#ENDSARS: A LAWYER’S PERSPECTIVE

Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) or Federal Special Anti Robbery Squad (FSARS) as lately known is a unit under the Police Force Criminal and Investigation and Intelligence Department headed by a Deputy Inspector General of Police.

SARS is one of the 14 units in the Force Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department which was established to detain, investigate and prosecute people involved in crimes like armed robbery, kidnapping and other forms of crimes.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF SARS

Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) was established in the year 1992 by former Police Commissioner Simeon Danladi Midenda. The unfortunate incident that led to the formation of the special Anti-Robbery Squad took place in Lagos State of Nigeria where Col. Rindam, a Nigerian Army Colonel was shot to death by a Police Officer at a checkpoint. The army on getting wind of the information dispatched soldiers into the streets of the State in search of any Police officer. This unfortunate incident resulted in the withdrawal of Police officers from checkpoints, security areas and other points of interest for criminals.

Some police officers even resigned from their duties as police officers while some disappeared into thin air. Due to the absence of police for over two weeks, criminals and crime rate increased rapidly in the State. The then Deputy Inspector General of Police – Simeon Danladi Midenda then formed a unit known as Special Anti-Robbery Squad with only 15 officers operating in the shadows without the knowledge of the army while monitoring police radio chatters. However, after months of dialogue, the Nigerian Army and the Nigeria Police Force came to an understanding and official police duty began again in Lagos. The SARS unit was then officially commissioned in Lagos following a ceasefire by the army after settlement.

In the year 2009, after several years of operations the squad grew in number and strength, which led to the spread of the squad into more States in Nigeria. The unit however had several ill reports ranging from human rights violations to extortions of the innocent citizens and even extra-judicial killings by members of the public to the office of the Inspector General of Police (IGP). The IGP Solomon Arase announced on the 7th August, 2015 that as a result of the reports from the general public, the unit would be split into two units which includes the Operational Unit and the Investigation Unit to curtail cases of human rights violation.

One Segun Awosanya in December 2016 started an online advocacy campaign to end SARS brutality in the country. The general public responded well to the hashtag #EndSARS with people all over Nigeria posting their SARS experience. The campaign got international attention from the media.

The Presidency through the Vice-President of Nigeria Prof. Yemi Osinbajo acting as the Acting President of Nigeria in the absence of the President of Nigeria who was abroad on sick leave, made an attempt on the 14th August, 2018 to reform SARS. The acting President ordered the “overhaul” of the controversial police unit SARS with immediate effect following reports of human rights violation. The acting President ordered the Inspector General of Police – Ibrahim Kpotun Idris to reform SARS as well as carrying out an independent investigation after “persistent complaint and reports” that concerns human rights violation. After the order, the IGP announced that the unit would be renamed Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (FSARS), a new head of the unit would be appointed and also the provision of human right desks officers to check reports.

On 21st January, 2019 the new Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu ordered the immediate decentralization of the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad. The unit was centralized from the force headquarters in Abuja since its inception, the IGP also stated that the DIG of Force Criminal Investigations Department and Commissioners of Police in each State would be beheld accountable for actions of the FSARS.

SCOPE AND DUTIES OF FSARS

As earlier stated, FSARS is a unit of the Police Force established to detain, investigate and prosecute people involved in criminal acts like armed robbery, kidnapping and other forms of crimes.

The squad being a unit in the Police Force is regulated by the Nigeria Police Act, 2020.

Section 1(a) (b) and (c) of the Act states – The objective of this Act is to provide for a more efficient and effective police service that is based on the principles of : accountability and transparency; protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms; and partnership with other security agencies.

Section (2) states that – The specific objectives of this Act are to:

  1. Provide for a Police Force that is more responsive to the needs of the general public and has entrenched in its operations the values of fairness, justice and equity;
  2. Reposition the Police Force to uphold and safeguard the fundamental rights of every person in Nigeria in its operations;
  3. Bring about a positive change in the public perception of the Police Force by ensuring that its functions are performed in a manner sensitive to the needs and well-being of the general public;
  4. Empower the Police force to effectively prevent crimes without threatening the liberty and privacy of persons in Nigeria;
  5. Strengthen the Police Force in the performance of its functions including safety and security of all persons, communities and property in Nigeria;
  6. Ensure that the Police performs its functions by creating the enabling environment to foster cooperation and partnership between it and the communities, it serves to effectively prevent, reduce or eradicate crimes;
  7. Develop professionalism in the Police Force by providing relevant training in all police formations in Nigeria for enhanced performance; and
  8. Respect for rights of victims of crime and understanding of their needs.

Part 7 of the Act also provides for the powers of the policeofficers. From the above it is clear that the purpose of FSARS is basically to protect lives and properties and to clean the country of criminals.

MODUS OPERANDI

During its formation, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad was known to operate covertly. SARS operatives were not allowed to be on police uniforms publicly carrying guns. They were given unmarked vehicles with sometimes no license plates or private plate numbers during duty.

CRITICISM

The public had raised a lot of concerns about FSARS and their general mode of carrying on their duties which range from harassment of innocent citizens, extortion, intimidation of the public and extra-judicial killings by the men of the FSARS.

In May 2010, Amnesty International disclosed that it would be suing the Nigerian Police over human rights abuse stating that the Special Anti-Robbery Squad in Broken, Port Harcourt arrested three bike riders and detained them for over one week while being “beaten every right with the butt of a gun and iron belt”.

On 20 May, 2010, a Federal High Court in Enugu State, ordered the then IGP – Ogbonna OkechuckwuOnovo to produce a Special Anti-Robbery Squad officer who had gunned down a 15-year-old boyin High School. According to the SARS officer, the teen was mistaken for a kidnapper.

Following several reports of human rights violation by members of the public to the office of the Inspector General of Police, on 7th August 2015 the then IGP – Solomon Arase announced that it would be splitting the SARS unit into two units.

In September 2016, Pulse.ng complied a report on Nigeria Police brutality with the heading “Meet SARS the Police Unit with license to kill”.

The report highlighted the brutality and ignorance of the rules of engagement in the Special Anti-Robbery Squad.

On 10th August, 2019 while SARS operatives were on a raid in Ijegun area of Lagos State to arrest kidnappers in the area, operatives of the unit fired several shots in a bid to subdue the kidnappers and during the course of the action a stray bullet hit a pregnant woman, she reportedly died on the spot. An angry mob was said to have lynched two police officers on the spot.

On 21st August 2019, four (4) FSARS operatives were arrested and charged with murder after being caught on film manhandling and then shooting to death two suspected phone thieves in broad daylight. The two suspected phone thieves were shot dead after they had been arrested.

A LAWYER’S PERSPECTIVE

Looking critically at the purpose of the FSARS it is paramount to consider firstly if the reasons for the establishment of the squad is worthy a cause, in my humble view, it is and I will say a country like Nigeria needs the FSARS to curb crimes such as robbery, kidnapping etc.

It is a common saying that in every ten there is a Judas; in this particular case there could be more than a Judas, it however behoves on the superior officers of the Police Force to be responsible for the acts of their officers, by this, the superior officers will be more concerned by the actions of their officers.

Also, sections 96-104 of the Police Force Act 2020 states the offences which an officer should be tried for and also Sections 131-131 make provisions for Police public complaint and discipline.

The Police Force should do more to bring offending officers to book. Dismissal is never enough, an offending officer should and must be prosecuted for the peace and sanity of the country.

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