Beyond mere cosmetic reform of SARS
ON Tuesday 14th August 2018, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, as Acting President, responded to widespread complaints from citizens and ordered the Inspector General of Police, Alhaji Ibrahim Idris, to immediately overhaul the operations of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). Specifically, he instructed that the new outfit must devote itself strictly to its core mandate of intelligence-driven prevention, detection and arrest of armed robbery and kidnap suspects. The SARS operatives are to wear their uniforms and identification tags while on duty, and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) is to set up a committee to monitor their activities and ensure they conform to the law and international conventions on human rights. Within a few hours the Police Spokesman, Jimoh Moshood, announced the steps the IGP was taking to implement the presidential directive. They included the renaming of SARS to Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (FSARS) and other internal operational repositioning which, critics complained, were the exact steps the IGP took in “overhauling” the unit back in December 2017 following the #ENDSARS campaigns. Perhaps, the few really new things in the IGP’s latest “overhaul” is the setting up of the custody record management system to prevent the arbitrary arrest of citizens and ensure that those arrested are charged to court within 48 hours as stipulated by law. Apart from that, operatives will now undergo regular psychological evaluations, and will no longer attend to commercial matters. We are, however, perturbed that these tepid steps merely represent motion without movement. On the same day the IGP announced these measures, a reporter with Premium Times Newspaper, Samuel Ogundipe, was arrested and held at the FSARS headquarters, Abuja for allegedly refusing to disclose the source of a report he fielded on the removal of the former Director General of the Directorate of State Services (DSS), Lawal Daura at Osinbajo’s directive. Also on Thursday 23rd August 2018, a young undergraduate and innocent bystander identified as Babatunde Nafiu, was killed by a stray bullet recklessly fired by a FSARS officer while trying to control a crowd in Iwo town in Osun State. This led to a mob action and the razing of a police station. What we need is a holistic overhaul of policing in Nigeria. These series of internal cosmetic surgeries by successive IGPs will never produce useful result. The change we need in the Police must come from higher political authority. Perhaps, the recent move by the Buhari administration and the various state governors towards the decentralisation of policing will provide an opportunity to create a police system that will serve the modern needs of Nigeria. Meanwhile, the Human Rights Commission should swing into action and monitor not just the FSARS but also the Police Force as a whole, until permanent solutions are found.