Imagine if the President in his Independence Day address had said: ‘‘I hereby order the immediate disbandment of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).’’
There would have been massive jubilation all over the country. The reason is simple. The criminals sanctioned by the state have abandoned their mandate of being a special unit fighting armed robbers and kidnappers. Today, Nigerians fear SARS more than criminals.
Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, also alluded to this fact recently.
“In many parts of our country, people are more afraid of encounters with the police than they are of criminals.”
The irony is that, kidnapping and robbery are on the increase. But the people charged with the responsibility of protecting Nigerians are also operating like kidnappers and armed robbers. However, what makes them more dangerous is that there is no need for them to hide; or operate under the cover of darkness. These are official armed robbers, kidnappers and murderers, paid salaries through our Treasury.
Nigerians are not safe in their farms, on the highways and now even on the streets. In the past, it was about how you dress or having dreadlocks, or being suspected of being an internet fraudster. Nowadays, its everyone, young and old. Grand extortion and brutality on a grand scale.
It is so bad that other police officers view the dreaded SARS as some sort of criminals. The reaction of the Inspector General of Police to bar the unit from stop-and-search operations is akin to applying balm to a gaping wound. The impunity of SARS operatives demands a deeper, surgical operation.
Meanwhile, President Muhammadu Buhari has been silent on this all important issue. To most Nigerians, this is more important than most of the issues the President talked about in his Presidential address on the 1st of October.
The President cannot claim that he has not heard about the SARS saga. As a matter of fact, the Vice President, Prof Yemi Osibanjo, while in acting capacity in 2018; ordered the overhaul of the rogue unit. The statement issued by the Special Adviser to the VP on Media, Laolu Akande on disbandment reads as follow;
“Following persistent complaints and reports on the activities of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) that border on allegations of human rights violations, His Excellency, Professor Yemi Osinbajo SAN, Acting-President, Federal Republic of Nigeria, has directed the Inspector General of Police 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.”
SARS, which is a unit under the Nigeria Police Force Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department (FCIID); has a clear mandate. But its current derailing could be traced to when it started going after internet fraudsters. Actually, this is the function of another unit within FCIID called Special Fraud Unit. However, the SARS has usurped that role.
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When they began going after suspected “yahoo boys”, some citizens justified and rationalised the impunity. Now, they are going after everyone.
The President should consider two things. Frst option, overhaul and reform the unit. Second, deploy them to hot zones; Abuja-Kaduna expressway and other kidnapping-ravaged section of the country.
The current Anti-SARS sentiment is not a partisan issue or one divided along religious lines. This matter is clear as the blue sky, so powerful to cause a nationwide outrage. Resolving this matter is straight and clear, which begs the question; if this is easy, why is the president mute on it, rather wishing Donald Trump and his wife quick recovery from COVID-19.
Mr. Buhari, Trump is in good hands.
But Nigerians are being robbed by those responsible for protecting them in the first place.