Reforming the Federal Special Anti Robbery Squad

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Chiemelie Ezeobi writes that the recent collaboration between the Nigeria Police and the German Foreign Office, which churned out 135 operatives of the Federal Special Anti Robbery Squad, is expected to reform the unit across board

In the last few months, the news have been riddled with complaints about the unprofessionalismo of the Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS). From stories of brutality to recklessness, assaults, extortion, extra judicial killing, the SARS operatives gained the notoriety of one week, multiple troubles.

Many industry watchers blamed the despotic nature of the recent SARS on their deviation from their core derivatives; fighting kidnapping and armed robbery. When it was established, the secret behind the successes of the then SARS was its faceless mode of operation as they operated in plain clothes and used plain vehicles. They did not carry guns, thus giving them the element of surprise, yet they were fully ready at all times.

Immediate Restructuring

Troubled by the incessant reports and the flagrant disregard for constituted authority, the presidency decided to step in. Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, immediately directed the police to overhaul and restructure the unit.
Acting on the directive, the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, did overhaul the squad and changed it to the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (FSARS).

He also gave assurance that the FSARS will henceforth conform to democratic laws in providing services to all Nigerians irrespective of the their status and background. Part of the restructuring was plans for periodic training programme on human rights and handling cases, medical and psychological screening. Furthermore, a new standard operational guideline and procedure and code of conduct was created for all FSARS personnel to ensure that their operations is in strict adherence to the rule of law and constitutionally guaranteed rights of citizens has been unveiled and being enforced in totality.

The reformation of the unit also saw the centralisation of FSARS with a commissioner of police overseeing its affair, while it handles strictly anti-robbery and kidnapping cases.

New Rules of Engagement

In recent times, there has been sensitisation across board for officers and men of the unit on the new standard operational guidelines and procedures, and code of conduct for all FSARS personnel. Part of the new rules of engagement stipulates that no FSARS personnel is allowed to interfere in any civil matter, neither are they allowed to interfere in cyber crime.

Also, no FSARS personnel is allowed to conduct a stop and search exercise unless there is a distress call from victims or members of the public and they are not allowed to be involved in commercial matters (debt recovery, landlord vs tenant issues). They are also not allowed to interfere in any social /relationship cases ( marital matters, boyfriend / girlfriend relationship), neither are they allowed to escort Very Important Persons (VIP’s).
The rule further stipulates that they are strictly for armed robbery and kidnapping cases. They must appear in their police uniform with full identification pending the launch of new FSARS uniform with identity name tag by the Inspector General of Police.

The police went further to provide contacts for the public in case they are harassed. The contacts include that of the DIG, Department of Operations: 08037025670; IGP X-SQUAD 0902 690 0729, 08078662130, 08174041000 – CALLS,
0903 227 8905 – SMS,
0903 562 1377 – whatsapp and
email: integrityxsquad@gmail.com

Nationwide Human Rights Desks

Still on SARS Reform, the police set up Human Rights desks in 36 states of the country including the Federal Capital Territory. According to the Commissioner of Police in charge of FSARS, Haliru Gwandu, the human rights desk officers have been mandated to receive complaints from the public on rights abuses by operatives of the special squad, adding that the complaints would be treated with despatch by the Force Headquarters.

Gwandu had urged members of the public who have any complain in the past or present of the violation of their rights by any SARS personnel anywhere in the country to report via the designated channels for investigation.
According to him, the new FSARS personnel would strictly adhere to the rule of law in all operations. “

Collaborative Training
One of the recent efforts to enhance professionalism and ensure personnel of the unit act in line with International best practices, the IG in collaboration with the German government had organised a two-weeks training for personnel of the unit across the federation. Hence, the training focused on how not to violate Human Rights as FSARS personnel deliver on their new mandate.

Speaking at the inauguration of the training held at Police College in Ikeja on a certain Monday, the IG said the training was a holistic approach to enhance the performance of 135 personnel comprising of commanders, team leaders and foot soldiers of FSARS, which was in accordance with the recent presidential directive.

In his opening speech, the IG who was represented by the Deputy Inspector General of Police(DIG) in charge of Training, DIG Emmanuel Inyang said, “ Let me remind you that SARS was initially established to take charge of specific functions pertaining to crime prevention and control as well as to secure life and property, but their direct contact with members of the public has brought conflict, friction and perceived human rights abuses and the inherent compalints arising from the performance of their duties.

“ The need by the present leadership to reposition the FSARS through capacity building calls for training and retraining of the officers and men. Therefore, there is no doubt whatsoever that this training will provide the necessary platform for all the partocipants, particularly the foot soldiers of SARS to understand the necessity of imbibing Human rights at tgeir duty posts and stations and therefore be able to identify problem areas and consequently advance possible solutions to such problems whenever they come across them.

“ This effort by the police managment and GIZ Police Programme on Human Right in restructuring the FSARS will certainly be of immense benefit to the Nigeria Police Force that has been statutorily and constitutionally saddled with the responsibility of protecting the rights of every Nigerian. FSARS personnel will be re-equipped with the essential knowleged of human rights, proactive policing, collation of intelligence and the provision of a pragmatic approach to investigate activities and support to police stations.”

Idris however warned that erring officers who do not embrace the fundamental human rights principles will continue to receive commensurate punishment, while those who are diligent can expect to be handsomely rewarded.

The GIZ Deputy Project Manager, Pol8ce Project Africa in Nigeria, Hartmut Zander said the German Governement had to step in to assist in the training of FSARS personnel due to some cases of the voilation of human rights in the discharge of their duties.

In his remark, Zander said, “ Around 135 police officers, among them officers from over 36 states are going to be trained by internal police trainers as well as external resource persons in relevant human rights principals, which apply to different police interventions. By combining theoretical knowledge and standards, with practical aspects of human rights-centred police work, the training covers a broad range of related topics such as principles for the use of force and firearms, investigations arrest and detention.”

Speaking on the level of compliance with the new reform in FSARS, Commissioner of Police, FSARS, CP Hilaru Gwandu said FSARS across the federation were complying with the new directive. He said, “ For the purpose of reforms and to enhance competence and professionalism, a standard operational procedure(SOP) was designed to guide the operations of the reformed FSARS. For now, there is no problem as the number of litigations have reduced. Our personnel have shown that they are ready for the change.”

Graduation

Two weeks later, like all things that have a beginning, the end of the training came as the collaborative effort between the police and German government saw the churning out of 135 reformed FSARS operatives.

Speaking at the closing ceremony at the Police College Ikeja, Lagos, the IG said the intensive training was a holistic approach to enhance the performance of the participants comprising commanders, team leaders and foot soldiers of FSARS.

Idris, who was again represented DIG Emmanuel Inyang, noted that the during the two-weeks intensive course, they were exposed to issues bordering on human rights.

He said the police officers were trained on gender and child rights, use of force and fire arms including the procedures of use of force, patrols and anti-crime patrols stop and search and management of Critical Incidence.

Others topics treated include building contacts and communications with members of the public, police arrest, humane detentions investigations, and torture and prosecutions.

He said: “We would strive to ensure that this exercise is sustained by entrenching the training materials into our training institutions. That way, new trainees and others on development or refresher course would also have the opportunity of learning and re-learning what you have been taught here over these days.”

Earlier in his speech, the German General Consular to Nigeria, Dr. Stefan Traumann, said the learning and re-learning on the principles and tenets of Human Rights is key for policing, adding that it has been well received in Germany.

Stressing that it should be sustained, he said learning is necessary for the police to remain innovative and at par with delivering excellent service as officers of the NPF, to both their employers and members of the public.

He said: “The Foreign Office through the Police Programme Africa believes that safety and security are necessary pre-condition for development and social inclusion. Thus, as you would have been told; this capacity building training was tailored to achieve the following: mainstreaming of human rights training, adaptation of best practices into the NPF Human Rights training resource materials and their operational decision making process. Enhancing your individual and collective knowledge on human rights and good police practice and also supporting the NPF ongoing reform initiatives aimed at fostering good police practice.”

He added, “as you may know, this training is part of our other efforts through PPA in collaboration with the NPF since 2016 in the review of select training curricula to international standards, such as human rights, criminal investigation. Provision of basic teaching aids and small scale infrastructural renovation for training institutions – including chairs, desk, office equipment, beddings and mattresses.

“Other capacity building trainings like the modern Investigative and Criminal Investigation Trainings held at Police College Kaduna, the Crime Scene Management training including basic Crime Scene Management equipment kits for trained CSIs held at Police College Lagos, Louis Edet House in Abuja and Police College Kaduna state and the Advanced Detective course held at Police Staff College, Jos.

“We hope to continue to support the NPF in the aforementioned direction. Already, the German Government, through the AA – Foreign Mistry – has begun looking into the possibility of extending the project into a new phase.

So, based on this, we call on you to reciprocate the gesture through ensuring that lessons learnt here; and other project interventions are not only put to use effectively and ultimately for the common good of all; but to also well begin the process of institutionalising some of the new standards that might emanate from this training.”

Also speaking, the Project Manager, GIZ Police Programme Africa, Nigeria, Mr. Hartmut Zander said Germany has been supporting the development of police structures around Africa since 2008 with the GIZ Police Programme Africa, which is funded by the German Federal Foreign Office and implemented by GIZ.

He said the GIZ Police Programme Africa started implementation in Nigeria in 2016 with a threefold objective which includes the review of NPF training curricula on thematic areas such as human rights and criminal investigation to include international standards and transparency measures, including conducting trainings based on the newly developed standards;

He said: “Secondly is the strengthening processes and procedures for criminal investigation; and thirdly, community engagement and the strengthening of collaboration between NPF and the Nigeria Immigration Service at the North Western border region of Nigeria.

“Human Rights Training State security institutions who are custodians of human rights are obliged to act and react on the basis of given laws by maintaining principles of human rights such as proportionality, legality, accountability and necessity.

” The Rule of Law and Human Rights compliance are prerequisites for civil society development. Therefore, as part of a series of human rights trainings conducted, this measure is a specialised training for the FSARS which covered topics such as arrest and detention, gender and human rights, torture and use of force, amongst other issues.”

But even with the training, there are still pockets of FSARS brutality, which then behooves on the police to set up a watchdog to monitor their field officers. These recent pockets of brutality has insinuated in some quarters that the reformatory process kickstarted by the force headquarters is only cosmetic and has not addressed the root cause of the crisis.

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Idris however warned that erring officers who do not embrace the fundamental human rights principles will continue to receive commensurate punishment, while those who are diligent can expect to be handsomely rewarded