Clement Obiorah is an unfortunate young man. He hails from Isuofia in Aguata Local Government Area of Anambra State but lives with his mother in Ogun State. His father, an Air Force officer, died a few years ago. Penultimate Friday, Clement was in Lagos to obtain a certificate of state of origin from the Anambra liaison office in Victoria Island, Lagos. He needed it to process his admission into a higher institution in Lagos.
Unfortunately, there was a reported cult clash at Obalende, Lagos, that fateful day. The Federal Anti-Robbery Squad (FSARS) reportedly appeared on the scene when the cultists had run away. Pronto, they pounced on Clement. After their usual kicking and slapping, they took him away. The protestation of the boy that he was innocent of what they arrested him for fell on deaf ears.
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Along the way, they asked him to drop something. If he failed to do so, they allegedly threatened, he would pay N250,000 if they got to their station. The young man had the N10,000 his mother gave him to sustain him during his stay in Lagos. These policemen allegedly took it. They also took his phone and an ATM card, which was inside the purse containing his phone. When there was nothing left to collect, they let the young man off the hook. He ended up at the Air Force hospital at Onikan, Lagos, with serious body pains and a broken leg.
Last week, a traveller’s similar experience in the hands of SARS trended on the social media. According to the victim, the incident happened at the Benin bypass. There is no need retelling the story here. The important thing is that the man was lucky to come out alive to tell his story.
SARS operatives don’t wear uniform and name tag. This makes it difficult to easily identify any of them. And so, with impunity, those entrusted with the task of chasing armed robbers out of our lives have themselves become robbers.
Four months ago, the police in Lagos arrested five SARS operatives for an alleged robbery attempt on one Mr. Immanuel James Ibe-Anyanwu at Ago Palace Way, Okota, Lagos. The police authorities told us then that they were interrogating those involved at the command’s X-Squad section. They claimed they would commence the orderly room trial of the men before an Adjudicating Officer at the Police Provost Department. I am not sure if those men have received their adequate punishment.
I am not also sure if the FSARS officers who allegedly harassed a young lady, Amadi Onyekachi, in Ilorin last year, have undergone trial as the police authorities told us. The young lady had alleged that the officers had pushed her into a police truck and asked her why she had Yahoo applications on her phone. One of the operatives, under the guise of searching her, forced his hand into her underwear.
How this SARS bad water entered the coconut remains a hard nut to crack. How the police, presumed to be our friends, have become our tormentors and nemesis is a matter for another day. What the authorities of the force are doing to check the menace of these men remains to be seen. And whether the police hierarchy conducted adequate background checks on SARS personnel before recruiting them is for the Inspector-General of Police to answer.
In a report published on September 21, 2016, Amnesty International detailed how these operatives systematically torture detainees to extract confessions and lucrative bribes. The torture methods they employ include hanging, starvation, beatings, shootings and mock executions.
SARS operatives also reportedly dabble in civil matters. Amnesty International cited one case in which the operatives arrested a 25-year-old fuel attendant in Onitsha, Anambra State. The attendant’s employer had accused him of being behind a burglary at their business premises. What followed was mind-boggling.
“The policemen asked me to sign a plain sheet. When I signed it, they told me I have signed my death warrant. They left me hanging on a suspended iron rod. My body ceased to function. I lost consciousness. When I was about to die, they took me down and poured water on me to revive me,” the man told Amnesty International.
There are legions of other atrocities these SARS operatives commit. But I don’t really blame them. I blame the country’s justice system. I blame the IGP. After the report by the Amnesty International, the IGP, Ibrahim Idris, warned SARS personnel against unprofessional conduct. He told them that it was time they gave the nation a new anti-robbery squad and corrected the erroneous impression about them.
Two years down the line, the situation has not changed. It has worsened. The operatives have continued to mount road blocks, against the IGP’s order. They have continued to operate outside the confines of the law, against the IGP’s order. And they have continued to cause panic in different communities, against the IGP’s admonition.
Tired of the atrocities of SARS, Nigerians, last year, moved to the social media to campaign for the disbandment of the unit. The social media campaign was tagged #ENDSARSNOW. In reaction to the campaign, the IGP ordered the immediate reorganisation of the squad. He also ordered an investigation into the allegations against the operatives.
The so-called reorganisation largely involved appointing a commissioner of police as the overall head of the FSARS. At the state and zonal levels, a chief superintendent of police and not below a superintendent of police would be in charge as FSARS Commander. The IGP X-Squad also has the mandate to go round the state commands and apprehend defaulters.
Besides, the police authorities noted that FSARS operatives would undergo a training programme on core police duties, respect for human rights and humane handling of suspects in custody.
The question is, have these so-called reforms brought any change in the way the SARS personnel operate? They have not. The point is that the members of the unit are Nigerians. They cannot operate outside the culture of impunity that has been entrenched in our polity. Virtually all the security agencies have similar faults. They have no regard for human rights. Extortion is their stock-in-trade. And their esprit de corps manifests well when any one of them gets exposed for illegal activities.
In one of my earlier interventions on this page, I called the militarisation of our polity jackboot democracy. The Department of State Securtiy (DSS) confirmed that again last Tuesday when its masked operatives, in Gestapo style, barricaded the National Assembly and blocked the entrance to the complex. They prevented the lawmakers, who had convened an emergency session, from sitting. This, presumably, was without authorisation from the Presidency.
Following widespread anger and condemnation, Acting President Yemi Osinbajo immediately sacked the director-general of the DSS, Lawal Daura. Osinbajo took the right action. But the problem of the security agency requires deeper action. Recall that, in July 2016, these same DSS operatives reportedly arrested some principal officers of the Zamfara State House of Assembly and detained them in Abuja. The lawmakers had pressed impeachment charges against the state governor Abdulaziz Yari.
Besides, Daura had operated as if he was untouchable. And since Marilyn Ogar left as its spokesperson, the organisation has moved on without a spokesperson. It has lost touch with the people of Nigeria and needs urgent and deeper reorganisation.
No less in need of reforms are the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and all other security outfits in the country. The actions of these security agencies are a throwback to military dictatorship. Currently, for instance, the EFCC is harassing the governor of Benue State, Samuel Ortom. They claim they are investigating his frittering of security votes at a time when the governor defected from the ruling APC to the PDP. The police and the EFCC had similarly raided the homes of Senate President Bukola Saraki and Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu, on the day Saraki supervised the defection of at least 14 senators and 37 House of Representatives members from the APC to other parties, particularly the PDP.
Insecurity is one major ingredient that turns investors away. If the government cannot guarantee the security of life and property, it has no business being in power. Nigerians need to guard their hard-won democracy jealously. And the time to do that is now.
Re: Security Votes, Ortom And Witch-Hunt
IPOB is considered a terrorist group by the Buhari government. But in the light of events in Nigeria today, is IPOB more terrorist than the Presidency and its attack dogs, the police, aArmy, DSS and the notorious EFCC and Office of the Attorney- General of the Federation?
– Nzekwesi Paulinus, +2348068695556
It seems that the so-called security vote money for political holders is a conduit pipe to waste money meant for infrastructural development. It is time Nigerians said no to security vote because there is no benefit Nigerians are getting from it. After all, there is insecurity everywhere.
– Gordon Chika Nnorom, +2348062887535
Nwanee m, we are proud of you. Please, which party is the majority in the Senate now?
– Chika Onuoha, +2348167929293
Your write-up is very educative and, personally, I agree that the security vote should be stopped for any governor or President because it has not been utilised for the purpose it’s meant for.
– Adeyemi Adesina, 08033405443
Casmir, your analysis should be imbibed by both the APC and the PDP and indeed the latter-day Nigerian politician. The whole thing is neither here nor there! PDP had their own turn of impunity and looting in this same country. One Mbu was sent to harass, block and insult a state governor all in the name of politics. The governor who returned almost 90 per cent votes to the then President was not corrupt then until his move and inclusion in the APC. PDP and APC are made of same desperate and corrupt Nigerians who criss-cross party lines or change their colours like a chameleon, depending on where food and survival hang.
– E.E., +2348037952470
- First published in The Sun of Monday, August 13, 2018