A nationwide protest planned for Monday by anti-SARS protesters would not be disrupted because Nigerian citizens have fundamental rights to expression and association, the police have said.
“We respect the rights of all citizens to a peaceful gathering, expression, opinion and association,” force spokesperson, Jimoh Moshood, told PREMIUM TIMES by telephone Friday afternoon.
A coalition of civic groups has commenced sensitisation activities ahead of a coordinated and simultaneous protest slated for Monday.
The protesters would gather in Lagos, Owerri, Kaduna, Port-Harcourt, Ibadan, Warri, Abuja, and other towns and cities across the country to demand an absolute abolition of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, a police department dogged by grievous allegations of rights abuses and theft.
Allegations of extra-judicial killings, torture, wanton arrests for bribes and other menacing conducts flooded social media since Saturday, with citizens taking their rage to the Internet and demanding action.
The campaigners have adopted #EndSARS to amplify specific cases of alleged abuse against SARS personnel.
Their aim is to compel the National Assembly and President Muhammadu Buhari to scrap the notorious squad, which was created by police leadership to combat armed robberies decades ago.
The campaigners delivered petitions to Speaker Yakubu Dogara and Senate President Bukola Saraki in September and said they received assurances that something would be done. An online petition for the abolition of SARS has garnered nearly 30,000 signatures as of Friday afternoon.
Inspector-General Ibrahim Idris responded to the campaign on Tuesday with a directive that SARS should be reorganised for efficiency and accountability; but rejected calls to scrap the embattled squad.
Amongst the new measures to be adopted is the stripping of state police commissioners of the power to control SARS at the state level. A new commissioner to be based at Force Headquarters, Abuja, will now control SARS throughout the country.
Mr. Moshood told PREMIUM TIMES Friday that the campaigners should exercise patience to enable the order take effect.
“People should allow the efforts of the Inspector-General to yield results for now,” Mr. Moshood said.
But Deji Adeyanju, one of the organisers of the planned rally, rejected the appeal, saying the police have no record of reining in their own.
“Successive Inspectors-General have ordered policemen to stop mounting roadblocks, when did they ever listen?” Mr. Adeyanju queried.
He also noted how police officers across the country made a mockery of Mr. Idris’ order for policemen to desist from mounting roadblocks in September.
“If they cannot obey a pointed and precise order like that, then how could anyone expect them to stop their atrocities which they often commit in darkness?” Mr. Adeyanju said.
He maintained that the struggle to shut down SARS will not stop until their demands are met.
“We want this current SARS closed down. Then another one that is civil, professional and citizen-friendly be constituted immediately,” Mr. Adeyanju said. “This will allow us to have a professional police institution similar to the United Kingdom, United States and other civilised climes.”