Nigeria: Let's Focus On Reforming SARS

The panel which was tasked with investigating the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) turned in its report last week. The nine-man Presidential Panel on the Reform of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad and chaired by Executive Secretary of the National Human Rights Commission [NHRC] Tony Ojukwu, submitted its reports to the president. The panel was mandated to investigate allegations of human rights violations by SARS and proffer recommendations on how to reform it. The panel in its report called for various reforms to make SARS citizen-friendly. It recommended the dismissal from service of 37 policemen accused of violating citizens' rights and the prosecution of 24 others.

It also recommended that Police Inspector-General Mohammed Adamu should fish out 22 other officers accused of violating citizens' rights. It then asked Nigeria Police to pay compensation to 45 complainants, in addition to tendering public apologies and complying with court orders in 10 separate cases. The panel further called for the establishment of state/local government police.

Receiving the report, President Muhammadu Buhari said, "I hereby direct that since the recommendations of the commission that constituted the panel are enforceable as decisions of the court, the Inspector-General of Police and the Solicitor General of the Federation/Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Justice should meet with the commission to work out the modalities for the implementation of the report within three months from today."

But shortly afterwards, some news media reported that the President had approved establishment of State and local government police. These reports quickly overshadowed the panel's real essence. The President's Senior Special Assistant Malam Garba Shehu quickly said no decision had been taken on the recommendations.

It is important for the public not to get the issues muddled up. Forming state police has been advocated by some Nigerians for years as part of devolution of powers. It is therefore not surprising that it was picked up and highlighted as the major issue. Though the issue is important, it is a constitutional matter that can only be done via constitutional amendment. Therefore, we should concentrate on the pressing issue at hand, which is reforming SARS, the core mandate of the panel. The panel was asked to look into operations of SARS with a view to addressing some of its perceived excesses and ensuring that it operaties within its mandate.

The panel, it would be recalled, was set up at the height of complaints of human rights abuse by members of the public against SARS, with a call by many persons to scrap the unit. The call was also followed by protests. The public has lost confidence in SARS due to the activities of bad eggs within it. In fact, SARS operatives are perceived by many citizens as the enemy and not the protectors they are supposed to be. It is not for nothing therefore, that the president picked as its chairman, the head of the human rights commission, to properly lead the charge.

So, the panel was a good initiative and we commend the members for completing the job and submitting the report. However, three months to work out modalities maybe too long as the panel already spent five months on the job, travelling across the six geopolitical zones and hearing directly from victims of SARS. In any case, any more time wasted is another opportunity for innocent citizens to fall victims of SARS operatives. Since the panel was set up, there have been several cases of alleged assault by SARS operatives, the most recent being the incident involving a broadcaster in Port Harcourt. The pictures were splashed on social media platforms. The panel has made very good recommendations; action should be taken on them immediately so that SARS can be sanitised to deliver on the mandate for which it was set up. At the moment, the insecurity situation in Nigeria requires urgent solution and all security outfits should be working towards that goal, not making matters worse through abuse of citizens' rights.

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