#EndSARS: Acting President Yemi Osinbajo orders the ‘overhaul’ of notorious anti-robbery unit

#EndSARS: Acting President Yemi Osinbajo orders the ‘overhaul’ of notorious anti-robbery unit

Nigeria’s acting president Yemi Osinbajo has ordered the immediate “overhaul” of Nigerian police’s special anti-robbery squad (SARS).

Osinbajo’s directive came after months of street and social media protests against the police unit which has, over the years, become synonymous with brutality, wanton arrest and extra judicial killings.

“Following persistent complaints and reports on the activities of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) that border on allegations of human rights violations, His Excellency, Professor Yemi Osinbajo SAN, Acting-President, Federal Republic of Nigeria, has directed the Inspector General of Police to, with immediate effect, overhaul the management and activities of SARS,” Osinbajo’s spokesman Laolu Akande said in statement on Tuesday, “and ensure that any Unit that will emerge from the process will be intelligence-driven and restricted to the prevention and detection of armed robbery and kidnapping, and apprehension of offenders linked to the stated offences, and nothing more.”

The directive continues with: “The Acting President has also directed the IGP to ensure that all operatives in the emerging Unit conduct their operations in strict adherence to the rule of law and with due regard to International Humanitarian Law and the constitutionally guaranteed rights of suspects. The operatives should also bear proper identification anytime they are on duty.

“In the meantime, the Acting President has directed the National Human Rights commission to set up a Committee that will conduct nationwide investigation of the alleged unlawful activities of SARS in order to afford members of the general public the opportunity to present their grievances with a view of ensuring redress.”

Also, in a statement yesterday, the Nigeria Police Force announced that Inspector General Ibrahim Idris has ordered all formations to comply with Osinbajo’s directive. A special squad has been charged with monitoring observance and apprehending erring officers.

Inspector General Ibrahim Idris

Among other reviews, personnel of the reformed squad would abolish stop and search duties except in response to distress calls, robberies or kidnappings.

Amnesty International Nigeria hailed the directive of Acting President Osinbajo. In a statement, the director Osai Ojigho, said: “This is an overdue yet hugely important move by Acting President Osinbajo. The growing outcry over the brutality of Nigeria’s notorious SARS police unit has finally got the attention of the country’s authorities.

Osai Ojigho

“While this is positive news, it is crucial that any overhaul of SARS is far-reaching and immediately effective. Restructuring SARS is not enough unless the government takes concrete steps to protect Nigerians.

“The reform ordered by the Acting President must translate into ending the torture, unlawful detention, extortion, extrajudicial killings and other serious human rights violations that SARS officers have been committing for years across Nigeria. That includes bringing to justice SARS officers found to have committed atrocities.

“There is much compelling public evidence of human rights violations committed by SARS, some of it directly documented by Amnesty International, and this should now be used to aid an effective investigation into the unit’s crimes.

“The special panel convened to investigate SARS must be independent and impartial. Its aims can only be achieved if victims are given time and protection to present their cases.”

There have also been reactions from members of the public.

“Thank you Prof. This is a very big relief for Nigerians,” tweeted Onyia Chinyere.

“In jubilation and celebration of #EndSARS triumph. It’s celebration of liberty. More to come! Nigeria shall rise again!” said Rossonero Oladapo Olawole.

But Jèfé Juān Jọsé had a warning: “Dear Kings and Queens, as you all celebrate Osinbajo’s ‘SARS overhaul’ directive, bear in mind that SARS will, out of anger, in the coming days, rain terror on innocent youths before the overhaul is effected. I pray for your safety and do be careful as you go out.”

Segun Awosanya, the convener of the #EndSARS Movement said the order to overhaul the police unit was a welcome development. But he was cautiously optimistic about the implementation of the order.

Segun Awosanya

“We still have to monitor the implementation of the order,” Awosanya said. “It is not Uhuru yet. Until we see the outcome of the interpretation of this order.”

The #EndSARS campaign began on social media to protest the activities of the police unit which have been accused of extortion, harassment, robbery, intimidation and extra-judicial killings. There have also been public demonstrations for and against the continued existence of the dreaded anti-crime unit of the Nigeria Police Force.

To achieve its aim, the movement, which has found relevance with a band of Nigerian youths, is hoping Nigeria’s parliament will act on the Police Act amendment bill before it and also institute a public hearing on the “on human rights abuses by Police/SARS in collaboration with National Human Rights Commission.”

“On the civil side, we are filing a class action suit of N100 billion against the Nigeria Police and also a lawsuit at [the] International Criminal Court on Terrorism on the defenseless youth of Nigeria by the Police as guaranteed by Article 15 of the ICC Statute which allows citizens to refer cases to the ICC, where the state is UNWILLING or UNABLE to take action,” Awosanya said in a post on his Medium page.

A 2016 report by Amnesty International indicates that persons detained by SARS, both men and women, “are subjected to various methods of torture and ill-treatment in order to extract information and ‘confessions’. Such methods include severe beating, hanging, starvation, shooting in the legs, mock executions and threats of execution.”

The reason for this barefaced brutality, Awosanya told Guardian Life in June, was not farfetched. He described how police personnel are drafted into the anti-robbery squad as corrupt in itself. He said that the officials were made members of the squad after they have paid a certain amount of money to their superiors.

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