President Muhammadu Buhari has directed the setting up of a three-man committee to produce a white paper on the recommendations of the Presidential Panel on Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) Reform and the establishment of state and local government police.
The panel headed by the executive secretary of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Mr. Tony Ojukwu, among others, recommended the renaming of SARS and the creation of state and LG police in the country.
While receiving the report yesterday at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, the president ordered the inspector-general of police (IGP), the solicitor-general of the federation, and the NHRC executive secretary to review the recommendations within three months and come up with a white paper for further action by the federal government.
Based on some online media reports that Buhari had approved state and LG police, the presidency clarified that it was only the recommendations of the panel that the president directed a three-man committee to review and come up with modalities for implementation through a white paper.
In a statement issued by his media aide, Mallam Garba Shehu, he said that the president requested that the report be studied and a white paper produced within three months.
Shehu said that President Buhari's specific directive is that a three-man panel be set up to produce the white paper.
He said: "The report of the white paper committee will form the basis of the decisions of the government on the many recommendations, including the setting up of state and local government police made by the Ojukwu panel.
"Until a white paper is produced, it will be premature and pre-emptive to suggest that the recommendations contained in the report have been approved by the president in part or whole," he stated.
And citing various violations of the citizens' fundamental rights by SARS operatives, the panel recommended the dismissal of 37 police officers and the prosecution of 24 others.
The Ojukwu-led panel, which was set up in August 2018, recommended the renaming of SARS to Anti-Robbery Section (ARS) which was its original name.
In his address at the brief ceremony for the presentation of the report, Ojukwu said told Buhari that at the end of the panel's public hearing and based on complaints from defendants and their counsel, it recommended 37 police officers for dismissal from the force.
He said that 24 were recommended for prosecution while the IGP was directed to unravel the identity of 22 officers involved in the violation of the human rights of innocent citizens.
According to him, the police was directed to pay compensation of various sums in 45 complaints and tender public apologies in five complaints and to obey court orders in five cases.
Ojukwu added that the police was directed to immediately arrest and prosecute two retired senior police officers found to have violated the rights of citizens (one for extra-judicial killing and the other for illegal takeover of property of a suspect). The NHRC boss hinted that the panel recovered two vehicles illegally auctioned by SARS officers and returned them to their owners
He said: "Some of the other key recommendations of the panel include significant improvement in the funding, kitting and facilities of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF); strengthening the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) of the force; establishment of state and local government police, and institutionalising a Special Investigation Panel (SIP) to annually hear and determine complaints of alleged human rights violations against the NPF."
Others are strengthening the Police Rapid Response Complaints Unit and other internal complaints mechanisms of the force to make them more responsive; renaming SARS to Anti-Robbery Section (ARS) which was its original name and to make the section operate under the intelligence arm of the police from the divisional, area command, state command, zonal command up to the Force Headquarters' level. This will also remove the stigma at present associated with the name SARS.
The panel also proposed that ARS limits itself to tackling armed robbery while other intelligence and operational units are strengthened to perform their various special tasks
"We have great pleasure to submit the report to Your Excellency and hope that the federal government will find them useful in its quest to ensure that Nigeria has a responsible, responsive, efficient and effective police institution that will not only decisively deal with criminality but that will be the pride of the Nigerian people," Ojukwu said.
Receiving the report, President Buhari thanked the panel for a job well done and directed the IGP and the solicitor-general of the federation to liaise with the NHRC to work out modalities for the implementation of the report within three months.
He said: "I want to thank the panel once more, and hereby direct that since the recommendations of the commission (NHRC) that constituted the panel are enforceable as decisions of the court, that the inspector-general of police and the solicitor general of the federation/permanent secretary, Federal Ministry of Justice meet with the commission to work out the modalities for the implementation of the report within three months from today, " he said.
Buhari noted that in carrying out their statutory responsibilities, the police must act within the ambit of the law and must not violate the fundamental human rights of Nigerians whom they had sworn to protect.
The president said: "Where the rights of Nigerians are violated by police officers while discharging their functions, the government has a responsibility to address the instances of violation in line with its human rights obligations and ensure that such police officers are held accountable for their actions.
"It is in recognition of our obligations under the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and international human rights laws that this administration decided to set up this presidential panel and directed the NHRC to constitute its membership in order to investigate the various public outcries and media reports alleging human rights violations against citizens by officers of SARS.
"It is also in recognition of the fact that the decisions, determinations and recommendations of the commission are binding and enforceable as provided under Section 22 of the NHRC Act, 1995 (as amended)," Buhari pointed out.
Buhari said that he would ensure that the human rights of every citizen are protected under his administration.
Police Arrest Gun Runner, 37 Others, Recover 20 AK-47 Rifles
Meanwhile, the police have arrested a suspected gun runner and 37 other suspects for kidnapping, armed robbery, and other crimes.
The suspected gun runner, Ojomo Gbenga, who confessed to the crime, said that he had been in the business for over 15 years and was arrested with 6,000 live ammunition. He named his patrons as politicians and other notorious criminals.
Gbenga confessed that the arms and ammunition were imported through Niger Republic from Burkina Faso into Oyo State, adding that they were always concealed in hides and skins from Burkina Faso and disguised as yam flour when they get into Nigeria for easy movement.
He further confessed that he had made over N5 million from the business and had big sponsors who helped to beat the law enforcement agents.
The police also recovered 20 AK-47 rifles, 10 automatic pistols, 11 dane guns and four pump action guns from criminals.
Force spokesperson, Mr. Frank Mba, explained that the suspects specialise in terrorising people in the North Central, North East and North West zones, nnoting that it took the hard work of the Intelligence Response Unit (IRT) and the Special Tactical Squad (STS) to arrest them.
Mba said that they would be prosecuted when investigations were completed.
He said: "Today, we have a gang of criminals who specialises in bringing into the country prohibited weapons. Our determination is to curb the proliferation of arms and to snuff energy out of the criminals knowing fully well that without the weapons, most of the crimes taking place in Nigeria will not.
"The police had to review its operational strategy to target the illicit proliferation of arms and go after recognised persons who are illegally bringing weapons into the country.
"The effort has led to massive recovery of 6,000 live ammunition recovered from a gang that specialises in bringing these weapons from North Africa through Burkina Faso, Ghana and then to Nigeria through Benin Republic via the border of Saki in Oyo State. "We also recovered 20 AK-47 riffles, 10 automatic pistols, 11 dane guns, four pump action and two cars," he said.