The recent horrific killing of a young Nigerian by officers of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS)—an arm of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF)—has once again brought the #EndSARS campaign to life. SARS has, over the years, earned a notorious reputation of a brutal agency following cases of extrajudicial killings, torture, ill-treatment of extrajudicial killings, torture, ill-treatment of detainees, and extortion of suspects. Ending SARS may sound like a brilliant idea, it will, however, likely hinder the fight against armed robbery which SARS has incredibly helped reduce. Instead, human rights advocacy groups and the public should pressurize the NPF for reforms.
SARS needs an overhaul—not a ban—to check its excesses without trading off an increase in crime. President Muhammadu Buhari took a small step in this direction when he ordered an overhaul of SARS but the effort yielded no concrete results. This outcome shows that overhauling SARS will require more than a presidential order or even a ban
A 2016 Amnesty International report titled “You have Signed Your Death Warrant,” shows that SARS atrocities range from “severe beating, hanging, starvation, shooting in the leg, mock executions and threats of execution.
SARS is Dangerously Reaching beyond its Legal Permissions
SARS officers have received condemnations for going after suspected internet fraudsters—locally called Yahoo Boys—rather than spending more time to investigate cases of armed robbery.
A viral video on social media shared a few days ago showed two SARS officers beating a young man for refusing to unlock his phone. He was profiled for internet fraud by the officers just by his appearance. It is unbelievable that one only needs to appear in a crazy jean with funky hairstyle and tattoo to attract the interest of SARS officers—holding a laptop while appearing in such outfit is inconceivable. The violations are even worse in SARS custody. Once grabbed or arrested, suspects are subjected to various degrees of torture in inhumane conditions.
“I Know My Rights, You have no Right to Search My Phone” – Young Nigerian Guy Cries Out As SARS Police Officers Mercilessly beat Him Up All bcos He had 2 phones and Refused to Unlock the Expensive one, they seized it, told him to Come to Alagbon FCIID to Retrieve, Pls RT #Endsars pic.twitter.com/gHz2FFWXl9
— Gossip Mill Nigeria (@GossipMillNaija) April 12, 2019
SARS officers will go to any length to make suspects confess to crimes they haven’t committed. A 2016 Amnesty International report titled “You have Signed Your Death Warrant,” shows that SARS atrocities range from “severe beating, hanging, starvation, shooting in the leg, mock executions and threats of execution.”
Besides arresting indiscriminately, oftentimes, SARS officers detain suspects for several weeks without arraigning them in court, which is against the 48 hours detainment period allowed and stipulated by the constitution. Worse still, they do not allow detainees to see any relatives or even their lawyers. And regardless of the provision of a free bail policy by the NPF, SARS barely release suspects for free but extort them and their relatives.
The Best Way to End SARS
One reason SARS atrocities have persisted for long is that wanting officers are rarely held accountable for their actions. The NPF will rather deploy such officers to another state or local government area instead of punishment. Lawmakers should review all legislation relating to torture and have it codified under Nigeria’s Criminal Law.
The National Human Rights Commission should also visit SARS detention facilities to investigate all allegations against its officers and have victims given justice.
It is equally important for Nigerians demanding for SARS to be scrapped, to for a moment look beyond its brutality while strongly pressurizing the NPF for reforms. Nigeria still needs SARS. The squad is invaluable to the fight against armed robbery, cultism, and kidnapping. An absolute end to SARS at these times of great security challenges is not in the country’s best interest.
Muneer Yaqub is a Writing Fellow at African Liberty, a Nigerian social commentator, and journalist. He is a student of Microbiology at the Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto, Nigeria. He can be reached on Twitter via @elmunir5.