It has been a week of youth discontent sweeping through the land. It began with youth protest march in several parts of the country demanding the scraping of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad more widely called SARS. The police unit was set up to combat armed robbery, banditry, kidnapping and kindred violent crimes. They were hardly to be seen or heard. In recent years, however, they became ubiquitous in our major towns across the land. Their presence was called for by the spate of violent crimes, kidnapping in particular. Insecurity had become the talk of the day everywhere. Ordinary people go about their daily hustle and bustle with their hearts beating and indeed holding their hearts in their mouths. What with herdsmen invading farmlands. What with kidnapping and relations of the victims having to squeeze out heavy sum of money as ransom.
It did not take long when stories started flying all over the place that some of the SARS men were collaborators and perpetrators of the crimes they were brought out to curb. They were bestial; they were brutish. Their guns became instruments of terror, bully and extortion rather than instruments of protection, weapons to free citizens from pangs of uncertainty, beckoning them to liberty and freedom, and an invitation to recuperation. The SARS saw young men and women as games. They regarded any fairly looking person as target for their nefarious activities. They were in the habit of searching passersby so they could be seen as being alert on duty. Many were dispossessed of their phones and laptops. Cars, buses and commercial tricycles could be flagged down under the guise of false intelligence reports. Passersby were not spared. Sometimes their victims would be taken to police stations where they were tortured and ladies abused. Encounters with the SARS became nauseating and experiences disgusting. Unbeknown to SARS, the youths were making contacts with themselves across the land to mobilize themselves with the sole object of getting the notorious police unit scrapped. They came up with the Hashtag EndSarsNow.
Here is a vivid report posted to me of an encounter which a military officer (name withheld), had with SARS: “As the issue of SARS trends, I find it very pertinent that every evil those criminals are known by are laid bare. Having said that I am of the full support that the Nigerian police Special Anti-Robbery Squad be completely scrapped. I know many would be surprised to read that I’ve had an encounter with SARS, but it is what it is; the vulture is not edible meat. If this place is a jungle, they’re just in the league of wild dogs and nowhere near the gang of the kings of the jungle.’’
The military officer went on: “Last year, my cousin and a good acquaintance, a noble gentleman and an astute gentleman called and informed me he got news that SARS arrested one of his boys who’s handling phone accessories business for him, he told me that the boy was said to have been taken to SARS detention facility at Ikeja police command. Asked what the accusation was and was told that SARS raided the boy’s business line, arrested him with the accusation that he bought a stolen phone. My cousin told me in clear terms that he was afraid of visiting the SARS detention site at Ikeja as many of his business associates who had had similar accusation and who visited the facility were summarily detained along with the boys, and tortured along with their boys and were billed huge sum of money which family and friends must raise and pay before they’re released. Upon this concern, I told him that I would follow him to the SARS office and see what the accusation was and how things could be resolved.
“On that fateful day, I followed my man to SARS facility. We were made to drop our phones even after I had introduced myself; I obliged. I have learnt the art of diplomacy over time. I met with the said commander/leader of the squad that made the arrest I was there for. I sought to know why the boy was arrested and all the details involved which the man narrated to me, but not without being brash and uncouth all through. At a point, I inquired about how they tracked and arrested my brother’s boy on the said stolen item he bought and the SARS man ordered his boys to bring ‘that criminal’ from the cell. Shortly a malnourished skeletal young old man (he was young but appeared old and dying) was brought out to me, given series of slaps, club hits and machete slaps and was told to tell me what happened. The man fidgeting and gasping for breath faintly said ‘na me thief the phone come sell am give am’ (exactly his words). The SARS man thundered at him, ‘you no go talk say una shoot the woman kill am?’ The man managed to give some nods as he was pushed away amidst kicks and beatings. Add that right in my presence, I witnessed all manner of torture being meted out to detainees, men kept shouting and groaning in pain. At intervals, I heard commands like break his hand; tighten the rope; shoot his leg.’ And single shots that followed. At a point I requested to see their overall boss, the OC, Officer Commanding SARS, but the man I was talking with told me clearly that I couldn’t see the man that anything we had to discus on the issue starts and ends with him.
“I knew clearly that the man talking to me was not happy with my presence in their premises on that very issue and explanations he was giving to me was a privilege they don’t extend to ‘ordinary people.’ He made the remark to me severally, both as an act of courtesy, reminder and warning.
“After presenting the supposed criminal who admitted to robbing and selling the stolen phone, SARS man emphatically told me that he was done with me as he had explained the situation to me and that I should allow my brother to see them to find a way of resolving the issue. My cousin followed him into his office. After some minutes he came out and told me that the SARS man told him that he should pay Seven Hundred Thousand Naira (N700, 000) to them in order to ‘die the matter.’ And release the boy and goods they confiscated. I could not believe my ears. I sought the man’s attention. He called me to his office and at a point, he was becoming more abrasive and hostile. He warned that he had respected me enough and that I should hands off on the matter and leave them to do their work. I suggested to him that since it was likely to be a criminal case the way they presented it, they should do due diligence, investigate further and find out the link between the young man who purchased the said stolen phone and the supposed criminal, whether it was just a random purchase, or he was actually a collaborator; that in the line of establishing the fact of the matter, that was what they should do, but they were rather demanding for the ransom in hundred of thousand of Naira.
“I made it clear to him that the money they demanded would not be paid, but that if they were interested in the case they should do due diligence and prosecute it to the fullest. At this point this man became livid; it was as if he was stung by a venomous scorpion. There was no kind of threat this police man did not issue to me. He told me right there that they could shoot me, frame up and send message to my people that I was the gang leader of a notorious armed robbery squad, that I used my influence as a military man to lead a series of armed robbery attacks and that they would make the man they brought out who admitted to the robbery to add me to his story as a military man who is the leader of their armed robbery gang. He called his boys and ordered them to cock rifles on me, that if I did any how they should shoot me. He equally told them to beat the hell out of my cousin and throw him inside the cell where his boy was, and all hell was let loose on my cousin there in my presence. AK47 rifles, pistols, and sub-machine gun (SMG) were cocked and roundly pointed at me. I have never seen something as brazen as that. They actually anticipated a violent response from me, but I maintained calm in the midst of chaos. I was just shaking my head, letting out a smirk and a smile while reminding the SARS man that he didn’t know what he was doing, while he kept daring me to do anyhow and see what would happen. Meanwhile, my cousin who was being brutalised and kicked away into detention prison kept shouting amidst his pains and calling out to me not to fight. Of course, I never intended to fight (that thin line between bravery and suicide). Was I afraid? Never, even though I knew trigger was very ready to be pulled at me. I knew what was withholding a shot or shots was my reaction to the whole malaise.
“I then told the SARS man that it was okay, they should do what they wanted, I would take my leave and they would hear from me. It was late in the evening, I left. This experience was the insult and embarrassment of my life. I have never in my wildest imagination thought I would find myself in this kind of insult. To be frank, that night, not a single sleep crossed my eyes. I made drastic and effective decisions, plans contacts; I called a commissioner of police friend, a biker friend and a perfect gentleman who once headed the Ikeja SARS (I still imagine how he managed such evil empire). He pleaded with me to calm down and promised that he would make sure everyone involved in the insult and assault would be to his identified and made to answer for it. True to his words, within 10 minutes, around 10pm, the officer commanding SARS (OC SARS) Ikeja called me and introduced himself. He told me that my friend, his senior colleague called him and narrated how I was badly treated at his command; he pleaded and apologized. He asked me to calm down and suspend every action I may have wanted to take as he would make sure that his officers involved were dully punished and made to make retribution.
“I actually did not stop there; in the morning, I went to my command and lodged an official complaint on the issue to the military intelligence unit and Military Police. I also informed other relevant authorities. One thing the charlatans at the SARS office never knew was that every damn thing that transpired between me and them was recorded and the evidence was resounding. I shared this with my police friend and I believed he notified or forwarded same to the OC SARS which made him to put across the night call and pleaded that I should soft pedal on any action I wanted to take. I went the following day to the SARS office as I was invited by their overall boss. He actually lived up to his words as upon my entrance to his office, all the officers involved in the case were marched into his office barefooted and without belt to hold their trousers. My cousin was also brought in and he confirmed that he was tortured and forced to cough out Two Hundred and Fifty Thousand Naira (N250,000) when I had left and he was locked up. The OC made them to refund the money immediately. There and then, he ordered that all the confiscated wares be brought out and handed back to my cousin’s boy while they were released immediately. He gave the assurance that he would institute disciplinary action against the officers and had them duly punished. I equally informed him that the case was already reported to my people and we would be taking official steps on our own on the issue, an aspect he fervently pleaded that we jettison with the promise that the disciplinary steps he had initiated would deal with the erring officers accordingly.
There were several other negotiations and pleas that were considered both privately and officially before I dropped the case. But among what was dropped was what my cousin later told me that the SARS concerned contacted him privately, using the address he gave on the statement he made under duress in the night of the incident and threatened him that if his military brother pursued the case to the extent such that if they were dismissed from their work, they would track him or have their colleagues still in the job to track him no matter how long it took and have him assassinated, a threat that made him to continue to pester and plead with me to drop the case, reminding me that he had recovered everything that was taken from him and we should let go. A threat I came to know months after the issue was supposed to have been resolved and abandoned.
“SARS shouldn’t be reformed as I don’t believe there is any kind of terror and criminal elements in that outfit. They should be banned.”
The SARS have, in the end proscribed by the Federal Authorities. The Inspector General Adamu has set up another outfit, called Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT). Members of the SARS will be absorbed into the mainstream police. Before then they will be debriefed and reoriented to fit into duties of the regular police formation. In my view this makes eminent sense. Were the contrary be the case, the disaster that was bound to be unleashed on the country would have been unimaginable. The country does not have the capacity to cope with such an eventuality, SWAT or no SWAT. These are people who have been trained in the tactical use of weapons and ruthlessness if they received orders to do so. There is no doubt that they exceeded their brief, and it would appear some of the officers simply looked away when atrocities were being committed. Without defending their activities, for it is he who wears the shoe that knows where it pinches, far must it from me to defend wrong and evil we must get to the root of how they got into the horrible situation of total unfeeling, killing and maiming at will and with impunity, even as human beings themselves.
It is hoped the psychologists, psychiatrists, neurologists and other classes of helpers being assembled would get to the root of the matter. Their living conditions must be areas the body must look into. It should be remembered that practically all their officers are university graduates. Many in lower ranks are also graduates. And they are paid pittance, hardly enough to feed them and their families. As one of them said, he was in such an appalling situation he could not pay his rent after quitting his accommodation in the official quarters as he would not wish to raise his children in the squalid conditions of the barracks. A group watching over us day and night lives in abject poverty! The officers fuel patrol vehicles. In a Divisional command, what the is made available to run the office is in the range of paltry N27, 000 a month. The rank and file buys their uniforms, their socks from a salary that is less than N60, 000 a month for graduates. It becomes, therefore, irresistible for a great many to twist hands of motorists and drag passersby to a corner and extort money from them.
Above all, it needs to be stated that the police is the mirror of the society. They are its representatives; they are what the larger society is. The character of an average Nigerian is reflected in an average policeman. Just driving on the Nigerian roads will tell you what a Nigerian is: Inconsiderate, unfeeling and discourteous. And such conduct is regarded as normal. Every police man rising through our ranks cannot be different. They went to serve from our homes. If the Nigerian character does not change; if the Nigerian does have respect for polish and civility, the new unit called SAWT will in no time go the way of SARS in disrepute and the Mobile police, MOPOL, alias “Kill and Go,” before it.
Reforming the Nigerian police therefore must start with character and drastic improvement in the conditions of service of the police. The larger society itself must start with character. Even then, reforming character in itself must amount to scratching the surface if we do not recognize that the entire world, nay Creation is governed by immutable laws, in which the Will of the Most High Creator is anchored. How do these perfect mechanisms operate? It is in the interest of all of to familiarize ourselves with them, the Laws placed in Creation by the Creator and heed them. Knowledge of them will demonstrate to everyone, policeman, soldier, government officials or private citizens that nothing is lost, whether sent out as thoughts, as speeches, actions or as deeds. Each person bears personal responsibility for his actions which include thoughts generated and sent out. Has it not been said by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, that whatever a man soweth that shall he reap and in multiples, at harvest time? Ignorance of them is of no avail and it is the ignorance that has put the entire world in distress, turmoil and uncertainty about the morrow.