SARS: The harbinger of mass deaths
By Folorunso, Fatai Adisa
Quentin Tarantino, an American filmmaker, emotionally uttered some words that made me, inadvertently, shed some tears. He complained, “Just because I was at an anti-police brutality protest doesn’t mean I’m anti-police. We want justice, but stop shooting unarmed people.” Undoubtedly, I know that it is hard to believe the disconcerting fact that the people you look up to for safety and security are the same people who are causing you so much grief and pains. However, this is the sad reality we are contending with in Nigeria, today, as orchestrated by the activities of the operatives of the now disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad otherwise known as SARS!
SARS, until its scrapping on Sunday by the Inspector General of Police, Muhammed Adamu, on the heels of the #EndSARS protests by Nigerian youths across the country and many European and American cities, was one of the 14 units in the Force Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department which was established to detain, investigate and prosecute people involved in crimes like armed robbery, kidnapping and other forms of crimes. SARS operatives carried guns, but they neither wore Nigeria Police uniforms, nor police badges. You would only recognise them by the name, “Special Anti-Robbery Squad” crested on their polo.
The operation of SARS in Nigeria started with death. It was founded in 1992 by a former police commissioner, Simeon Danladi Midenda, when Col. Rindam, a Nigerian Army Colonel, was killed by police officers at a checkpoint in Lagos. When the information got to the Army, soldiers were drafted to the streets of Lagos in search of police officers. The Nigeria Police withdrew from checkpoints, security areas and other places of interests of criminals. In the absence of police for two weeks, crime rates increased and SARS was formed with only 15 officers operating in the shadows without the knowledge of the Army while monitoring police radio chatters. It continued to increase the number of death cases attributed to it. The Frankenstein monster they birthed and nurtured on our commonwealth is now fully grown and asking for blood. That disbanded arm of police, in recent times, had been at the core of allegations of extrajudicial killings, wanton arrests and dispossession of properties through physical assaults and other intimidation tactics.
For example, in 2018, a panel that was set up to investigate the case of some four officers of SARS- Sgt. Adeoye Adekunle, Sgt. Adekitan Adebowale, Sgt. Agbi Lucky and Sgt. Odighe Hehosa- recommended them for dismissal on the grounds of armed robbery, kidnapping, unlawful detention and intimidation, as well as threatening violence as occasioned by the report of the investigation carried out on a petition, dated May 2, 2018, against them by Citizen Chukwudi Godwin Odionye, popularly referred to as ‘Bishop’.
The police brief on the matter goes thus : “The petitioner stated that on June 4, 2017, he was in his house around Alagbado area of the state, when four armed men stormed his house to effect his arrest on the allegation of performing ‘fake’ miracles.
“He stated that after his arrest, he was taken to one hotel at Agege, where he was detained and threatened to be killed, if he failed to cooperate.
“He explained further that the following day, June 5, 2017, he was taken to the bank where he was made to transfer N7m to the account of one of the operatives.” This is a pure case of threat, harassment, and psychological brutality amongst other things.
Similarly, sometime last year, the Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, lamented, “Most of the kidnappings and armed robberies taking place in this state are done by men of SARS. They use exhibit vehicles to operate. As the Chief Security Officer of the state, you complain, but they choose to play politics with crime.
“They fight crime in some states but they refuse to fight crime in Rivers State. We are done with the elections, but they are using SARS to create insecurity in the state. As I speak with you, they will deny.
“I have never seen a country where they politicise crime. It is very obvious that they want to give the impression that Rivers State is unsafe. They want to instil fear preparatory to declaring during the elections that there are so many killings. The authorities are deliberately trying to destroy a whole state and you want the people to be happy. I will no longer write (to the IGP). Now is the time to take my case to the public for the whole world to know what is happening”. Yes, he frontally accused the operatives of SARS in his state of kidnapping and robbery cases.
Sadly, a policeman once told me that his friend who was an officer in the SARS unit, called him and remarked, “Kay, I now have a big flatscreen TV o. We went to raid one Yahoo boy’s home. Since he’s unable to pay, we have shared his properties amongst ourselves. I took the TV”. This is completely shameful and unprofessional. I believe any confiscated property, with necessary backups from a court of law, belongs to the government and not any individual.
Also, some months ago in Olomore, Abeokuta, mayhem broke out as Hausa-Fulani youths in the area barricaded the Sango/Abeokuta Road where they protested the alleged killing of one of them by some operatives of SARS. It was reported that they were after a “Yahoo boy” and they recklessly fired shots that killed the man. The Hausa youth traders at the Olomore Market made bonfires on both sides of the dual carriage road and unrest rocked the day.
Similarly, on Saturday, February 22, 2020, SARS hit the national headlines for the wrong reasons again, in Sagamu, Ogun State, on account of the death of a Remo Stars footballer, Tiamiyu Kazeem, otherwise known as Kaka. It was most unfortunate that the lack of professionalism by the men of SARS was allowed to dominate security and a tragedy resulting in needless killings and destruction occurred, to the consternation of the world. A sparkling light was extinguished in its prime; it is dispiriting at best and condemnable at worst.
As usual in such incidents, there was blame game between the police and the citizens who have always been the victims of this violence. It was claimed SARS operatives had arrested the young player, pushed him down from the bus (although the Police PRO in Ogun State noted he tried to escape from the bus) and a hit-and-run driver crushed him. Protests followed the player’s death in Sagamu. Some protesters allegedly attacked the police and some varying degrees of injuries were recorded on both sides.
The actions of the two sides are condemnable as two wrongs do not make a right.
On Tuesday, September 15, 2020, this time in Osun State, news had it that a suspected Internet fraudster, simply identified as Remi, was pursued alongside three others, leading to an accident at an area called East bypass. Reports said that Remi died on the spot, while the three others who were severely injured were immediately rushed to hospital. A bloody protest accompanied the event.
Human life is precious and legal means must always be adopted before it is taken. A situation in which a fly is hit with a sledge hammer as frequently demonstrated by the SARS operatives is a travesty of justice and a dent on the image of Nigeria Police. The words of that eminent American historian, Mary Frances Berry, a Geraldine R. Segal Professor of American Social Thought and professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania, are apt here. Said she, “When you have police officers who abuse citizens, you erode public confidence in law enforcement. That makes the job of good police officers unsafe”. Little wonder, many Nigerians lost confidence in the operatives and called for their disbandment.
We do not have to be in a war ravaged polity before we feel unsafe; we do not have to be foreigners in a place before we feel insecure. Certainly, we can be in our own Fatherland and have our heart in our mouth because of the trigger-happy policemen we meet with at every corner. They even come to our streets and houses to unleash fears and terror on us.
If the actions of the operatives of SARS are taken into consideration, we wouldn’t be wrong if we conclude that Nigerians are unsafe from attacks. This time, it is not even from robbers and kidnappers; it is from the police who are meant to protect them. When the protector turns the intimidator, who do we run to?
- Adisa, a corps member, wrote in from Oke Mosan, Abeokuta, Ogun State, via Penpusher2015@gmail.com
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