The new phase of the #EndSars campaign triggered by fresh cases of highhandedness and the brutality of the Special Anti-robbery Squad (SARS) and some other special units of the Nigerian police, who went rogue, got Nigerian government’s response in the afternoon of October 4, 2020, through an order from the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu.
The order restricts police tactical teams that include the STS and IRT from setting up roadblocks, conducting patrol, or stop and search operations. It also restricts them from invading people’s privacy, from phones to homes.
“The Inspector-General of Police, IGP M.A Adamu, has banned the personnel of the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad and other tactical squads of the force including the Special Tactical Squad (STS), Intelligence Response Team (IRT), Anti-Cultism Squad and other Tactical Squads operating at the Federal, Zonal and Command levels, from carrying out routine patrols and other conventional low-risk duties – stop and search duties, checkpoints, mounting of roadblocks, traffic checks, etc – with immediate effect,” the order said.
It added that no personnel of the force is allowed to embark on patrols or tactical assignments in mufti, or search people’s mobile phones, laptops and other devices.
The IGP’s order was supposed to bring relief to Nigerian youths and probably an end to the #EndSars campaign. But it didn’t, for reasons that could be traced back to similar events in the past.
In 2018, following relentless outcry and protests from Nigerians over the impunity of SARS, the then IGP, Ibrahim Idris, on the orders of the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, the then acting President, ordered SARS off the roads, unless they were answering a distress call.
The order included a plan initiated by Osinbajo to overhaul the entire management and activities of SARS. Consequently, Idris set the ball rolling with new rules that forbade the Squad from dealing with the public illegally, and included recommended psychiatric evaluation for every member of the Tactical Squads.
The dream of sane police service started thus, but unfortunately, it died as soon as it began. IGP Idris reached the age of retirement and was succeeded by Adamu, who immediately reversed all the measures taken to address the cruelty of SARS, in fact, he authorized them back to the streets with the new name, Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (FSARS), and the outcry for their brutal activities began once again, even with more volume.
Although there is nothing new in their actions, the impunity it thrived on recently is believed to be an indication of approval from the top.
The horrifying stories that greet the social media on the daily speak of a menace that is enabled by impunity and will likely stick around for much longer.
“We have read this before. Some of your officers do not obey you or any Nigerian laws. We have pictures, videos, names & addresses of rogue officers and their victims. Deal with erring officers. They are everywhere committing more crimes against Nigeria. Take action not talk,” said Rapper Ruggedman, who has been actively fighting for victims of SARS corruption.
The belief that the order will only restrain SARS for a while is rooted in several other orders of IGPs that had been ignored by the Nigerian Police, including the order to dismantle roadblocks across highways nationwide, and the Bail Is Free mantra that is boldly written in every police station.
Although the new order makes a threat to hold commissioners of police responsible in cases of the misbehavior of members of the Tactical Squads; saying the Commissioner of Police in charge of State Commands and the FCT as well as their supervisory Zonal Assistant Inspector General of police “will be held liable for any misconduct within their Area of Responsibility,” the concern lies on the honesty of the supposed watchdogs.
The report filed by Amnesty International in the wake of the calls to end SARS back in 2017, said the anti-robbery squad operatives pay as much as N300,000 to their bosses to get posted to some states deemed lucrative, and frequently have to bring returns to keep their posts.
Against this backdrop, there is concern that forcing the rogue units off the street will result in upsurge of crimes as it does not entail the needed reform that will put a permanent end to police corruption.
“Today, the IGP announced a ban on SARS and other tactical units. Do I believe that that is the end of the problem? Oh No!” wrote the former DG of BPSR, Dr. Joe Abah, who has been vocal about police reform. “However, I am a public service reformer. A very important tactic in reforms is to get an anti-reformer to publicly commit to reform.”
… “The next thing that will happen is that following the “ban”, there may be upsurge in crime. Some of the banned officers will ensure that this upsurge happens and worries the public. The IGP will say “Although I committed to banning SARS, I can’t watch armed robbery go up”, he added.
Therefore, while the IGP order should have tuned down the clamor for police reform, it heightened it. The level of pessimism expressed by Nigerians about the development bears a disheartening size of distrust that betrays every sense of security from the Nigerian Police.
Osinbajo said he is angry and very concerned about the maiming and robbing of Nigerian youths by those who are supposed to protect them, and he wants to see reform. But it isn’t the first time he is saying it, and Nigerians appear unmoved by words without actions this time.