SARS reforms inadequate, police overhaul required – Groups

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

The advocacy groups, Access to Justice (A2Justice) and Network on Police Reform in Nigeria (NOPRIN), have said that the new measures outlined to reform the Special Anti-Robbery Squad would not achieve the required results.

In a joint statement issued in Lagos, the groups said they were convinced the measures came too short and did not go far enough of what was needed to reform SARS. They called for a total reform of the police.

“The measures, first of all, appear like a knee-jerk reaction to the presidential directive, having been announced just on the heels of the directive,” read the statement signed by Joseph Otteh and Okechukwu Nwanguma, director of Access to Justice and national coordinator of NOPRIN respectively.

“Such speed does not provide evidence of thoughtful reflection, sober deliberation, wide and strategic consultation on an issue of such huge public importance. The IGP over-sped on the response in a way that questioned his genuineness of purpose.”

Yemi Osinbajo, Nigeria’s vice president, last week ordered Inspector General Ibrahim Idris to immediately review the operations of SARS.

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The directive came following frequent complaints and reports about the notorious activities of SARS.

SARS, a unit in the police, was established in 1992 with the mandate of combating armed robbery and other related crimes.

But it quickly garnered notoriety for brutal violations of human rights – arbitrary arrests and detention, sexual harassment, barefaced extortions, torture and extrajudicial killings.

Since last year, many Nigerians on social media had begun trending a Twitter hashtag #EndSARS calling for the disbandment of the unit.

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Last December, Mr Idris was forced to order a re-organisation of the unit as public outcry reached a crescendo, directing an immediate investigation into the unit’s activities with the aim of prosecuting cases of human rights abuses.

In their statement, A2Justice and NOPRIN maintained that the IGP’s proposed new policies lacked measures of accountability for unlawful actions by the SARS officers.

“The IGP offers the public, communication channels for reporting grievances against FSARS, but did not commit the police force to ensuring that every complaint made against FSARS operatives will be promptly and fairly investigated, and where substantiated, result in a definite outcome.

“It is important to note in this context, that the police force has always had communication lines for reporting unlawful or unprofessional behaviour of its officers. The problem is that, oftentimes, complaints, after they are made, draw a blank and those complained against do not get questioned or punished at the end of the day.

“Sometimes too, complainants are transposed into crime suspects to punish them for daring to complain. The proposition, therefore, to re-use this old template this time around without more, as a response to the presidential directive is clearly a no-brainer. The internal police complaint procedure is abjectly unreliable and uninspiring.”

The groups also stated that Mr Idris’ new review measures failed to offer concrete proposals for ensuring that safeguards against abuse are effective.

“A2Justice and NOPRIN, therefore, call on the IGP to go back to the drawing board, and fashion a new, more embracing and inspiring set of reforms for SARS.

“A set of measures more credible, purposeful and efficacious than the ones he has just released. In addition to this, A2Justice and NOPRIN urge the IGP to undertake similar but far-reaching measures to reform the police force as a whole, and not focus on SARS alone.

“The police force has been systematically degraded over the course of several decades, and is too broken, at this time, to offer services that meet the professional policing needs of Nigerians. Undertaking a holistic reform is needed to ensure that reforms of any unit within the police force stand a chance of succeeding.

“If the police force remains the way it is, the overhaul of the SARS Unit will largely be unfruitful and unsustainable over time.”

The groups further urged the presidency to order the rejuvenation of the Police Service Commission, the body constitutionally mandated to appoint and discipline members of the Police Force.

“Since 1999, that body has stayed inert, and neglected to perform its more important constitutional role in ensuring the police force is accountable; delegating, instead, its disciplinary functions to the same people it ought to oversee.

“This is a major anomaly that has contributed to the sustained culture of impunity within the police force and must be addressed simultaneously with efforts to reform the police force.”

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