Officers of the police’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) have concluded a training workshop on how to operate within the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJ Act) 2015.
The Administration of Criminal Justice Monitoring Committee (ACJMC) facilitated the two-day sensitisation workshop for the SARS personnel in Abuja on Wednesday.
The workshop was organised under a Rule of Law and Anti-corruption (RoLAC) programme funded by the European Union (EU) and managed by the British Council in Nigeria.
It focused on training the officers on complying with the ACT while carrying out investigation and prosecution.
The programme officer, Peter Omenka, said the first component of the RoLAC programme focuses on the rule of law in Nigeria in relation to the implementation of the Nigerian Criminal Justice Reform Agenda.
Mr Omenka said the objective is to strengthen and enhance the rule of law in Nigeria through “timely, effective and transparent dispensation of criminal justice through support for the implementation of provisions of the ACJ Act (2015) at the Federal level and laws in the states.”
He explained that the idea behind bringing the SARS came from a finding that institutional compliance to section 34 of the ACJ Act, which provides visitation of magistrates to SARS detention facilities, would put an end to unlawful, prolonged detentions and extrajudicial killings in Nigeria.
“Section 34 of the ACJ Act provides that magistrates should visit police stations within their jurisdictions to inspect police monthly reports and act on where the judiciary is needed.
“In October this year, there was a meeting between FCT Chief Magistrate and SARS to flag off the visit of the Magistrate to SARS.
“At the wheels of it, two magistrates posted to SARS reviewed all cases and within 48 hours, over 200 detainees in SARS detention facility were moved to other correctional centres because they had overstayed. That hasn’t stopped SARS from their investigation or anything,” he said.
He said that sealed the partnership with SARS which requested training for its personnel to be up in the game against disregard for the rule of law and human rights.
When asked how tremendously the ACJ Act had aided prosecution, a representative of the ACJMC, Joshua Dada, said successes had been recorded.
“If we look at various conventions that have happened in the last two years, we will see that these things were done by the provisions of the ACJA.
“For example, the opening stock on proceedings, defining time-frame which a case should go on and the number of adjustment that should happen, all these have accentuated the justice system,” he said.
He expressed optimism that the SARS personnel would make use of what they had learnt in dealing with crimes according to ACJ Act.
The SARS personnel were trained on purposes, objectives, reporting obligations, differentiating between civil offence and criminal offence; key innovative provisions on the role of police in the ACJ Act such as investigation before arrest, informing suspects to seek help from legal aid council if not capable of hiring a lawyer, among others.
A SARS operative from FCT Command, Henry Ohikare, commended the initiative.
“This is a nice innovation. The objectives are well outlined. It has actually impacted us. Things we did not know before, now we know.
It has given that frame of mind to know what we are to do with difference in what we used to know,” he said.
However, he said most of the ACJA objectives “are purely in favour of the accused person and not really good for the law enforcement agency. ”
He also raised concern over the teachings: that arrest should not be made before the investigation, and inviting criminal suspects for interrogation instead of the use of torture.
“I don’t think it is necessary that I should first invite an armed robbery suspect who shoots and kills with a gun to my office or
investigate kidnap suspects whose hideouts are mostly hidden from the public eye.
“The issue that we should investigate before arrest will be a nightmare,” he said.
He, however, called for a communication forum between the SARS and the people for proper orientation about how SARS operates.
From intelligence unit to crime-fighting force
Established as an intelligence unit under the police in the 1990s as a result of growing cases of armed robbery and other violent crimes in the country, SARS later became a crime-fighting force to mitigate the situation.
However, in recent times, the special squad has come under fire for human rights violations, unlawful detention of suspects and dispossession of properties.
PREMIUM TIMES reported several cases of harassment and extortion perpetrated by SARS operatives with many Nigerians calling for the disbandment of the unit through the Twitter hashtag #EndSARS.
In 2018, the then Acting President, Yemi Osinbajo, ordered an immediate review of the operations of the unit.
The government later set up a presidential panel to look into reforming rather than scrapping the anti-robbery unit.
As part of the recommendations, capacity building on the efficiency of rule of law and human rights laws was suggested as a viable step to reducing issues surrounding SARS.