Nigeria: Brutality, Rights Abuses - NASS Moves Against SARS

(file photo)
8 October 2020

The two arms of the National Assembly, NASS, Senate and the House of Representatives, yesterday, moved against the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS, over involvement of its operatives in extra-judicial killing of innocent Nigerians and violation of people's rights.

While the Senate has commenced a probe into the activities of operatives of the special police unit, the House of Representatives did not only reprimand operatives of the unit but also said it would partner the Nigerian bar Association, NBA, civil society organisations, CSOs, and other well-meaning individuals to amend the 1999 Constitution to impose strong penalties against police brutality and extra-judicial killings.

This is even as facts emerged over circumstances around the arrest of two operatives of the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad, F-SARS, in Lagos over allegations of maltreatment last weekend, which led to massive protests and calls for scrapping of the outfit.

The reaction of the National Assembly came against the backdrop of condemnations of activities of operatives of SARS by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, human rights groups and the public.

Consequently, the Senate urged the Inspector-General of Police, IGP, Mohammed Adamu, to urgently arrest and prosecute all security personnel that had been involved in extra-judicial killings, with a view to bringing them to book as well as serve as deterrent to others.

Committee's mandate

Consequently, the Senate mandated the Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, led by Senator Opeyemi Bamidele (APC, Ekiti Central), to immediately carry out a holistic investigation into the high-level human rights abuses by security agencies.

The Senate also mandated the Senator Haliru Jika (APC, Bauchi Central)-led Senate Committees on Police Affairs, and that of Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters to investigate allegations of extra-judicial executions and make recommendations for reparation. Resolutions of the Senate were sequel to a motion on the "Need to check the culture of arbitrariness and brutality of Security Operatives to Nigerians." by Senator Oluremi Tinubu (APC, Lagos Central).

Senator Tinubu had noted that the injustices amounted to a flagrant disregard of laws that should govern all Nigerians and the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which in addition to prescribing powers to these agencies, provides for the right of every Nigerian.

The Senate, while mandating the Committee on Police Affairs to organize a stakeholders' meeting to investigate implementation of the Nigeria Police Trust Fund Act, 2019, urged the Inspector-General of Police to review the objectives behind the establishment of the tactical squads, with a view to permanently restricting their interference in daily activities of Nigerians.

It also urged the various security agencies to establish hotlines to enable Nigerians report abuses by their agents, and called for the establishment of a Special Bureau Unit to monitor the conducts of its officers, arrest and charge erring ones.

They must face the law --Senate President

In his remarks on the recent activities and extrajudicial killings by men of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS, President of the Senate, Senator Ahmad Lawan, called for the immediate arrest and prosecution of those involved.

According to him, any security personnel involved in the killing of innocent Nigerians must be made to face the full weight of the law.

Lawan said: "I think this is a situation that should be properly investigated. The recent incident should not be swept under the carpet. Those involved in the recent incident should be arrested and prosecuted. There are good people in all the security agencies just as there are bad people.

"Scrapping of agencies might not be the right thing to do, rule of law should be the guiding principle. If anyone does the wrong thing, he must be prepared to face the consequences.

"Like some of us indicated, there are good elements in SARS, and they have been doing a wonderful job. If you scrap SARS for example, you lose the chance of getting those that are doing well to continue to do so.

"Anybody in SARS or any security agency that commits excesses should be prosecuted. The law should take its full course.

"It is not enough to dismiss them from service, what does the law say if you kill someone? This is not acceptable. In fact, it makes Nigeria, as some of our colleagues have said, a laughing stock.

"We have the jurisdiction and constitutional mandate to review the laws governing the operations or establishment of these agencies. Those involved must be arrested and prosecuted, and Nigerians need to know what happens. It is not enough to suspend the activities of SARS.

"What happens to those that have killed innocent Nigerians? If someone is killed by the law, that is understandable. But when someone who is supposed to protect Nigerians kills a Nigerian unduly, without any due course of process, he probably loses his life too. And that is what we expect to see happen."

Senator Tinubu's mandate

Earlier, Senator Oluremi Tinubu said Nigeria, despite being a party to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, still records unabated brutality of Nigerians by security operatives.

She said: "Nigerian youth can no longer move freely for fear that they will be profiled and accused of being 'yahoo boys' or fraudsters, merely because they look good, own laptops, iPhones, nice-looking cars, or profiled for having dreadlocks and certain hairstyles.

"Only recently, the global and social media was awash with the #EndSARS Campaign and stories of brutality of the men of the Special Anti-Robbery Response Squad.

"With more Nigerian youths being involved with software development, fintech and doing more remote jobs in ICT, profiling by policemen is a major problem.

"Despite assurances by the Inspector-General of Police in 2015 and 2017 that there would be reform of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, Nigerians are daily being abducted and extorted, under duress, with no mechanism in place for complaints and resolution of same.

"SARS operations have degenerated into intimidation, harassment and extortion of innocent Nigerians."

'Violation of all pacts signed by Nigeria'

In his contribution, Senator Adamu Aliero (APC, Kebbi Central), said: "What is currently going on is a violation of all conventional agreements that Nigeria has signed on fundamental human rights, and even a violation of our constitution. We should not allow this kind of thing to continue.

"Suffice to say that we cannot afford extrajudicial killings in a constitutional democracy we are operating today. It should be condemned and nobody should be killed without just cause.

"Let us go through the judicial process, let the Judiciary determine that a person has actually committed the offence and is beyond any reasonable doubt before a person can be killed."

Also in his contribution, the Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege (APC, Delta Central) said: "We have a constitution which guarantees the privacy of our citizens, if nothing else, at least protects them until there's a warrant for their arrest before they can be searched.

"But now, these people have become more like extortionists, taking money from people by going into their phones, not because they want to provide law enforcement, but are looking for ways to force people to part with money."

Reps speaker blasts SARS men

The mood in the House of Representatives was not different as the speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, described operatives of Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad,FSARS, as unworthy of their security jobs.

Deploring the brutality associated with the operations of the unit across the country, Gbajabiamila said: "Everyday, throughout our country, interactions between the police and our citizens result in acts of horrific brutality, extortion, and retribution against the Nigerian people.

"Too many of the people we have assigned to protect our citizens have shown themselves unworthy of that calling. Their actions betray our trust and wreak unquantifiable damage on the already frayed fabric of our society."

According to him, Police operations are guided by the notion that they are not answerable to the citizenry, not liable for any infractions. He, therefore, proposed that the House would partner the Nigeria Bar Association, NBA, and Civil Society Organisations, CSOs, to amend the 1999 Constitution to impose strong penalties against police brutality and extra-judicial killings.

"Unfortunately, many of those who have betrayed our trust in this manner are never answerable for their actions. At the heart of this fundamental failure lies the unavoidable truth that we do not have an independent framework for ensuring that members of the Nigerian Police Force, NPF, are appropriately held to account when they fail to adhere to the policies and laws that govern their operations.

"We have long expected the Nigeria Police Force, NPF, to police itself. It is now abundantly clear that this was the wrong call. For the benefit of a functioning system of policing in Nigeria, it is now necessary that parliament steps in to introduce an independent, fair and practical approach to ensure that those to whom we grant the authority to act in the name of the state, are held to the highest standards of professional conduct.

"Over the next thirty days, the House of Representatives will work with the Nigeria Bar Association, NBA, with civil society and with Nigerians of good conscience to draft new legislation that establishes a system of independent accountability that holds erring members of the Police Force to account for their conduct in the performance of their duties.

"It will also impose civil and criminal liability for violations of the Police Code; and also compels the Nigerian Police Force, NPF, to take responsibility for the failures of training and discipline that leads to such violations.

"The constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in Section 215(5) states that 'The question whether any and if so what, directions have been given (to the Police) under this section shall not be inquired into in any court.'

"This provision presents a singularly obstinate obstacle to any system of effective judicial review of policing in Nigeria. Therefore, any reforms of the operations of the Nigeria Police Force, NPF, must include a constitutional amendment to expunge this painfully undemocratic clause from our country's constitution," he said.

The speaker, however, acknowledged that reforming the Police, would be tough and sought the cooperation of the public to tackle their excesses.

On Police reform

He stated further: "Substantive and wholesale reform of policing institutions is never an easy undertaking. From Europe to America, and across Africa, we have seen such efforts begin and falter.

"Police reforms succeed when such reforms have the support of the citizens who are determined to see the process through to a rewarding end, regardless of whatever obstacles might exist along the way.

"This House of Representatives will act to ensure that those agents of the state to whom we have assigned the duty to protect and serve, are deserving of the faith and respect of the Nigerian people.

"I ask for the support of all Nigerians as we begin this endeavour. Let us work together to achieve the vision of a nation where the citizens trust the police to always act in the public's best interest by respecting the rights of citizens and following the due process of law."

The House also adopted a motion, entitled: "The Need To Put a Stop To the Human Rights Abuses by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigerian Police", sponsored by House Leader, Ado Doguwa (APC, Kano) and 250 others.

The House noted "with great concern the persistent outcry by Nigerians over the brutality and human rights violation by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS, of the Nigerian Police Force."

It also expressed concern "that their activities in most cases have led to loss of property and extra-judicial killings, which is eroding public confidence in government and diminishing our human rights cum democratic credentials as a nation.

"The House recalls the recent death of Ifeoma Abugu who was allegedly raped and murdered in FCT, Kinsley Tariuwa in Port Harcourt, Daniel Ikeaguchi Chibuike in Elelenwo Rivers State, Kolade Johnson & Temiyu Kazeem in Lagos, Sunday Bong in Abuja and Miracle in Nnewi to mention but a few."

The House then resolved to demand the Inspector General of Police to take decisive action to stop the brutality and human rights violation by SARS and report the said actions within three weeks.

It also asked the Inspector General of Police to produce a comprehensive record of disciplinary and(or) Judicial action taken against the officers accused of abuse of power in the past five years and produce immediate plan for identifying and compensating victims.

Reps set up joint committee

The House equally set up a Joint Committee of Justice, Human Rights and Police Affairs to oversee the above prayers and conduct public hearing on the human rights violation of citizens by SARS and submit their report within six weeks for further legislative action.

The joint committee is also expected to take immediate steps to develop legislative actions to amend existing laws and the constitution to excise Section 215(5) and replace it with provisions that ensure judicial review of Police actions is enshrined and protected by the constitution, establish a framework for holding individual members of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) accountable for their conduct in the course of performance of their lawful duties, including criminal and civil liabilities; and allow the Nigeria Police Force, NPF, to bear civil liability for failures in their conduct and operational procedures that lead to violations of citizens' rights.

#EndSARS protest to hold in Lagos

Meanwhile, the #EndSARS protest scheduled for today in Lagos will go ahead, despite cancellation by the convener and popular singer, Azeez Fashola, aka Naira Marley, as his colleagues, Douglas Jack Agu, popularly known as Runtown, and Patoranking have vowed to lead it. The later took to twitter to confirm his commitment to lead the protest.

"THURSDAY IS THURSDAY," he tweeted.

Recall that on Sunday, Naira Marley had disclosed on his Twitter page that he will lead a peaceful protest against police brutality and mindless killings on Thursday.

"This has gone long enough and now we must take action! I'll be leading a protest to #ENDSARS on Thursday, October 8, 2020. They MUST listen to us, they MUST make/effect real and visible changes! Empty promises won't work this time!!!

"Let's all come out to peacefully reach out to our elected leaders beyond social media!!! Venue/Take Off Point: Lekki Phase 1, Toll Gate. 10 am," Runtown tweeted.

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