The activities of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) will continue to be in the spotlight for the wrong reasons as long as the government of the day pays deaf ears to the call for the holistic restructuring of the body or summarily scrapping it entirely for outliving its purpose. The SARS operatives have been on the front burners of national discourse for many wrong reasons, and Nigerians have continued to cry out against the abuse of their fundamental human rights by SARS operatives. They have also blatantly failed to stick to the rules of engagement that led to the establishment of the body.
Only recent, the brain behind the formation of SARS, now retired Commissioner of Police, Mr. Simeon Danladi Midenda took his time to take Nigerians down memory lane on how the Police Unit called SARS was established and why the body was established. He pointed out that the body came into being with the rampaging situation of robbery attacks in Lagos State, and his deployment from Benin (Edo State) where he had been able to contain similar situation and was transferred to Lagos State to replicate the success story he had in Edo State. He pointed out the name came into being to give the squad he was asked to assemble when he got to Lagos State a special outlook, given that there was already a unit named Anti-Robbery Squad in Lagos, he merely added ‘Special’ to that of the unit under his command to give them a different outlook. And this was how the name SARS (Special Anti-Robbery Squad) came to be known.
Danladi pointed out that their activity was limited to operations, arrest and partially interrogation. He also noted that they usually handed over criminals caught to the DPO of the Police Station where they were supposed to be operating from, or the station nearest to the crime scene. He maintained that criminals were only killed during exchange of gun battles or crossfire as against what we are seeing today. He revealed that they were never involved in any civil matter as their assignment was limited to combating armed robbers, not even petty thieves. He frowned at the grace to grass status the body has made for itself, and queried the rational of establishing the body is all the 36 states of the federation, as the body was supposed to have been established according to its needs and necessity. He opined that the government of the day needs to either completely scrap the body as it has become a thorn on the flash of Nigerians who complain almost every day about the abuse of their office and illicit activities orchestrated by the body, or carry out a clinical overhauling of the body to give it a new facelift, less the situation of things will get worse as the day goes by.
I will want to point out that the operatives of SARS are now more involved in civil matters than criminality they were established to combat. There are many cases of arrest and summarily killing of suspects in their detention facilities. They are very visible in major federal highways where they engage in stop and search, which is beyond the dictates of their role of establishment. They have been fingered in many cases of extortion of innocent Nigerians and deliberate or accidental killing of unaccountable number of Nigerians under the guise of carrying out their lawful activities. All these are yet to be addressed by the government of the day.
Only recently, the people of Abba community, in Njikoka Local Government Area of Anambra State, accused SARS operatives of invading their community, arresting and detaining innocent citizens in a case of land dispute between the community and two other of her neighbours – Ukwulu and Ukpo. The people of Abba pointed accusing fingers to one Prince Arthur Eze who hails from Ukpo of financially inducing the commander of SARS in Awkuzu community, also a neighbouring town to carry out the illegal arrests and detention of Abba people in a bid to frighten them from going ahead to lay claim to the land under dispute. They noted that many prominent sons of the community were arrested and detained, and further pointed out that the actions of SARS led them to obtain a restraining order from a Federal High Court in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, restraining SARS from any further arrest and detention of their people. But even in the face of this, their people were still being arrested by SARS and detained unlawfully. And one begins to wonder if the body has become above the law that created it.
The recent promise made by the Vice President of the federation, Prof. Yemi Osibanjo, that SARS will be restructured and restrained to the original idea of its establishment, but up till this moment, nothing has been done or changed as the operatives have continued in their illicit and illegal activities without any challenge or caution. And one begins to wonder if the government has created a monster that it is finding very hard to tame or contain. Most Nigerians are still wondering if the government has resolved to abandon them to their fate to suffer in the hands of these misguided Police Officers who have turned terrors and horrors of their peace of mind.
The government must wake up from her slumber and harken to the cry of those who elected them into office. A decisive action must be speedily taken to either holistically restructure the body or summarily scrapping it as it appears the body (SARS) has not only become obsolete, but has also outlived its usefulness.
Dr. Nwankwo A. Obidigbo