#EndSARS: Police mum as Nigerians recount atrocities of Special Anti-Robbery Squad

Special anti robbery squad of the Nigerian police force used to illustrate the story. [Photo credit: Pulse.ng]
Special anti robbery squad of the Nigerian police force used to illustrate the story. [Photo credit: Pulse.ng]

Nigerians on Saturday amplified a social media drive which seeks to force the hands of federal authorities to immediately scrap the police Special Anti-Robbery Squad.

The demand for an end to SARS dominated Twitter activities by Nigerians, during which citizens used #EndSARS to list allegations of extra-judicial killings, wanton arrests and dispossession of properties through physical assault and other intimidation tactics.

Police spokesperson, Jimoh Moshood, initially asked PREMIUM TIMES to ignore the campaigners, saying he would call back to give reactions to the allegations against SARS later on Saturday evening.

However, PREMIUM TIMES attempts to get his full reaction between Saturday night and Sunday morning didn’t work out as he didn’t pick phone calls.

Similarly, Hyacinth Dagala and Umar Shehu, the Deputy Inspector-General and Assistant Inspector-General in charge of Criminal Investigation Department, did not answer PREMIUM TIMES phone calls and text messages seeking their comments Sunday morning.

The social media campaign comes after years of appeal to police authorities to address alleged gross rights abuses by SARS fell through, said Segun Awosanya, a concerned citizen who was amongst the lead coordinators of the initiative.

In September Mr. Awosanya led a team that visited the National Assembly to make the case for an urgent elimination of SARS as a police department because its personnel had become too barbaric and its atrocities too grave for any meaningful repositioning.

“The federal SARS has become overpopulated by people who have no regards for human life or dignity of citizens,” Mr. Awosanya told PREMIUM TIMES by telephone Saturday night. “Their grievous activities have gone for too long and we can no longer hope that the police leadership can effect any change.”

Speaker Yakubu Dogara promised to look into the issues raised by Mr. Awosanya’s team, the campaigner said. A copy of their petition that was presented to Senate President Bukola Saraki had also been acknowledged with a promise of possible solution, he added.

An online petition has also been opened to draw awareness to the situation and canvass government action.

A look at the hashtag #EndSARS, which has been trending at number one since Saturday, showed thousands of complaints by citizens who said they had been victims of SARS officers.

Those who have not personally encountered SARS told tales of how their friends and loved ones had suffered at one point.

PREMIUM TIMES could not independently verify the authenticity of the claims, but some of them are not beyond what police authorities have themselves acknowledged in the past.

The segment of Nigerian population that appears regularly targeted by SARS includes young men who bear laptops on the road. They say SARS men routinely stop them and order them to strip their backpack for clues about their activities.

But notwithstanding what they do and how much evidence they present to ascertain their status as law-abiding citizens, SARS personnel would see them as Internet fraudsters and treat them accordingly.

Some have also accused SARS of summary execution of citizens.

The campaign comes a year after Amnesty International accused SARS of torturing detainees in its custody to extract confession or lucrative bribes under duress.

Although the police initially denied the allegations and accused the foremost rights group of exaggeration, Inspector-General Ibrahim Idris convened an emergency meeting a day after the report was published to demand that SARS commanders turn a new leaf in their conduct.

“You have to correct this impression .This is a new beginning to give the nation a new anti-robbery squad,” Mr. Idris told SARS commanders from across the country in the September 27, 2016, emergency meeting at Force Headquarters, Abuja.

“You don’t have the right to take life of anybody or change civil offence to criminal offence. Please don’t fail us. This management has the hope in you, I don’t want you (SARS) to fail us,” he added.

Mr. Idris promised to send the commanders on further training to enable them manage their subordinates in their respective domains.

But Mr. Awosanya said the matter has gone beyond what the police leadership could address alone.

Asked why the campaign was more targeted at getting Messrs. Dogara and Saraki to act rather than President Muhammadu Buhari who has the control of the police and other security agencies, Mr. Awosanya said his team had met with the Minister of Interior Abdulrahman Dambazau.

He said the top lawmakers are better positioned to mount pressure on the executive to act.

The police complaints unit had responded to the campaign with a flyer which urges citizens to send in their bitter encounters with SARS.

The growing cases of armed robbery and other violent crimes compelled the police to establish SARS in early 2000s with the hope that the department would mitigate the situation.

“But over the years, the department has gone beyond its mandate. Its personnel now arrest and torture citizens for purely civil matters while carrying out activities that qualify them as criminals rather than policemen,” said Okechukwu Nwaguma of the Network on Police Reform in Nigeria, NOPRIN.

Mr. Nwaguma, whose organisation has chronicled alleged infractions by SARS for several years, told PREMIUN TIMES that experts first reached agreement to scrap or reform SARS in 2010.

But now, he said, the reform option might no longer be in the cards, praising the citizens for taking the campaign to social media.

“They violently rob and kill citizens at will,” Mr. Nwaguma said. “At times, influential persons also use them to settle scores amongst themselves.”

“This is not how a police department should behave and those who are crying out on social media are doing so because they have suffered or witnessed the atrocities of these characters,” Mr. Nwaguma said.


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  • rules_emmanuelO.

    Oh thank God! I hope something comes out of this. I have fallen victim not once, of their harassment. One time I was harrassed and the officer forcibly searced my phones, reading mails, going through personal pictures, everything. Really terrible.
    If you are a young man who is well dressed, they automatically suspect you are an internet fraudster and proceed to harass you. Most times this ends with them extorting you! Friends have been seriously manhandled and hospitalized (indeed I have heard of people murdered and some dying from beatings) by SARS operatives.
    One time in university, they accousted my roommate, searched his car and phones, when they didn’t find anything incriminating, they forcibly entered his car and came to our flat. They turned our house up-side down that day, looking for ‘evidence’. Really, evidence? For what cause? I wonder the kind of training and education our armed forces are given in military schools. One is forced to imagine they have zero civic/social education.

    I can go on and on! The retinue of human rights abuses perpetuated by Nigerian armed forces (SARS in this case) is beyond immoral!
    I wish I were on twitter to lend my voice to the campaign.
    PT kindly share links to any online petitions if there is.

  • Buharin daji

    The tales of how Sars became this vicious are numerous an occasion where a man who was travelling had a faulty Car so decided to spend the night at the spot unknown to him it was a mechanic spot no sooner had he settled down to sleep in his car did Sars official’s arrive opened a trunk of an abandoned Car drop some weapons and left some minutes later armed robbers opened the trunk took the weapons went away came back early hours of the day dropped some money and the gun’s for the Sars official’s to pick up a moments later # End Sars

  • Wale

    I think the concept is good but our operatives have a way of turning good idea on its head through unprofessional behavior. Training for reorientation and sanctions where appropriate may be the solution rather than outright scrapping of the concept

  • thusspokez

    The only solution is to disband the SAR — a criminal squad.

  • thusspokez

    The police complaints unit had responded to the campaign with a flyer

    The people in the flyer don’t even look like Nigerians — they look like foreign invaders.