Daily Trust (Abuja)

Nigeria: What Is SARS?

The Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) was set up by the police to tackle armed robbery and related crimes. Each police command in the 36 states and Abuja has a SARS section which is answerable to the commissioner of police. SARS section is under the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) but can be co-opted to partake in operational and any other duties by the commissioner.

SARS personnel have been accused of high-handedness, corruption, and extra-judicial killings. They allegedly torture suspects to get information and keep suspects in custody for as long as they want. The squad has turned aside its major role of tackling robbery of recent to other policing activities. Inspector General of Police Mohammed Abubakar said in February at a meeting with top police officers in Abuja that SARS kill detainees at will.

"The Anti Robbery Squads (SARS) have become killer teams, engaging in deals for land speculators and debt collection," he said. In a report released weeks ago, Amnesty International said this about SARS: "Over 100 people arrested in connection with crimes related to Boko Haram have been detained at the (SARS) detention centre in Abuja, known as the 'abattoir'."

It added: "Detainees are given little food or water and are dependent on relatives bringing food or money. People who have been detained at the 'abattoir' told Amnesty International that several detainees, some of whom have been in police detention for over a year, have fallen sick there. "However, sick inmates were not taken to hospital by the police or provided with any medical care within the police station. Detainees told Amnesty International that several inmates were beaten by police officers while detained at the 'abattoir'."

The Police authorities dismissed the Amnesty report without specifically addressing the issues raised.

As well as torture and illegal execution, SARS is also notorious for extortion. A newspaper report last year said SARS operatives in Abuja demanded over N1 million for the bail of a female suspect who was detained over financial crimes for a month.

Security chiefs blame some of their colleagues for being collaborators in incidents of attack on security facilities. Assistant Inspector General of Police M. J. Abubakar last week ordered the redeployment of all police officers in Dansadau emirate in the wake of the escape of a police officer's wife accused of cooking food for armed robbers in Zanfara. He said some police officers actually give information to criminals.

"Let me tell you that attack being launched on police formations in this country succeed because dangerous and corrupt elements among us tell theses attackers and politicians about our potential abilities," he said.

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