torture and other forms of ill-treatment.
The report prompted assurances from the federal government that SARS would be reformed, yet shocking violations committed by the unit have continued.
Methodist Church reacts
Meanwhile, Methodist Church of Nigeria has again called on the federal government to overhaul the various security apparatus to curb the wanton destruction of lives and properties in different regions of the country.
The church stated this in a communiqué issued at the end of its 46TH/ 11th Biennial conference in Aba, Abia State, with the theme: “Strive for peace and holiness without which no person can see God.”
The church condemned “in strong terms the mindless killings of citizens and wanton destruction of properties in different regions of the nation, especially in the North Central, North West and North East.
The church said: “Life is sacred and must be protected and as a way to address state of insecurity in various regions/zones in the nation, the church calls for urgent overhauling of the security apparatus and workforce.
“We advocate for creation of state police under the command of state governors who constitutionally are the chief security officers of their states and mindful of the insensitivity in the clamors of herdsmen for building of ranches in the 36 states of the nation, Methodist church Nigeria is of the opinion that all cattle farmers should have their ranches domiciled at their home states.’’
Coordinator of NOPRIN, Mr Okechukwu Nwaguma, who described the Federal Government’s directive for a total overhaul of SARS as a welcome development, however said that it was long overdue.
He said: “This action should have been taken long before now. However, I am particularly happy that the National Human Rights Commission has been asked to carry out an instigation into the build up of these atrocities by SARS operatives.
The build up investigation should include identifying policemen that have been involved in such cases in the past and make them explain their roles, while victims that have gone without justice should be given justice.”