The role of the police world over is crime prevention, protection of citizens’ rights and to ensure that laws are obeyed. Surprisingly, the security architecture of Nigeria is drifting with high political underpinning.
The recent siege to the National Assembly, the freezing of accounts of some states with the aid of security operatives, portray Nigeria as a nation where security is heavily politicised.
Elected officials roundly abuse human rights without winking an eye. They render our security impotent and make us defenceless. For instance, men of the dreaded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) would prefer to do the bidding of politicians and humiliate anyone who raises a voice against their excesses than protect the citizenry.
In Rivers State, the SARS has been accused of having a hand in some kidnap cases, armed robbery, oil bunkering and naked abuse of power. The role SARS played in the August 18, 2018, re-run election in Port Harcourt Constituency 3 remains the talk in town. They were said to be involved in wanton hijack of election materials and abuse of INEC officials.
The SARS Commander, Mr. Akin Fakorede, may have been planted in the State to change its security architecture to create an atmosphere of fear. The activities of Fakorede were uncovered by the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) Special Squad deployed to the state after the squad busted the attempted kidnap of one Mr. Azumana Ifeanyi on September 11, 2017, at the GRA, Port Harcourt. One of the SARS operatives was killed, while Inspector Justice Nyeche, who led the IGP team was injured.
During the senatorial re-run election in Rivers East Senatorial District on December 10, 2016, pictures of the SARS commander battering electoral officials and attempting to hijack election materials to compromise the results for a particular political party in a manner reminiscent of “Rambo in the Hollywood movies” went viral.
An Electoral Officer, who was beaten up, was clearly seen in the video holding on to Fakorede. This is very sad and shameful. And, Fakorede, having satisfied his paymasters, was transferred but quickly returned to the State and even promoted to the rank of Assistant Commissioner.
On Monday, March 12, 2018, a video clip of some operatives of SARS brutalising a mechanic, Lucky Joseph, at the Choba Extension, Obio/Akpor Local Government Area of the state went viral. The video showed three policemen beating up the man. The SARS slammed him repeatedly with cutlasses, another one was seen opening a tear gas canister in his face, while the third held him down as the victim’s trousers were pulled off, exposing his private parts.
Following the alleged murder of three Ogoni youths by operatives of the Rivers Special Anti-Robbery Squad in Luebe Community in Khana Local Government Area, community leaders and women called for the immediate arrest and prosecution of Fakorede over allegations that the squad maintained a bunkering syndicate to defraud Nigeria.
Following the allegations, the Police Area Commander in Bori promised to expose and release the names of the SARS bunkering syndicate to community leaders who had petitioned relevant authorities, calling for justice. The names of the SARS operatives are still awaited one year after the dastardly act.
Tricycle operators are not spared the onslaughts by members of the anti-robbery squad as those of them plying the Mgbuosimini road are compelled to part with N200.00 daily to the operatives or risk being manhandled and stopped from doing business in the area. Taxi drivers pay as much as N500.00 each.
In Ubeta community, Ahoada West LGA, operatives of SARS haunt the community daily, making indiscriminate arrests and extortion of money from hapless natives. Consequently, many farmers are afraid of going to their farmlands to plant or harvest their crops. There is no freedom, there is no liberty as the people live in anxiety daily.
In October, 2017, SARS operatives moved into the Mbiama market in Ahoada West LGA like touts, shot into the air and brazenly carted four bags of garri belonging to traders away. Pictures taken of the incident trended. But Fakorede responded instantly that the thieves were men of SARS from Bayelsa State Command. However, Bayelsa State head of SARS refuted that claim and declared that they were men of SARS from Rivers State Command. What a shame!
Also, SARS operatives in the State were recently accused of providing cover for thugs who attacked and destroyed a parallel secretariat of the All Progressives Congress (APC) faction in Rivers State loyal to Senator Magnus Abe. The Senator’s faction alleged that operatives loyal to a chieftain of a parallel faction of the party escorted and supervised thugs who destroyed the secretariat.
Given the series of complaints across the country against the police outfit, the House of Representatives on Thursday, October 25th, 2017, passed a resolution to probe the unit. Similarly, the Inspector-General of Police (IG), Ibrahim Idris, reeled out special ‘commandments’ to personnel of the anti-robbery squad against unprofessional conduct, after an Amnesty International report indicted them of systematically torturing detainees in its custody to extract confessions and bribes.
The IGP said: “You have to correct this impression. This is a new beginning to give the nation a new anti-robbery squad. You don’t have the right to take the life of anybody or change civil offence to criminal offence. Human rights groups would be involved in the training of SARS operatives. We are going to retrain you even as you work in your different zones. You should have the courage to tackle what is against human nature. You should not mount roadblocks as it remains banned.
“The media should visit the various detention facilities and make their report. It is illegal for any police personnel to shoot into the air and cause panic in the community. You must develop a good working relationship with people in their various communities.”
Despite the laudable admonitions by the IGP, the SARS operatives have not changed their modus operandi. Atrocities are still perpetrated by the outfit. This has destroyed their image and that of the police in general. They still mount illegal roadblocks and involve in civil matters. They have even degenerated to the point of demanding debts for people and turned into an army of mercenaries who brutalise and evict tenants for landlords.
The need to overhaul the entire SARS cannot be over-emphasised. The name change which the Presidency has proposed is certainly not the solution. The change from SARS to F-SARS would result in nothing. Indeed, it may even embolden them to do more if no fundamental restructurings are done. “Old wine”, as wise people say, in “new wine skin”, cannot change the taste of a wine. The crux of the matter is not the name but the personnel.
A viable example is the notorious armed robbery saga in Benin in the mid 80s involving Lawrence Anini and his group. The then Commissioner of Police was changed, new DPOs were assigned while patrol teams were overhauled. In less than one week, Anini and his gang members were arrested.
Thereafter, mind-boggling revelations and confessions were made by the criminals who implicated DSP George Iyamu as their informant and gunrunner. If that strategy worked then, it can work today. If there is a time to deploy that scheme, it is now that kidnappings, robbery, harassment of citizens and even cultism are ravaging the country.
Let all SARS commanders be changed. It is imperative that all officers currently above the rank of Chief Superintendent of Police (CSP) be redeployed to other responsibilities. They have to be clothed in uniforms with bold name tags and service numbers and be prohibited from using unmarked private vehicles for operations.
The government must ensure that those responsible for extra-judicial killings in the squad are prosecuted and brought to justice. They also have to guarantee that firearms are used only in appropriate situations and in a manner likely to decrease the risk of unnecessary harm.
It is unfortunate that Fakorede has consistently absorbed his men of wrongdoing. He certainly has his date with history. But those praise-singers and political jobbers, who insist that SARS is worthy of its name and, therefore, be left untouched, must know that ‘what goes around, comes around’.
Uyi, an environmental manager and social reformer, writes from Port Harcourt.