- This can’t be the solution; it should be reformed and better monitored
Inspector-General of Police Ibrahim Idris has done the appropriate thing by ordering the immediate reorganisation of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), sequel to the campaign by some Nigerians, especially on the social media, calling for its scrapping. The police boss also said that henceforth, a commissioner of police would head the unit and directed commissioners of police nationwide to take note of the new arrangement.
Idris said: “Under the new arrangement, a commissioner of police is now the overall head of the Federal Anti-Robbery Squad nationwide under the Department of Operations, Force Headquarters, Abuja”.
We have no doubt that some members of the SARS have gone beyond their brief in performing their tasks. Indeed, Nigerians are daily being inundated with media reports of the atrocities perpetrated by some of these elements, including extra-judicial killings, disrespect for the rule of law and extortion. Indeed, many innocent souls have been lost to their overzealousness and cruelty. As a matter of fact, there have been reports of some of them colluding with criminals or even engaging in crimes that they are supposed to check. But these are not limited to SARS. Some other regular policemen have been caught in the act, too.
Anyway, given all these points and more, we cannot say that those calling for the disbandment of the squad have no point. Indeed, the temptation, especially on the part of those who are lucky to live to regret their ordeals in the hands of some members of the unit (some didn’t live to regret it!) and or their relatives, is to want to join the campaign against SARS. As they say, he who feels it knows it. This would seem the message of some of the protesters who have now taken their grievances against the police unit beyond the social media to the streets.
But, beheading cannot be the solution to headache. Disbanding SARS will be akin to throwing the baby away with the bath water. Indeed, it is a knee-jerk approach that should not even be contemplated. SARS as presently constituted may not be the anti-robbery squad of our dream, but we cannot at the same time deny that it has recorded some successes in its core mandate of checking armed robbery in line with the dream of those who initiated it.
What we advocate therefore is a complete reorganisation of the operations of the squad to enhance its effectiveness and professionalism, with a view to making it command the desired respect (as against the present fear and distrust) of Nigerians. Intelligence is key to the successful operations of the police. And this can only come when the people see the police as their true friends in whom they can confide. But the source of the intelligence will dry up when the people see the police as a force of occupation that they dread instead of one with mutual respect for one another.
We agree with most of the demands of the protesters, to wit: there should be thorough investigations into the complaints against SARS officers and those culpable should be prosecuted. Nigerians with video and photo evidence should be encouraged to make them available. Moreover, the National Assembly should conduct public hearings into the activities of the squad, including possible amendment of our laws to make the police force more professional and effective. We also support calls for better training and funding of the police force generally.
But we blame the police authorities for not being proactive by addressing the complaints of aggrieved Nigerians against the squad early enough, instead of waiting for the criticisms to become strident even for the deaf to hear before reorganising it. Effective monitoring of the activities of such units and indeed the entire police force would have saved the police from allowing reform to come from below.