•Okays dismissal of 37 SARS operatives, prosecution of 24 others
Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja
President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday directed the Inspector-General of Police and Solicitor-General of the Federation to bring forward suggestions on the implementation of a recommendation asking for the decentralisation of the police through the creation of state and local government forces.
This was sequel to the submission of the report of the Presidential Panel on the Reform of Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), which recommended among others that it was time to relieve Abuja of the sole command of the police.
“I want to thank the panel once more, and hereby direct that since the recommendations of the commission that constituted the Panel are enforceable as decisions of the court, that the Inspector General of Police and the Solicitor General of the Federation/Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Justice meet with the commission to work out the modalities for the implementation of the Report within three months from today’’
The president also approved the recommendation of the panel for the renaming of SARS as Anti-Robbery Squad (ARS) and for the dismissal of 37 SARS’ operatives and prosecution of 24 other police officers.
Buhari, while receiving the report of the panel in Abuja from the Chairman, who is also the Executive Secretary of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Mr. Anthony Ojukwu, also accepted the panel’s recommendation, which directed the Inspector-General of Police to unravel the identity of 22 police officers indicted for violation of fundamental rights of some Nigerians.
Buhari also approved other recommendations for the payment of compensation to 45 complainants, apologising to five others and ordering the Nigeria Police to obey court orders in five matters as well as the arrest and prosecution of two retired senior police officers for extra-judicial killing of a citizen and the takeover of the property of a suspect respectively.
According to the president, reforming and repositioning the Nigeria Police Force for more effective and efficient performance has become imperative if the country must guarantee the protection of human lives and property, arrest offenders and improve internal security in accordance with best practices.
The president, who added that he had taken certain decisions, including increasing the police workforce and improving the welfare of the police in view of the sensitive jobs they do, said the police were duty bound to act within the ambit of the law.
He said whenever the police violate the rights of citizens in the course of discharging their responsibilities, the government was duty bound to intervene in such situations. This, he added, informed the decision to set up the committee.
He said: “In order to reposition the Nigeria Police Force to effectively carry out its statutory responsibilities, I have taken major steps by increasing the workforce of the Nigeria Police as well as improving the welfare of police officers, because they put their lives on the front line on a daily basis so that the rest of us may freely go about our business in safety.
“However, in carrying out their statutory responsibilities, the police must at all times act within the ambit of the law and must not violate the fundamental human rights of Nigerians whom they have sworn to protect.
“Where the rights of Nigerians are violated by police officers while discharging their functions, the government has a responsibility to address the instances of violation in line with its human rights obligations and ensure that such police officers are held accountable for their actions.
“It is in recognition of our obligations under the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and international human rights laws, that this administration decided to set up this presidential panel and directed the National Human Rights Commission to constitute its membership in order to investigate the various public outcries and media reports.”
Earlier, while presenting the report, Ojukwu had said the panel was constituted on August 14, 2018, following the president’s directive, which ordered the NHRC to probe various allegations of human rights violations and abuse of office by police officers operating under the aegis of SARS.
The president also ordered the NHRC to make recommendations on how the dangers posed to the public by the group could be addressed.
According to Ojukwu, the panel received 113 complaints on alleged human rights’ violations from different parts of the country, 22 memoranda on the reform and reorganisation of SARS as well as the entire Nigeria Police.
He said: “At the end of its public hearing and having listened to complaints as well as defendants and their counsel, the panel recommended 37 police ofﬁcers for dismissal from the force. Twenty-four were recommended for prosecution.
“The panel also directed the Inspector-General of Police to unravel the identity of 22 ofﬁcers involved in the violation of the human rights of innocent citizens. The police were directed to pay compensation of various sums in 45 complaints and tender public apologies in ﬁve complaints and directed to obey court orders in ﬁve matters.
“The police were directed to immediately arrest and prosecute two retired senior police ofﬁcers found to have violated the rights of citizens (one for extra-judicial killing and the other for illegal takeover of property of a suspect. The panel also recovered two vehicles illegally auctioned by SARS ofﬁcers and returned them to their owners.”
The NHRC boss listed other recommendations by the panel to include: signiﬁcant improvement in the funding, kitting and facilities of the Nigeria Police Force; strengthening information and communication technology (ICT) of the Force; establishment of state and local government police; institutionalising a special investigation panel to annually hear and determine complaints on alleged human rights violations against operations of the Nigeria Police Force and strengthening the Police Rapid Response Complaints Unit of the Nigeria Police and other internal complaints mechanisms of the Force to make them more responsive.
Ojukwu said the recommendation to rename SARS as ARS only implied a reversal to SARS’ original name with a view to making “the section operate under the intelligence arm of the police from the divisional, area command, state command, zonal command up to the Force headquarters level,” adding that doing so would remove the stigma associated with the name SARS.
According to him, rechristening the group would also compel ARS to “limit itself to tackling armed robbery while other intelligence and operational units are strengthened to perform their various special tasks.”
Besides Ojukwu, other members of the committee are: Mr. Tijani Mohammed from the Police Service Commission; Mr. David I. Shagba of the Public Complaints Commission; Mr. Hashimu Argungu, a Deputy Inspector General of Police (Rtd); Professor Etanibi Alemika of the University of Jos; Mr. Chino Obiagwu (SAN), Chairman, Human Rights Agenda Network; Ms. Iyabode Ogunseye, drawn from the Nigerian Bar Association and the panel’s secretary, Mr. Abdulrahman Yakubu, from the NHRC.