By Odita Sunday
Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) was founded by CP Simeon Danladi Midenda in 1992. ‘Anti-Robbery’ as a mantra in the Nigeria Police Force for combating violent crimes is as old as the police. Anti-robbery had always existed in all Criminal Investigation Departments at Force Headquarters, zonal and state command levels.
In 1992, Col. Rindam, a military officer from Plateau State, met his death at the hands of police operatives at a checkpoint in Lagos. Upon discovery of that, the army took to the streets in Lagos in search of any policeman for a kill. As a result, policemen abandoned the streets in Lagos and withdrew to barracks. Robbers then had a field day in Lagos, operating with impunity. It took two weeks of talks before the military and police authorities succeeded in convincing the army to return to barracks and for the police to come back to the roads. By that time, it was too late.
Armed robbers were in control in Lagos and the likes of Shina Rambo could not be challenged by any force. At this time, Midenda was in-charge of Anti Robbery Unit of the State CID in Benin. Benin was notorious for armed robbery, but his unit brought the armed robbers to their knees, forcing them to flee Benin.
One month after this, the then Commissioner of Police in Benin, Late James Danbaba, was moved to Lagos. Barely one month after, Midenda was also transferred to Lagos but the then CP Osanaye, who took over from Mr. Danbaba in Benin, refused to release him. A week later, a bombshell came from the IGP. Midenda was ordered to report in Lagos within three hours. This time, he was a Superintendent of Police.
He reported in Lagos as ordered. He met the late James Danbaba as the Commissioner of Police, Sir Mike Mbama Okiro, former IGP as Deputy Commissioner of Police (Operations), and the late Abdulyekini Adoeye, as the Deputy Commissioner of Police (Administration). They asked him to set up an anti-robbery team, strong enough to make sure robbers were dislodged from Lagos.
To start with, 15 fully armed men and two Peugeot station wagons were given to him. Mr Taiwo Lakanu, retired Deputy Inspector-General of Police (DIG), was appointed his second in command. It must be noted that at this time, there were already three anti-robbery squads operating in Lagos.
One, that of Force CID, Alagbon Close, but based at Adeniji-Adele, one attached to Zone 2 Command and the third at SCID, Panti, Lagos State. With the existence of these three separate anti-robbery units already operating in Lagos therefore, he needed a name that was unique with which his own team was to be called and communicated with.
After several days of trying to coin a name, he simply added the word ‘Special’ to the already existing Anti-Robbery Squad and it came up with “Special anti-Robbery Squad” abbreviated as SARS. That was how the name SARS came into the Nigeria Police books. Before this time, Special Anti-Robbery Squad as a name or the abbreviation SARS never appeared in any kind of police communications.
The secret behind the successes of the original SARS was its facelessness and its mode of operation. They operated in plain clothes and used plain vehicles that could not be associated with security or any government agency. Members could not carry Walkie Talkie openly, let alone guns. With the spate of robberies in Lagos, they realised the danger of carrying weapons openly. They also realised that by carrying weapons openly, they have destroyed the element of surprise.