The ongoing campaign for an urgent shutdown of the police Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS, appears to have thrown the Force Headquarters into a state of confusion.
At least two conflicting statements emerged from official spokespersons of the police on Sunday when the social media push entered its second day.
While assistant police spokesperson, Aliyu Giwa, conveyed the sympathies of police leadership to the campaigners on Twitter Sunday afternoon, his principal, Jimoh Moshood, said complaints about widespread allegations of criminality by SARS officers were misplaced.
“There’s absolutely no doubt that SARS operatives have conducted themselves well over the years,” Mr. Moshood told PREMIUM TIMES by telephone Sunday night. “You could see that they’ve been able to curb the alarming rate of armed robbery across the country, that’s why you hardly see reports about any robbery operation in the media lately.”
The statement marked a sharp contrast from what Mr. Giwa had earlier stated when he became the first police officer to respond to this social media outcry on Sunday afternoon.
It is “disheartening seeing some officers acting uncivilised and unruly. I sympathise with Nigerians who must have found themselves in such situations and believe me the authority is not happy about it!” Assistant police spokesperson, Aliyu Giwa, wrote on Twitter.
“Trust me the authority have (sic) taken actions on this issue,” he added.
Allegations of extra-judicial killings, torture, wanton arrests for bribes and other menacing conducts have flooded the social media since Saturday, with citizens taking their rage to the Internet and demanding action.
The coordinators of #EndSARS, a hashtag many Nigerians have adopted to amplify the issue, told PREMIUM TIMES their aim is to compel the National Assembly and President Muhammadu Buhari to scrap SARS.
They argue that the department, which was launched in early 2000s to combat armed robbery and other criminal activities, has become too contaminated to be reformed.
But Mr. Moshood disagreed with the campaigners and said that SARS should be allowed to continue operating as it is currently constituted.
“All the necessary reforms have been concluded including training sessions by rights activist like Joe Okei-Odumakin,” Mr. Moshood said.
“That is not to say that citizens cannot report excesses of errant personnel, which you can easily find in any profession,” he added.
Mrs. Okei-Odumakin did not immediately respond to PREMIUM TIMES’ enquiries about the scope of training she conducted with the SARS operatives and if the sessions had sufficiently repositioned the embattled department.
Mr. Moshood’s statement that SARS personnel are “doing fantastically well” may just be an attempt to save face and keep the morale of SARS operatives high at a time public condemnation and ridicule, said a senior police officer who pleaded anonymity because he was not authorised to speak for the force.
“If a child is doing terribly bad, you don’t expect to see the mother openly condemn such a child,” the source added. “But that does not mean the mother is not seriously punishing the child behind closed doors while working to shape the child’s future.”
This seemed to have played out last year when Amnesty International accused SARS of torturing detainees in its custody to extract confession or lucrative bribes under duress.
Although the police publicly denied the allegations and accused the 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 Segun Awosanya, one of the lead campaigners to #EndSARS, said the matter has gone beyond what the police leadership could address alone.
Mr. Awosanya and others are planning a nationwide protest as part of the citizen-led initiative to end impunity in the police.
A security analyst, Mike Ejiofor, warned on Sunday that scrapping SARS as demanded by the campaigners could complicate insecurity challenges in the country.
He, however, admitted that a sweeping reform is necessary to make SARS operatives more civil, effective and professional in their conducts.