By Michael West
The appearance of scruffy looking, gun trotting rude guys on patrol in hijacked commercial or private vehicles do send jitters down the spines of Nigerians especially the youths. It is not because there’s any reported crime or breakdown of law and order but for the likelihood of being caught as preys in the web of ‘unquestionable’ Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS, operatives who are on the prowl for who to extort, dehumanise and rape.
Not a few Nigerian families have suffered losses due to reckless extra judicial killings by SARS operatives on the pretext of combating crimes. How they conveniently operate callously without blinking an eyelid is surprising. No human feelings, no apologies for their wrongdoings. Behaving as if Nigeria is a police state is repressible and frustrating. Flagrant violation of human rights is a norm to them. I can’t imagine how the bad eggs in the Nigeria Police Force were weaned, raised and trained from good homes. Everyone is a product of his home and a reflection of his upbringing. Even while it is possible for children to veer off the tract of disciplined upbringing, acting wickedly like killing at will, extorting money forcefully, raping and abusing women anyhow is nothing but demonstrations of animalistic tendencies in them.
It is a fact that not all of them are involved in the dastardly acts, but it looks like the bad eggs among them are too visible for wrong reasons. Fundamentally, it is their call of duty to protect the people they wilfully oppressed. I learnt that they have daily financial targets to be met. Apart from daily delivery at their offices, they also make daily, weekly and monthly contributions which are the reasons behind their desperate extortions, illegal arrests and forceful ‘ransom’ collected for bail from raided youths on the streets. The way they assault innocent people is very crude and brutal. If they ask you to wait or demand anything from you, any attempt to question their actions may earn you resounding slaps and jackboot treatment. Their refrain “I will waste you and nothing will happen” have truly been executed in many cases. The blood of innocent victims are crying for justice.
The alleged incidents of rape and sexual molestation by SARS operatives are on the increase. According to several accounts, women, regardless of age, class and status, are being subjected to sexual molestation. They fondle of their boobs, ‘grab the pussy,’ rape and demand ‘sex for bail.’
Many Nigerian homes are in ruins and anguish due to gruesome extra judicial killing of their innocent sons by SARS operatives. How the special unit became notorious for criminal activities is baffling. They are never remorseful for wrongdoings. Even as the protest rages, SARS operatives are still confident that they will return. Tacit support by the police high command for the unit seems to buoy their confidence.
Both the regular and social media are awash with scary and provocative reports of abuse, intimidation, harassment, torture and practical robbery at gun points by SARS operatives. Sometimes I feel these elements are not human beings at all going by the level of cruelties ascribed to them by members of the public.
Let me admit that the laudable purpose for which SARS was created in 1992 has achieved a lot in curbing and fighting crimes. Before they went hey wire, SARS was a nemesis to armed robbers many years ago. They scarcely take bribes from suspects or victims of armed robberies while discharging their duties. Back then in mid-1990s, their intelligence network was unassailable. They operated as undercover agents most of the time except when they wanted to effect arrest. In that fine era, they were not harassing anybody. They were polite. They were feared not for brutality but for integrity, discipline and crime fighting. As soon as they accomplish their mission in a particular location or scene, swiftly they vamoose. The tainted image of the bad ones have overshadowed the core civil operatives in SARS. As it is today, the rot in SARS has gone beyond reform or image laundry. Anything short of outright disbandment and immediate prosecution of erred operatives is not acceptable.
A victim of SARS brutality in Lagos, Abdul Abdulkareem, who was quoted by an online reporter as saying “I would prefer to be attacked by armed robbers than to encounter SARS officers,” narrated his ordeal in the hands of the dreaded operatives. According to the report, Abdul and two friends were on their way home at Idi-Araba, Surulere, when operatives turned up in a minibus and arrested them. “It was around 10 pm, I stopped at a store opposite my house with two friends to pick up bread for breakfast the next morning. The officers appeared from nowhere and dragged us into their van without telling us what our offence was,” he said, adding that the operatives picked 12 others to Area D Police Command in Mushin and locked them in the cell.
“On our way to the station, the officers kept picking up people randomly and throwing them into the van. Anyone that asked questions got slapped. They seized our phones and personal belongings and refused to tell us anything. I had to sleep in the cell that night with the others that were picked up. It was a bad experience.” Abdul and his friends were released the next day after paying the SARS operatives the sum of ₦20,000. “They laughed about what they did as if it was a joke. They told us it was normal,” he said.
Abdul’s story is just one of many Nigerians who have suffered unjustly and illegally in the hands of SARS operatives. In 2016, an Amnesty International report showed how SARS officers frequently detained, tortured, and extorted young Nigerians. The report exposed detention facilities in Abuja, Enugu, and Anambra, where victims were tormented and coerced into confessing to crimes they did not commit.
Tales of woes and traumas by the victims of wicked SARS operatives are too numerous to mention. There are Nigerians abroad who are stiff scared of coming home because of nasty experiences and raw deals some of them had had in the hands of unruly SARS operatives. I saw videos of women who were lamenting their ordeals in the hands of SARS operatives about the way they forcefully had sex with them – rape. I saw a retired colonel on a national television narrating his unpalatable encounter with the “boys.” Uncountable number of young boys and girls are still nursing the wounds of SARS illegal operations. The victims have lost thousands of naira individually through forced transfers to the bank accounts belonging to SARS operatives at the ATM and POS, coupled with seizure of their mobile phones, laptops and sundry harassments on the streets. The unlucky young chaps have been killed and their remains were either dumped somewhere or tagged as robbery suspects attempting to escape.
Bereaved families should speak out. Those who have been forcefully extorted through money transfer should also signify by presenting details of the illegal transfers for refunds. Those maimed, injured, unjustly detained should incident their cases for adequate compensations. It will be a call for prolong agitation and eventual shutdown of the country if the federal government subtly retains SARS under a new name.
Let us return to the basics where home-grown discipline that is rooted in the fear of God, equity and care for fellow human beings are guaranteed. On this note, let’s take the agitation back to the homestead and “Train up a child in the way to go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” Prov 22: 6. The call for #EndSWAT, #EndSARS must continue until sanity is restored in the Nigeria Police Force.
“Not a few Nigerian families have suffered losses due to reckless extra judicial killings by SARS operatives on the pretext of combating crimes.”