•New policing strategy against violent crimes coming
•Police brutalise marchers, ARISE TV cameraman
Iyobosa Uwugiaren, Olawale Ajimotokan, Kingsley Nwezeh, Adedayo Akinwale in Abuja, Chiemelie Ezeobi and Dike Onwuamaeze in Lagos
Following the dissolution of the dreaded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) in the 36 States and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) by the Inspector-General of Police (IG), Mr. Mohammed Adamu, the #EndSARS campaigners have insisted on extensive police reforms and the prosecution of culpable officers of the disbanded outfit.
The IG has, however, promised to constitute a new investigation team that would involve Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and human rights groups in the conduct of investigations into human rights violations.
The IG, who spoke yesterday at a media briefing in Abuja where he announced the formal dissolution of SARS, said a new policing arrangement would be put in place to fill the gap created in order to reinvigorate the fight against armed robbery, kidnapping and other criminalities.
The dissolution followed widespread protests across the country over extra-judicial killings, extortion and general human rights abuse by the SARS police unit.
The IG said: “As part of measures to prevent a re-occurrence of events that gave rise to the dissolution of SARS, a Citizens’ and Strategic Stakeholders’ Forum is being formed to regularly interface with Police leadership at all levels and advise on police activities as they affect the general public.
“The Force is constituting an investigation team, which shall include civil society organisations and human rights bodies to work with the police in investigating alleged cases of human rights violations.”
He said the measure would enhance transparency and accountability in police services as well as providing a system of deterrence for erring police officers whose action clearly violates the rights of the citizenry.
Briefing newsmen at the Force Headquarters in Abuja, the IG said the decision to dissolve SARS followed a review of the current development and in due cognisance of the wide and legitimately held concerns of well-meaning citizens on the existence and operations of the SARS as a responsive and citizens-oriented Police Force.
“The Special Anti-Robbery Squad of Nigeria Police otherwise known as SARS is hereby dissolved across all formations, the 36 State Police Commands and the Federal Capital Territory where they currently exist,” Adamu said.
He said all officers and men currently serving in the unit would be redeployed with immediate effect while new arrangements to address the offences of armed robbery and other violent crimes that fall within the mandate of the dissolved Special Anti-Robbery Squad would be presented in due course.
“A citizens and strategic stakeholders’ forum will be formed to regularly interface with the leadership of the police at all levels and advice on police activities,” he said.
Adamu maintained that in order to deal with the reports of crimes committed against citizens, an investigation team will be constituted, which will include civil society organisations for transparency and that culprits would be punished.
He explained that the call by cross-sections of Nigerians for the scrapping of the SARS as a unit in the Nigeria Police Force had remained under constant monitoring and due assessment by the government.
He noted that the government acknowledged the inalienable rights of citizens to freedom of association and expression in which the current agitation is seen as a manifestation of the natural desire of citizens to participate in matters concerning policing and internal security in the nation.
“This is indeed one of the fundamental principles of community policing, which we are currently implementing,” Adamu said, revealing: “The Nigeria Police leadership has since the commencement of the protests been engaging the leadership of some Civil Society Organisations with a view to initiating meaningful and wide-ranging discussions on the subjects of their concern.”
Reacting to the development, Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, welcomed it, describing the action as a positive detour from the established unheeding tendency of the Buhari administration.
“They heeded the uproar of citizens against SARS, and for once, acted promptly in disbanding the special squad, whose personnel went off their duty lines and core mandate of combating armed robbery, kidnapping and other violent crimes in the country, and virtually became a terror gang with disturbing reports of wanton misdeeds, particularly against young people, across the country”, the group stated in a press statement by its spokesman, Mr. Ken Robison.
As at press time, the clamour for President Muhammadu Buhari to address the nation and confirm SARS has been proscribed heightened as it generated over 500,000 tweets.
Also trending with over 200,000 tweets were words like ‘audio,’ a social media parlance used to depict when fake promises are made.
Describing the proscription as audio, the protesters vowed that only an Executive Order backed by law would convince them that SARS has been dissolved.
Protesters Insist on Prosecution of Culpable Officers
Meanwhile, the announcement of the proscription of the SARS was met with a mixture of disbelief and scorn by #EndSARS campaigners, who have insisted on the prosecution of the culpable officials.
The group argued that the dissolution of SARS was just one of their several demands.
As articulated, by Citizens Gavel Foundation against Social Injustice, they charged the IG to follow through on their other demands, which includes publishing a list of all officers that have been found culpable in the past and then embark on transparent prosecution of such officers.
They also demanded justice for all victims who have suffered injustice in the past and a public enquiry on the activities of the unit in the past, as well as compensation of all verifiable victims, both dead and alive.
Charging the police hierarchy to ensure all unjust harassment and extortion of youth by the police stops, they also stressed that policemen on duty must have their name tags depicting their units as well.
They tasked the police command to ensure they outlaw the norm of gun-totting policemen dressed in civil wear in unmarked vehicles while on duty.
One of the champions of the #EndSARS movement, Mr. Folarin Falana, aka Falz said: “This is just the beginning. Now is time to reform the entire Police Force.”
The Convener, Operation Sanitise, Ms. Savvy Rinu, another champion of the movement, said even though the police high command has proscribed SARS, that was the least of their problems.
She said: “Let’s all note that #EndSARS is just 10 per cent of our problem. Next, we push for Police Reforms.”
Governance and institutional reform advocate, Dr. Joe Abah, said: “Now SARS has been dissolved and the first stage of #EndSARS achieved, we can now discuss reforms.
“All the officers from the dissolved SARS would need to undergo a psychiatric evaluation before being deployed anywhere else. Anyone unfit or with a record of abuse should be sacked.”
BBNaija ex-housemate, Prince Enwerem said: “Merely redeploying these same officers defeats the essence of our protests because it is the officers doing these things not SARS as a body.
“We asked to reform the police not ‘unveil’ a new unit which we do not know would be any different from what we’re fighting.”
An actress, Ms. Lota Chukwu, said: “If we see a SARS official on the street after today, are we allowed to tell them they are rogue and not fear getting harassed or losing our lives? This is the real change we’re demanding. A ban beyond a press release.”
Mr. Omoyele Sowore of #RevolutionNow said: “As earlier revealed, IG Adamu of @policeng has announced the dissolution of #SARS but it is not yet Uhuru; we must remain vigilant, strive to end the system that enables impunity too must be dismantled as well! Thank you, revolutionary citizens, keep moving!”
Among those calling for justice for youths who were either killed or abused by the police were Mr. Japheth Omojuwa, a social advocate, who said: “We want justice for those killed by the police starting with Jimoh Isiaq.”
In his reaction to the dissolution of SARS, the Executive Director, Rule of Law and Accountability Advocacy Centre (RULAAC), Mr. Okechukwu Nwanguma, dissolution of SARS announced by the IG raised concerns on the fate of the SARS operatives, who have been indicted for human rights abuse.
He said: “What remains to be seen is what the IG is planning to do with the operatives already identified for involvement in specific egregious cases of abuse, corruption and crime?
“Are the same operatives going to be pushed into the mainstream police force without an audit, or will the IG create a new squad and fill it up with the same rogue elements?”
He added: “The IG has, no doubt, demonstrated that he is responsive to public opinion. But also, and more importantly, he needs to demonstrate that the NPF under his leadership will not condone, tolerate or cover-up crime and abuse. Accountability is key. Lack of it created the atmosphere of impunity that has protected rogue elements in the police.
“As I already mentioned elsewhere, I am forwarding some cases of corruption, killings and abuse by SARS, IRT, and STS to the IG. There are of course also cases involving the regular officers.”
SARS was founded in 1992 under the then IG, Alhaji Aliyu Attah. It started with 50 officers headed by Commissioner of Police Midenda to tackle armed robbery in Lagos only.
Bakare Backs Calls for Police Reform
In a related development, the Serving Overseer of the Citadel Global Community Church (CGCC), Pastor Tunde Bakare, has stated that the SARS has become a grotesque embodiment of the problem it was created to solve by habouring in its midst bloodletting gangs.
He said: “We must re-evaluate, restructure, rebrand and rebuild confidence in an efficient and effective anti-robbery tactical unit even as we work towards a more holistic and fundamental re-conception of our security architecture on the journey to national rebirth.”
He made the call yesterday while preaching a message titled “No Peace for The Wicked” in the auditorium of the CGCC, formerly known as the Latter Rain Assembly, in which he said: “Our land is presently filled with the cry of the blood. One cannot but weep day and night for the senseless killings of innocent citizens protesting peacefully against the lawlessness of some members of the SARS who seem to be proceeding from evil to evil without any attendant consequences.”
Police Brutalise Matchers, ARISE TV Cameraman
Meanwhile, hours after the IG bowed to public pressure by announcing the disbandment of the SARS, policemen Sagain applied excessive force against anti-SARS protesters yesterday afternoon in Abuja.
Several protesters, including a cameraman with ARISE NEWS Channel, were brutalised by policemen, who used teargas and water cannon to break the group of campaigners around Transcorp Hilton Hotel in the Maitama area of FCT.
In the process, the ARISE TV Cameraman was attacked and inflicted with a deep injury on his head by some policemen.
In an on-the-spot account posted online by ARISE TV crew presenter, Mr. Ferdinand Duruoha, he said the crew was returning from the studio, where they reported the IG of police Twitter message banning SARS, when they saw some youths protesting in Maitama.
Duruoha said it was while the crew decided to set up the camera to interview the protesters for their view on the IG’s directive that they were attacked by the policemen.
”The police brutally assaulted Francis and broke his camera and this is the result of the attack,” Duruoha posted in the video showing Francis’s head covered in his own blood.
Adesina: I Didn’t Advise Buhari against Scrapping SARS
In another development, the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, has denied a report that he advised Buhari against scrapping FSARS.
Adesina in a statement issued yesterday said he never alter a word publicly or privately while the #EndSARS saga lasted because it didn’t fall under his purview.
“While the FSARS saga lasted, I did not say a word on it, whether publicly or privately. Why? It was not within my brief. It rested squarely with the Nigeria Police Force, which has its own spokesman,” he said.