That Shambolic directive on SARS
For many years since the coming of the current democratic epochs since 1999, successive governments have managed to wriggle their ways out of very complex and challenging situations through a combination of politically correct policy pronouncements and outright deception.
Nigerians are rated to be some of the most gullible people all over the World.
At a point, one of the military despots was quoted as saying that Nigerians are the easiest people to govern because when you push them to the wall, rather than bounce back and fight back, typical Nigerians will break the wall and run away.
Successive federal and state administrations have played on this infamous gullibility of the citizenry to push through some of the most atrocious policies that have inflicted pains on a very large scale because the masses accept hook, line and sinker, those evil policies without asking rational questions. For instance, the current government hiked pump prices of fuel three times but Nigerians accepted to suffer and smile rather than embark on civil protests.
The current federal government has therefore continued from where others stopped and has scaled up the use of deception as a style of administration.
The only possible point of departure is that in the current era, the elevation of total falsehood to official past time has further compounded the lack of clarity regarding some of the Major policy directives coming out of the different levels of government.
What is really an issue here and now remains the public pronouncement by Professor Yemi Osinbanjo, the acting president regarding the existence or otherwise of the notorious unit within the policing institution known as special Anti-robbery squad or SARS.
Here is exactly the wordings of the media release issued on behalf of the current administration on the direct orders of the acting president on the controversial SARS.
The acting President states thus: "Following persistent complaints and reports on the activities of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) that border on allegations of human rights violations, Acting President Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, has directed the Inspector General of Police (IGP) to, with immediate effect, overhaul the management and activities of SARS 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 Acting President had 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 Human Rights Law and the constitutionally guaranteed rights of suspects. The operatives should also bear proper identification anytime they are on duty.
The directive dovetails into an area that is questionable because the National Human Rights Commission does not need such extra-legal directive to do the job for which the enabling law set it up.
However the office of the acting President stated that in the meantime, the Acting President has directed the National Human Rights Commission to set up a Special Panel that will conduct an 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 to ensuring redress.
The police authority immediately responded by releasing a lengthy media statement disclosing all the strategies they intend to adopt to comply with the order from the acting President.
The Inspector General of Police said he had already complied. He said THE OUTFIT WILL NOW BE KNOWN AS FEDERAL SPECIAL ANTI-ROBBERY SQUAD (FSARS). ALL SARS TEAMS NATIONWIDE HAVE BEEN COLLAPSED UNDER FSARS.
In the new arrangement, a new Commissioner of Police has been appointed as the overall head of the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad nationwide, the IGP glibly announced.
"The Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad previously under the Force Criminal Intelligence and Investigations Department (FCIID) is henceforth to operate under the Department of Operations, Force Headquarters Abuja. The Commissioner of Police (FSARS) is answerable to the Inspector General of Police through the Deputy Inspector General of Police, Department of Operations", he stressed.
Not done yet with rhetorics, the IGP told Nigerians also that a new Standard Operational Guidelines and Procedures, and code of conduct for all FSARS personnel to ensure that the operations of the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad is in strict adherence to the rule of law and with due regards to international human rights laws are being worked out.
Furthermore, he stated that a new training program to be organized by the Force in collaboration with some Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), Local and International NGOs, and other Human Rights Organizations on core Police Duties, Observant of Human Rights and Handling, Care and Custody of Suspects have been directed by the Inspector General of Police for all Federal SARS personnel nationwide with immediate effect.
A committee of Senior Police officers, Technical Consultants, Human Rights/Civil Society organizations (CSOs) has been setup to review the activities of FSARS under the new arrangement, he announced with joy.
He gave this new baby of the police the following term of reference: "They are to pay unscheduled visits to FSARS formations across the country with particular attention to States with high complaints index, to assess facilities and situations in these States and submit report to the Inspector General of Police on regular basis."
The Inspector general of police must be a successful miracle worker to have complied totally to this directive in less than 24 hours. This is the same police boss that failed to adopt measures to halt the killings of farmers by armed Fulani herdsmen.
With these responses from the police it is clear that the essential elements are definitely not credible.
The police didn't do a thorough job. What are the identities of all these human rights activists they have already railroaded into a technical visitation committee to oversee compliance to human rights provisions by the police?
Although, the directive on SARS by the acting president is in consonance with section 215 (3) of the constitution which provides that: “The president or such other minister of the government of the federation as he may authorize in that behalf may give to the IGP such lawful directions with respect to the maintenance and securing of public safety and public order as he may consider necessary and the IGP shall comply with those directions or cause them to be complied with.”
The police responses seem like tissues of propaganda devoid of evidential and verifiable facts.
I have had sufficient time to read through the directive and also the responses from the police and there are questions that are still hanging and indeed these unanswered questions have inevitably portrayed the entire exercise as a scam and a gambit put up by politicians to hood wink the members of the public who have overwhelmingly rejected SARS in its entirety..
The contentious issues and complaints flowing from public protests on the operations of SARS have not been addressed by the Nigerian government.
The haste that the police head adopted in responding to the memo from the acting president is unprecedented.
Also, a quality reading of the police response shows that SARS was not unbundled but only a CHANGE of nomenclature took place.
The numerous cases of extra-legal killings, extortion racketeering and armed robberies carried out by members of this police unit have all not received any redress.
For instance, few years back, over three dozen corpses of young men were discovered in a river in Awka, Anambra State and when forensic examination was undertaken, the result showed that the corpses were those of some detainees who were extra legally executed and dumped in the river by SARS in Anambra State.
In Rivers State, even the state governor Nyesom Wike understandably has been up in arms against the unethical and indeed criminal styles of these operatives in SARS.
Few years back, exactly during the president Olusegun Obasanjo’s era, the special rapporteur on torture at the united nations secretary general’s office visited about ten percent of the police detention facilities administered by SARS, and this gentleman returned a very damaging verdict indicting the police of widespread extra judicial killings of suspects in police detention.
Again, the United States of America through its department of state, has discovered that extra-legal killings of suspects by police and especially SARS have continued to rear their ugly heads even as the hierarchy has failed to address these spectacular crimes against humanity.
The American human rights report of 2017 said thus: "The National Police Force (NPF) is the country’s largest law enforcement agency. An inspector general of police, appointed by and reporting directly to the president, commands the NPF. In addition to traditional police responsibilities of maintaining law and order in communities in each of the states and the FCT, the inspector general oversees law enforcement operations throughout the country involving border security, marine (navigation) matters, and counterterrorism. A state commissioner of police, nominated by the inspector general and approved by the state governor, commands NPF forces in each of the states and the FCT."
It continued: "Although administratively controlled by the inspector general, operationally the state commissioner reports to the governor. In the event of societal violence or emergencies, such as endemic terrorist activity or national disasters requiring deployment of law enforcement resources, the governor may also assume operational control of these forces".
"Due to the inability of law enforcement agencies to control societal violence, the government increasingly turned to the armed forces to address internal security concerns. The constitution authorizes the use of the military to “[s]uppress insurrection and act in aid of civil authorities to restore order.” Armed forces were part of continuing joint security operations in the Niger Delta, Middle Belt, and Northwest."
“Police and other security services have the authority to arrest individuals without first obtaining warrants if they have reasonable suspicion a person committed an offense, a power they often abused".
The Americans reported that the law requires that, even during a state of emergency, detainees must appear before a magistrate within 48 hours and have access to lawyers and family members.
The Americans however found out that in many instances government and security officials did not adhere to this regulation without being bribed.
"Police held for interrogation individuals found in the vicinity of a crime for periods ranging from a few hours to several months, and after their release, authorities frequently asked the individuals to return for further questioning".
"The law requires an arresting officer to inform the accused of charges at the time of arrest, transport the accused to a police station for processing within a reasonable time, and allow the suspect to obtain counsel and post bail".
Police routinely detained suspects without informing them of the charges against them or allowing access to counsel and family members; such detentions often included solicitation of bribes.
Provision of bail often remained arbitrary or subject to extrajudicial influence.
Judges often set exceedingly stringent bail conditions. In many areas with no functioning bail system, suspects remained incarcerated indefinitely in investigative detention.
"Authorities kept detainees incommunicado for long periods. Numerous detainees stated police demanded bribes to take them to court hearings or to release them. If family members wanted to attend a trial, police often demanded additional payment.”
What should be done is not to conduct a shambolic re-baptism of SARS but to carry out comprehensive reforms aimed at sanitizing the entire policing institution as it were.
The Nigerian government need to clean up corruption and criminality from the Nigerian police force to bring it up to speed to comply to global best practices. The police hierarchy should read this HUMAN rights report by the US government and effect necessary changes.
The standards of police practices and the standard of living of even the operatives must be fundamentally addressed.
Police barracks and detention facilities are in very messy situation leading to avoidable health emergencies. The cells apart from not being clean enough, are derelict and too small and lack space and hygiene.
The policing institution in Nigeria is also a ruined organization because the divisions rely on hand outs from patrons and politicians to carry out their duties. Victims of crimes are routinely exploited and taxed to pay for police services.
A total overhaul of the police is what is required and not the cosmetic approach of dropping one name of a unit for another.
There has to be sanctions for breaches of human rights. There is the urgency of the now for the police to be compelled to comply with extant provisions of the law with specific reference to the provisions of chapter four of the constitution. The police operatives have shed so much of innocent blood. The killers within the police must be prosecuted and punished. Even the ongoing boko haram terrorism was caused by extra-legal killing by police of the founder of that Islamic sect.
*Emmanuel Onwubiko heads the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) and blogs @ www.emmanuelonwubiko.com ; www.huriwanigeria.com ; [email protected] .