There has been an ongoing campaign by some Nigerians calling for the scrapping of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS, a unit in the Nigeria Police Force. This call is being ignited by a plethora of complaints against men and officers of the special unit. Such complaints range from torture, its use by some powerful citizens to settle their scores against lesser mortals, unprovoked brutalization of innocent citizens, summary execution of suspects etc.
No doubt, these allegations against men of the SARS have been confirmed by some victims, it would be totally inexpedient and counter-productive to call for the total scrapping of the anti-robbery squad. What the campaigners should be doing is to call for a holistic reform of the Nigeria Police Force and suggest other means through which we can have a friendlier and more effective police.
This is because scrapping SARS, if there is any need to do so, will amount to nothing but treating the symptoms of a rapacious and malignant cancer while the causative agents are allowed to thrive. In such a situation, the cancer patient might experience some relief in the short term, but the cancer would surely reappear and even become more difficult to manage.
There is nothing that the SARS is being accused of today that the parent police body is not guilty of. There is an equally plethora of complaints against the police force, and their brutish and crude nature of policing still stares us in the face. In this circumstance, calling for the abrogation of SARS can also mean calling for the abrogation of our entire police force.
The case of “Apo 6” is still fresh in our memories. That, to say the least, is the height of police brutality. There is no way SARS which is a creation of the police can be expected to be different from its parent body. To call for the end of SARS without reforming the police would only be an exercise in futility. SARS is only a variant of the body it represents, only a part of the policing problem we have had to contend with in this part of this world.
The flip side of the issue is that SARS has also become a nightmare to armed robbers. Unfortunately, the way armed robbers seem to dread SARS is the same way ordinary citizens seem to dread them. And this is not supposed to be so. The proper narrative should be that while robbers dread SARS, the feeling of confidence and safety should envelope the ordinary citizen when they encounter men of SARS.
This is what advocates of #EndSARS should be agitating for: a more effective and friendlier SARS. It is possible!
We cannot cut off our nose to spite our face. To end SARS, we must first of all end armed robbery! As long as there is still armed robbery in our society, we shall continue to have a need for SARS!
However, the police hierarchy must do everything they need to do to save its badly battered image from perdition. They must as a matter of urgency reform not only the SARS but also the entire police force. They must be reformed to the extent that their presence should evoke nothing but a sense of pride and confidence rather than disdain in the ordinary citizen.
Starting with SARS, those factors which make them feel like gods who have the unbridled rights to torture, brutalise and decimate human lives with reckless abandon must be removed. The word “Special” in SARS must be changed to read something like “Swift”, Swift Anti-Robbery Squad”. The “special” in their name seems to be getting into their heads and making them feel indeed special beyond the fight against armed robbery. They must learn that there is nothing more special about them beyond the mutual respect that is supposed to exist between them and the ordinary citizen.
They seem to have taken this “Special” beyond the ordinary to the mundane. A situation where men of the SARS flagrantly abuse basic dressing codes in the name of wearing mufti shows that they believe they are above the norms of policing. It is disheartening to see men of the SARS in leather slippers menacingly wielding horsewhips, machetes, AK47s and barking out orders, threats and abuses at everyone and at no one in particular in areas that are otherwise cool and calm and no report of any incident.
There is nothing “special” about SARS. They are just members of a police unit carved out for the main purpose of tackling armed robbery. That is all!
This impunity with which they also operate has been taken a notch higher from the reports gathered from victims, and this stems from their psyche of feeling special. There is this general belief that once anyone is taken into the custody of SARS, the chance of that person being tortured, brutalized or even executed is high. Even petty thieves and common street urchins have had a bitter dose of such ill treatments.
It is also believed that the SARS makes itself an easily available tool in the hands of politicians and highly placed members of the society to settle political scores or personal differences. This ought not to be so.
The men and officers need to be properly kitted. There is nothing that shows them different from criminals except the bullet proof vest they wear which has the label of SARS.
As it is today, SARS is a necessary unit of the police force despite all of its shortcomings. Rather than scrap it, we must take necessary and urgent steps to reform it to be at par with its counterparts in other parts of the world and to serve the people rather than trample upon them. When this is done, we would have #EndedSARS but not without creating a #NewSARS that would be the pride of all Nigerians.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.