WITH the conclusion of its public hearings on the reform of the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad, FSARS, Nigerians now eagerly wait for the much-desired measures that would transform the oppressive crime-busters to a more citizen-friendly squad.
The FSARS (formerly Special Anti- Robbery Squad, SARS) which was set up to battle the rising tide of violent crimes such as armed robbery, kidnapping, fraud and cultism, had turned against the citizens. Its operatives were implicated in many cases of extortions, tortures, beatings, extrajudicial killings and the commission of the same crimes it was established to fight. Towards the end of 2017, there was a groundswell of complaints, numbering over 30,000 in the social media, which led to street protests in major towns in a campaign to scrap the SARS.
Feeling the heat, former IGP Ibrahim Idris, in December 2017, ordered an investigation of allegations against SARS. He also undertook some measures which then Police Spokesman, Mr. Moshood Jimoh, said would reposition the Force for “efficiency and effective service delivery”. This did not reduce the notoriety of the Squad. So, in August 2018, Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, as Acting President, ordered the IGP to reform the Squad to ensure they operate with respect to human rights and the laws.
The IGP, once again, responded by announcing 12 “new” reform measures, including the change of name from SARS to FSARS. Critics complained that the IGP, typical of his predecessors, had merely rehashed old gambits that never brought about the desired change.
However, in addition, the Presidency appointed the NCHR led by its Executive Secretary, Mr. Tony Ojukwu, to lead the seven-man Special Investigative Panel, SIP, to investigate FSARS through the conduct of public hearings in the six geo-political zones of the country and Abuja. The Panel consisted of six stakeholder groups, including the Police, lawyers, the public service, human rights activists, among others.
The composition of this reform panel outside the internal dynamics of the Police was a step in the right direction because the change required of FSARS goes beyond mere internal administrative measures. We need a strong strategic template which will be forwarded to the Federal Government. It might include the need to amend the laws and increase funding for overall police work. These are not issues that an Inspector- General of Police can tackle.
We call on the NCHR’s SIP to also look into other documents created in the past for the reform of the Police, including the job of the Human Rights Violation Investigation Commission, HRVIC or the “Oputa Panel” which submitted its report to former President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2002.
The comprehensive reform of FSARS and the Police Force as a whole is a task that must be done.