The Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, on Wednesday repeated his warning to Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) to stop indiscriminate search of citizens.
Mr Idris reportedly issued the latest directive at a training organised for SARS operatives in Anambra State Wednesday afternoon.
“You are barred from searching handsets and laptops of innocent citizens, unless the search is directly linked to a case or directed by IGP or any person or persons he so delegated,” Mr Idris reportedly said through Amaechi Elumelu, the national coordinator of X-Squad.
Mr Elumelu also reportedly warned officers to stop keeping suspects in perpetual custody without filing court charges, saying they now have a maximum of two days to take issues to court.
“Forthwith, any FSARS officer who detains any suspect beyond 48 hours without recourse to the court risks dismissal,” Mr Elumelu said.
If officers heed Mr Idris’ latest directive, it could engender a significant reduction in the violation of Nigerian Constitution by police officers. The Nigerian law prohibits keeping suspects in custody beyond 48 hours without arraignment, but security agencies have flouted this for decades.
Some citizens have been arrested and kept in jail for years without trial, often on watery allegations and many are sometimes freed without restitution. While brutal tactics of Nigerian law enforcement authorities have drawn increased scrutiny in recent years, the transgressions of police officers have sparked greater outrage and condemnation.
Many citizens have taken to the Internet within the past year to amplify their, often personal, suffering and call for urgent solution by the Nigerian government. In November 2017, the advocacy picked with the launch of #EndSARS, a social media drive which focused strictly on alleged atrocities of SARS personnel.
Although they initially dismissed most of the online complaints as fabricated, and at some point accused the lead campaigner of political inducement and threatened him with investigation, the police later agreed to embrace some reforms. Mr Idris first responded to the raging campaign by ordering a reorganisation of SARS structure nationwide.
The changes included immediate appointment of a police commissioner to oversee nationwide operations of SARS, which is a police department created to tackle violent crimes like kidnapping and armed robbery.
A few weeks later, Mr Idris banned officers from indiscriminately searching Nigerians, especially commuters. The announcement was widely welcomed, especially by predominantly young Nigerians who have long dreaded SARS as a brutal and exploitative police unit.
But few weeks after police announced the new policies, Nigerians began expressing doubts about the sincerity of Mr Idris, as noticeable changes became increasingly elusive. Complaints about SARS excesses appeared more widespread than they were prior to the reorganisation.
By June, Segun Awosanya and other leader campaigners of #EndSARS said it became clear the police were not sincere about reforming the brutal squad, and resumed the campaign with even greater intensity. The advocacy of Mr Awosanya and others often brought them in collusion with police officers online, and several debates were held offline over the matter.
On August 14, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who had been quiet about his position on the #EndSARS campaign like President Muhammadu Buhari, ordered a thorough overhaul of the squad while he was acting president as the president vacationed in London.
A few hours later, Mr Idris announced full compliance with the directive, and distributed a guideline of its implementation. Mr Idris again banned SARS personnel from conducting random search of citizens without strong grounds to do so, like on emergence basis or strong intelligence.
The announcement also said SARS had been changed to Federal-SARS, even though the department had always been addressed as F-SARS in official police statement and documents. The police also said the department had been moved from Force Criminal Investigation Department (FCID) and domiciled under department of operations, again a claim that contradicted a statement they issued in early December 2017.
Mr Awosanya told PREMIUM TIMES Wednesday night the campaigners are aware of the many contradictions emanating from the police, and are “monitoring” how they would impact the overall response.
Jimoh Moshood, a deputy police commissioner and chief police spokesperson who issued the contradictory statements, did not return PREMIUM TIMES’ requests for comments Wednesday night.
The police statement of compliance with the presidential directive from Mr Osinbajo last month is reproduced in full below:
RE- PRESIDENTIAL DIRECTIVE ON IMMEDIATE OVERHAUL OF SPECIAL ANTI-ROBBERY SQUAD (SARS)
· IGP IN COMPLIANCE WITH THE PRESIDENTIAL DIRECTIVE HAS ORDERED IMMEDIATE OVERHAULING OF SPECIAL ANTI-ROBBERY SQUAD (SARS) ACROSS THE COUNTRY
· THE OUTFIT WILL NOW BE KNOWN AS FEDERAL SPECIAL ANTI-ROBBERY SQUAD (FSARS). ALL SARS TEAMS NATIONWIDE HAVE BEEN COLLAPSED UNDER FSARS
· A NEW COMMISSIONER OF POLICE HAS BEEN APPOINTED AS THE OVERALL HEAD OF THE FEDERAL SPECIAL ANTI-ROBBERY SQUAD NATIONWIDE.
The Inspector General of Police in compliance with the Presidential directives has ordered the immediate overhauling of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) to address complaints and allegations on human rights violations against some of the personnel of Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) from members of the public in some parts of the Country.
2. In the new arrangement, a new Commissioner of Police has been appointed as the overall head of the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad nationwide.
3. 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.
4. In observance of full compliance with the Presidential directives, the Federal Anti-Robbery Squad will be intelligence driven and will be restricted to the prevention and detection of Armed Robbery, kidnapping and the apprehension of offenders linked to the stated offences only.
5. New FSARS Commanders are being appointed for the Federal Anti-Robbery Squad (FSARS) across the country that will now exist and operate in the State and Zonal Commands under the Commissioner of Police (F-SARS) at the Force Headquarters, Abuja. A Federal SARS Commander of a Rank of Chief Superintendent of Police (CSP) but not below Superintendent of Police (SP) will be in charge of FSARS in State and Zonal Commands across the Country.
6. All Commissioners of Police have been directed by the Inspector General of Police to comply with this directive with immediate effect and warn their personnel not to pose as SARS operatives. The IGP X-Squad and Monitoring Unit have been mandated to go round the Commands and Police Formations nationwide to ensure strict compliance with the Presidential directives and apprehend any erring police officer.
7. 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 law and constitutionally guaranteed rights of suspects will be enforced in totality by the Commissioner of Police, FSARS. Other measures to be implemented by the Force in observance of full compliance with the presidential directives are as follows:
i. Human Rights Desk Officers for FSARS in every State to take complaints from the public and forward same to Force Headquarters, the officer will be answerable to the Commissioner of Police, FSARS at the Force Headquarters and not Commander FSARS in the States.
ii. Medical/Psychological evaluation of all FSARS personnel will be carried out immediately.
iii. Redesigning of new uniform with identity name tag for all FSARS personnel throughout the Country will be done immediately.
iv. Henceforth, FSARS personnel will not perform Stop and Search duties except on distress call to respond to armed robbery and kidnapping offences only.
8. The Force will be transparent, cooperate, and work cordially with the National Human Right Commission on the special panel that will conduct an investigation of the alleged unlawful activities of FSARS to address grievances from the public against the personnel of FSARS in compliance with the presidential directives.
9. Furthermore, 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.
10. 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. 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.
11. However, aggrieved members of the public who have any complaint in the past or present of violation of their rights by any Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) personnel anywhere in the country are to report through any of the following channels for investigation and redress.
i. DIG, Department of Operations: 08037025670
ii. IGP X-SQUAD
0902 690 0729, 08078662130, 08174041000 – CALLS
0903 227 8905 – SMS
0903 562 1377 – whatsapp
iii. IGP Monitoring Unit: firstname.lastname@example.org, 08036242591
iv. Commissioner of Police, FSARS: 08033476852
v. FORCE PUBLIC COMPLAINT BUREAU
Email: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
vi. PUBLIC COMPLAINT RAPID RESPONSE UNIT (PCRRU)
08057000001 – Calls Only
08057000002 – Calls Only
08057000003 – SMS & whatsapp only
vii. email@example.com, 08027757359
viii. firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, 09051133035
x. firstname.lastname@example.org, 07037887630
Ag. DCP JIMOH MOSHOOD
FORCE PUBLIC RELATIONS OFFICER