Approves dismissal of 37 SARS Operatives, prosecution of 24, renaming of SARS
By Johnbosco Agbakwuru
PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari on Monday approved the recommendations of the Presidential Panel on the Reform of Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS, for the establishment of state and local government police.
The president also approved a recommendation for dismissal of 37 SARS’ operatives and prosecution of 24 other police officers as well as the panel’s recommendation for the renaming of SARS as Anti-Robbery Squad, ARS
President Buhari further approved the panel’s recommendation that directed the Inspector-General of Police to unravel the identity of 22 police officers indicted for violation of fundamental rights of some Nigerians.
Besides, the President approved other recommendations for the payment of compensation to 45 complainants, apologising to five others and ordering the Nigeria Police to obey court orders in five matters as well as the arrest and prosecution of two retired senior police officers for extra-judicial killing of a citizen and the takeover of the property of a suspect respectively.
President Buhari’s approval was sequel to the recommendations by the Special constituted by the President to among other things investigate allegations of human rights violations and abuse of office against the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS and the Nigeria Police Force.
The Panel under the Chairmanship of the Executive Secretary, National Human Rights Commission and Chairman Presidential Panel on SARS Reform, Anthony Ojukwu, was also mandated to recommend the reform or restructuring among other appropriate recommendations to improve public safety and security in the country.
Submitting its recommendations to President Buhari at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, Ojukwu stated that the panel was constituted on August 14, 2018, following the president’s directive which ordered the NHRC to constitute a special panel of inquiry into various allegations of human rights violations and abuse of office by police officers operating under the aegis of SARS and come up with recommendations on how the dangers posed to the public by the group could be addressed.
He disclosed that the panel received 113 complaints on alleged human rights’ violations from different parts of the country, 22 memoranda on the reform and reorganisation of SARS as well as the entire Nigeria Police.
According to him, “At the end of its public hearing and having listened to complaints as well as defendants and their counsel, the Panel recommended thirty-seven (37) Police ofﬁcers for dismissal from the force. Twenty four (24) were recommended for prosecution.
“The panel also directed the Inspector General of Police to unravel the identity of twenty-two (22) ofﬁcers involved in the violation of the human rights of innocent Citizens. The police were directed to pay compensation of various sums in forty—ﬁve (45) complaints and tender public apologies in ﬁve (5) complaints and directed to obey court orders in ﬁve (5) matters.
“The Police was directed to immediately arrest and prosecute two (2) retired senior Police ofﬁcers found to have violated the rights of citizens (one for extra-judicial killing and the other for the illegal takeover of Property of a suspect). The Panel also recovered two vehicles illegally auctioned by SARS Ofﬁcers and returned them to their owners.”
Furthermore, the NHRC boss listed other recommendations by the panel to include: “Signiﬁcant improvement in the funding, kitting and facilities of the Nigeria Police Force; strengthening information and communication technology (ICT) of the Force; establishment of state and local government police.
“institutionalising a special investigation panel to annually hear and determine complaints on alleged human rights violations against operations of the Nigeria Police Force, and strengthening the Police Rapid Response Complaints Unit of the Nigeria Police and other internal complaints mechanisms of the Force to make them more responsive.”
Ojukwu said the recommendation to rename SARS as ARS only implied a reversal to SARS’ original name with a view to making “the section operate under the intelligence arm of the police from the divisional, area command, state command, zonal command up to the Force headquarters level,” adding that doing so would remove the stigma associated with the name SARS.
According to him, rechristening the group would also compel ARS to “limit itself to tackling armed robbery while other intelligence and operational units are strengthened to perform their various special tasks.”
While receiving the recommendations of the Panel, President Buhari in his speech, thanked the committee for a job well done and immediately directed the IGP and Solicitor-General of the Federation and relevant authorities to, collaboration with NHRC, work out the modalities for the implementation of the report within three months.
He said: “I want to thank the Panel once more, and hereby direct that since the recommendations of the Commission that constituted the Panel are enforceable as decisions of the Court, that the Inspector General of Police and the Solicitor General of the Federation/Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Justice meet with the Commission to work out the modalities for the implementation of the Report within three months from today.”
Continuing, the President said: “It is in recognition of our obligations under the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and International Human Rights Laws, that this Administration decided to set up this Presidential Panel and directed the National Human Rights Commission to constitute its membership in order to investigate the various public outcries and media reports alleging human rights violations against citizens by officers of SARS.
“The panel was empowered to make appropriate recommendations not just for holding Police Officers found wanting accountable, but also, on ways SARS and by extension, the Nigeria Police could be generally reformed.
“The decision directing the National Human Rights Commission to constitute the membership of the Panel and to take the lead in investigating the said allegations of human rights violation, was borne out of the mandate of the National Human Rights Commission which include the promotion, protection and enforcement of human rights in Nigeria as enshrined under sections 5 and 6 of the NHRC Act, 1995 (as amended).
“It is also in recognition of the fact that the decisions, determinations, and recommendations of the Commission are binding and enforceable as provided under section 22 of the NHRC Act, 1995 (as amended).
“I am very happy with the work of the Panel and thank the Panel members for working hard towards the realisation of the Presidential Directive.
“I believe that the Report of the Panel and recommendations contained therein would go a long way in redressing the grievances of the complainants, ensure accountability on the part of the Police Officers in discharging their responsibilities and facilitate the various Police reforms being introduced by this administration.
“I want to assure you and all Nigerians that this Administration will continue to fulfill its obligations of promoting and protecting human rights of Nigerians, and will give the National Human Rights Commission all the support required to ensure full implementation of the recommendations contained in its Report.
“In addition, we will strengthen the operations of the Commission to enhance its effectiveness and capability to resolve cases of human rights violations.
“This administration is conscious of the role the Commission plays in ensuring security and stability in the nation through the resolution of complaints of human rights violations, which if neglected, could result into major security challenges.
“As you are aware, I have recently approved the reconstitution of the Governing Council of the Commission. The names of the Council members will be submitted to the National Assembly for confirmation before the inauguration of the Council in line with NHRC Act, 1995 (as amended).”
According to the president, reforming and repositioning the Nigeria Police Force for more effective and efficient performance had become imperative if the country must guarantee the protection of human lives and properties, arrest offenders and improve internal security in accordance with best practices.
The president who added that he had taken certain decisions, including increasing the police workforce and improving the welfare of the police in view of the sensitive jobs they do, said the police were duty bound to act within the ambit of the law.
According to the president, whenever the police violate the rights of citizens in the course of discharging their responsibilities, the government is duty bound to intervene in such situations, explaining that it was against this background that he constituted the committee.
“In order to reposition the Nigeria Police Force to effectively carry out its statutory responsibilities, I have taken major steps by increasing the workforce of the Nigeria Police as well as improving the welfare of Police officers, because they put their lives on the front line on a daily basis so that the rest of us may freely go about our business in safety.
“However, in carrying out their statutory responsibilities, the Police must at all times act within the ambit of the law and must not violate the fundamental human rights of Nigerians whom they have sworn to protect.
“Where the rights of Nigerians are violated by Police Officers while discharging their functions, the Government has a responsibility to address the instances of violation in line with its human rights obligations and ensure that such Police Officers are held accountable for their actions.”
Other members of the committee are: Tijani Mohammed from the Police Service Commission; David I. Shagba of the Public Complaints Commission, Hashimu Argungu, a Deputy Inspector General of Police (Rtd); Professor Etanibi Alemika of the University of Jos; Chino Obiagwu (SAN), Chairman, Human Rights Agenda Network; Ms Iyabode Ogunseye, drawn from the Nigerian Bar Association and the panel’s secretary, Abdulrahman Ayinde Yakubu, from the National Human Rights Commission.