#EndSARS: Nigerians resume campaign to shut down brutal police squad

Sars

Nigerians have resumed a social media drive aimed at forcing the Buhari administration to take immediate steps to contain rising cases of brutality linked to the police Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).

The department has faced relentless allegations of wanton arrests, torture and extortion of citizens for decades, but the menace was only being collectively amplified on the Internet in recent months.

The latest crusade began on Saturday and has jumped to number one on Nigerian Twitter trends by Sunday morning. But there are concerns that it may end up futile like the initial outcry launched in late November.

During that push, hundreds of Nigerians narrated their ordeal during alleged encounters with SARS personnel, whose primary focus should have been on curbing violent crimes like armed robbery, vandalism and kidnapping.

But over six months later, little appeared to have changed as grievous revelations of alleged SARS ruthlessness surface on the Internet regularly.

The unpleasant and sometimes fatal encounters with SARS operatives continue despite initial appeal and institutional changes announced by Inspector-General Ibrahim Idris. In a December 4 statement, Mr Idris said he had appointed a police commissioner who would oversee the activities of the squad for better coordination and accountability.

The statement, signed by police spokesperson Jimoh Moshood, said Mr Idris also ordered a sweeping investigation of all complaints raised against SARS personnel across the country, especially those chronicled under the #EndSARS hashtag at the time.

A few days later as the #EndSARS campaign intensified, a citizen raised allegations of extortion against Ajayi Okasanmi, the police spokesperson in Kwara State, to further buttress alleged misconduct by officers. On December 7, Mr Idris reportedly ordered an investigation of Mr Okasanmi, but nothing seemed to have been done about the case because the official still remained on the job despite the evidence presented by his accuser that he collected $2,000 and N155,000 in bribes to hush up an alleged rape case.

Mr Okasanmi did not respond to PREMIUM TIMES’ requests seeking comments about the status of the investigation Sunday afternoon. Mr Moshood also did not respond to requests about why the police have not been able to address apparent excesses of SARS personnel.

Even though Mr Idris reportedly banned SARS operatives from indiscriminate stop-and-search duties, especially those targeted at young Nigerians, latest complaints online indicate a possible disregard of that directive.

The officers are still mounting roadblocks during which proportionately high number of young men could be targeted for part downs, either while driving solo, with passengers or even in commercial vehicles.

The latest campaign appeared after a video surfaced online that appeared to show a man shot dead in broad daylight by suspected SARS operatives in Ojota, Lagos. A man in SARS T-shirt could be seen around the male victim, surrounded by a tremblling crowed muttering that he was shot by SARS who allegedly saw him as an Internet fraudster.

PREMIUM TIMES could not independently verify the video, and the police do not seem to have issued a statement about it, despite its widespread circulation.

On Saturday night, Amnesty International Nigeria began using its Twitter handle to post harrowing accounts of everyday Nigerians who said they have had a misfortune of being held by SARS officers in recent weeks. The rights group concluded that the atrocities continue because they have the support of the police at the highest levels.

On Saturday night, Amnesty International Nigeria began using its Twitter handle to post harrowing accounts of everyday Nigerians who said they have had a misfortune of being held by SARS officers in recent weeks. The rights group concluded that the atrocities continue because they have the support of the police at the highest levels.

Earlier on Saturday, Oby Ezekwesili complained about the worrisome dimension the conduct of SARS has taken, calling on citizens to intensify their advocacy if they truly desire an end to the menace.

How much citizens are willing to take up the campaign outside the social media remains unclear. A rally that was organised on December 11 in Lagos saw a very low turnout.

Some commentators have expressed skepticism about the chances of the campaign gaining grounds against the police either online or offline. This, they say, was because some Nigerians are in support of the squad and the Buhari administration has refrained from publicly commenting on the matter.

Atiku Abubakar was amongst the major opposition voices who cautioned the police against SARS excesses and demanded unrestrained respect for human rights.

But administration’s supporters and some security analysts are warning against the closure of SARS as a police department. In Rivers State in December, chieftains of the All Progressives Congress took to the streets in support of the squad, seeing the nationwide campaign as politically-motivated at the time.

Also, a former director at the State Security Service, Mike Ejiofor, said the security situation in the country would worsen if SARS is shut. He advised the police to investigate and punish errant officers, but strongly held that the department is essential for curbing crimes.

Segun Awosanya, a lead coordinator in the campaign to #EndSARS, said they are ramping up their online activities as a precursor to a legislative action on the matter. He held that the campaign had been on daily since December, but acknowledge it lost traction for sometime.

“The latest campaign is part of a lot of activities going on behind the scenes,” Mr Awosanya told PREMIUM TIMES by telephone Sunday afternoon. “A public hearing is going to be conducted by the parliament and you will see shocking revelations.”

The police once said they were investigating Mr Awosanya for his alleged ties to politicians whom they suspected were sponsoring his activities, but the campaigner dismissed the threat as an attempt to distract him from his advocacy.

He said the latest drive was not aimed at the police, which he said can no longer be redeemed, but for the National Assembly to take up legislation that would engender institutional reform of the police.

“The action is not against the police. They have normalised the SARS as a cash cow for them to raise money for their top officers,” Mr Awosanya said. “So you cannot be expecting them to act in any way.”

“What we are doing now is to get the Police Act to be amended after a thorough hearing by lawmakers,” Mr Awosanya added. “We are creating awareness now for that amendment to happen and we will mount pressure on the president to sign it into law.”  (Premium Times)

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