SARS: Addressing the Bigger Challenge!

Segun Awosanya, brain behind end SARS

The solution to the growing impunity of the security agencies in the country is not only in seeking an end to the Special Anti-robbery Squad but in ensuring a thorough recruitment process into the entire security architecture, writes Olawale Olaleye

The renewed call for an end to the Special Anti-robbery Squad (SARS) gained a rather impossible traction for the second time in season following recent extra-judicial killings by men of the force’s special initiative, SARS.

The two recent killing of Kolawole Johnson, a football fan by Inspector Olalekan Ogunyemi in Mangoro area of Lagos and the shooting of two lovers, Ada Ifeanyi and Emmanuel Akomafuwa, who were reportedly returning from a night club in Olodi, Apapa, Lagos, by a team of police officers, have naturally scaled up the protests against SARS lately.

The End SARS advocacy, mooted by Segun Awosanya, according to Wikipedia, started as a social media campaign, using the hashtag #ENDSARS and demanding of government to scrap as well as end the deployment of SARS operatives. This development encouraged many Nigerians to share their ugly stories of how the SARS operatives had engaged in unlawful arrests, high-handedness, humiliation, detention and extortion of hapless citizens, thus exacerbating tension.

A petition signed by 10,195 people was subsequently submitted to the National Assembly, calling for the scrapping of SARS. Thus, moving the campaign from social media to the streets of Nigeria, the campaigners organised series of protests in Abuja and threatened to go on with the protests if the government failed to scrap SARS.

The campaign gained such grounds that then Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, ordered a reform and reorganisation of SARS. And while the Senate backed the call for scrapping SARS, an international human right organisation known as Amnesty International, justified the protests when it accused the officers of SARS of detaining young Nigerians illegally and extorting money from their relations.

But with the IG intervention, the protest subsided at the time and everything seemed to have returned to normalcy until the killings of Kolade and now Ada weeks apart.

This, perhaps, might have motivated the Senate, which last week passed the Police Reform Bill and recommended a five year single tenure for the Inspector General of Police.

Following the adoption of the report of the Senate Committee on Police Affairs presented by the Chairman, Senator Tijjani Kaura (APC, Zamfara North), having passed the third reading, the Senate recommended a five year single tenure for the IGP, notwithstanding the retirement age of the appointee.

Whilst Senator Kaura presented the report, it was seconded by Senator Mao Ohuabunwa (PDP, Abia North) and they both asked the Senate to consider the report of the Committee on Police Affairs on the Police Reform Bill, 2019 (SB. 683), following which the Senate moved into the presentation and consideration of the report.

At the end, Senate President Bukola Saraki, noted that the bill was passed to “ensure that the Police officers are of better condition and are more productive,” adding that “We want to ensure that our people are protected at all time. I think this is a very great achievement for all of us and I hope we continue to provide better security for our people, protect lives and citizens.

Unfortunately, while these moves were commendable and in the long run could partly enhance the police performance and character, they have failed to look at the core of the issue touch-lighting the palpable misbehavior of men of the police and operatives of other sister security agencies.

Sometime in November 2017, a Director of Operations in the Department of State Security (DSS), Godwin N. Eteng, gave a clue on what the problem actually was, but sadly, not many people paid attention to his prognosis.

Admitting that some unscrupulous individuals in the armed forces and other security agencies were engaged in the sale of small arms, a development he reckoned had further compounded the security situation in the country, Eteng maintained that the real problem was in the recruitment process by the various security agencies, which are now saturated by cultists, armed robbers and men previously involved in various nefarious activities without thorough background check.

Speaking before the House of Representatives Joint Committee on Customs and Excise and National Intelligence that investigated the “frightening influx of small arms and light weapons into the country”, he lamented that there were currently persons with criminal records in the security services.

According to him, “Some agencies have over a period of time recruited people, who were before cultists and armed robbers and are now wearing uniforms. And the question is: are we doing enough checks on our people who were recruited into security services?

“Like we had a situation where in one of the armouries belonging to one of the armed forces, how many pistols just got missing with quantities of ammunition and all the pistols were new. In the armoury, no place was broken into, but the weapons were missing. And we’re interested in knowing what happened?”

Since this revelation, none of the security agencies in the country had consciously taken up the challenge of reviewing the backgrounds of its men, let alone safeguarding subsequent recruitment processes. Even more frightening were reports that some members of the Boko Haram, who professed to having changed from their old ways, were glibly recruited into the security agencies and government is still wondering how things got this bad?

To think that bad companies would naturally corrupt good manners, it goes without saying that the infiltration by the bad companies had worsened the already deteriorating police standard and other sister agencies, the reason the current impunity is on the rise unabated.

As it is, the solution is clearly in going back to the basics – re-evaluating the recruitment process employed by these security agencies and also updating the files of the old hands through a thorough background review, such that could help put some of them on close monitoring and ensuring they were of minimum standard behaviour.

In the final analysis, this should not be about SARS or the police force alone but the entire security architecture of the country, which is confirmed to being populated more by unscrupulous elements than those who genuinely seek to serve their fatherland. After all, there have been cases of extra-judicial killings by men of the army, customs and other agencies and so, the approach must be holistic if the results must be overwhelming and across the board.