Femi Falana SAN, a human rights activist and legal luminary told the audience at the Alliance for Survival of COVID-19 and Beyond, ASCAB Programme, that the Federal Government was not sincere in reforming the special police unit. This was his response to the comment credited to Frank Mba, The Nigeria Police Force Public Relations Officer had noted in a Instagram Live conversation with Naira Marley that the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS, cannot be scrapped because of its positive impact in combating criminality and deadly criminal gangs in the country. ASCAB is a coalition of labour and 80 Civil Society Group led by Femi Falana.
Falana, the ASCAB Chairman, said that this was not the first time that the Police high Command has issued a ban on SARS to put their officers in check. For him, the police operatives usually returned to the street to torment the people. Falana also said gross violations of human rights were linked to SARS and that a change of structure without fundamental changes of the structure of the Police operatives would soon make the problems to reoccur.
‘The police high command has banned SARS several times. It has become a ritual. But SARS continues to operate under different names or structure. What we see is like removing sour wine and putting it in the same old, rusty bottles. Nothing remarkable has changed in the police command structure that aids all forms of repression and extra-judicial killings,’ ASCAB said.
The group recalled that following public outcry in 2018 against indiscriminate arrests and detention, extortion and extrajudicial killings as well as other horrendous human rights abuses perpetrated by operatives of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS, the Federal Government responded by setting up the Presidential panel of inquiry to investigate all complaints of human rights abuse.
It noted that many Nigerians submitted reports and memoranda and gave clear evidence of police abuse but regretted that the recommendations were yet to be implemented in 2020.
ASCAB said some of the recommendations made included the dismissal of 37 police officers from the force and the prosecution of 24 others, investigation of 22 officers involved in the violation of human rights of innocent citizens, payment of compensation of various sums in 45 complaints and tender of public apologies in five complaints and compliance with court orders in five matters.
Other recommendations were the setting up of State and local government police and renaming of SARS to Anti-Robbery Section (ARS) which should operate under the intelligence unit of the police force. The group lamented that though recommendations were accepted by President Mohammadu Buhari on June 3, 2019, nothing has been done since then.
‘The Inspector-General of Police and the Solicitor-General of the Federation/ Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Justice were mandated to engage the National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, for a strategy of implementation within three months. To declare a ban on SARS again is nothing but policy somersault. It does not show effective leadership neither does it portray the police authority as consistent.’ ASCAB said.
The group said, if the reports were implemented, it would have addressed major problems associated with the operating system of SARS, and would have brought an end to its oppressive and inhuman modalities. ASCAB said the policy flaws of the police were an indication that the force cannot redeem itself, calling on the Federal Government to strengthen the National Human Rights Commission Act so as to empower the group to be able to deal with issues of human rights violations associated with state actors.
However, Frank Mba revealed that the Police headquarters was currently rectifying the behavior and performances of SARS officers nationwide to check their excess.
Mba, while speaking during an Instagram Live Chat with Nigerian artiste, Azeez Fashola, aka Naira Marley advised Nigerians to take video recordings of SARS operatives who abuse their fundamental human rights ‘as long as it is safe to do so.’The Nigerian artiste cancelled a planned demonstration against SARS infractions and molestations billed for yesterday.
Following the excesses of its operatives, the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, had banned SARS personnel from engaging in routine patrols, stop-and-search, mounting of roadblocks and traffic checks with immediate effect.
Stressing that the IGP and the Force were committed to reforming SARS, Mba said: ‘What we need to do is to reform SARS and make them responsive, responsible and work in accordance with laid down procedures. We need them to continue to respond to violent crimes. We need them to continue to respond to armed robberies. We need them to continue to respond to kidnappings.’
Naira Marley agreed after the interaction that the special arm of the Police should not be scrapped but reformed. He said ‘You talk about end SARS, you cannot end SARS but let us ask for reform. Why do you want to end SARS? Are you an armed robber?’ He queried.
While expressing support for the directive of the IGP to get SARS operatives off the roads, Marley said, ‘SARS is a special arm that should only come out during robbery incidents.’ He also urged the Police to give an update on SARS operatives who had been arrested and compensate families of victims allegedly killed by SARS officers.
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