OPINION: Did SARS needs an overhaul or ban?
The recent horrific killing of a young Nigerian by officers of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) — an arm of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) — has once again brought the #EndSARS campaign to life. SARS has, over the years, earned a notorious reputation of a brutal agency following cases of extrajudicial killings, torture, ill-treatment of extrajudicial killings, torture, ill-treatment of detainees, and extortion of suspects. Ending SARS may sound like a brilliant idea, it will, however, likely hinder the fight against armed robbery which SARS has incredibly helped reduce. Instead, human rights advocacy groups and the public should pressurize the NPF for reforms.
SARS needs an overhaul —not a ban— to check its excesses without trading off an increase in crime. President Muhammadu Buhari took a small step in this direction when he ordered an overhaul of SARS but the effort yielded no concrete results. This outcome shows that overhauling SARS will require more than a presidential order or even a ban
A 2016 Amnesty International report titled “You have Signed Your Death Warrant,” shows that SARS atrocities range from “severe beating, hanging, starvation, shooting in the leg, mock executions and threats of execution.
SARS is Dangerously Reaching beyond its Legal Permissions
Besides arresting indiscriminately, oftentimes, SARS officers detain suspects for several weeks without arraigning them in court, which is against the 48 hours detainment period allowed and stipulated by the constitution. Worse still, they do not allow detainees to see any relatives or even their lawyers.
The Best Way to End SARS
This is inhumane. The NPF should educate SARS officers about their obligations and right of citizens as contained in the 1999 Nigerian Constitution and Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
One reason SARS atrocities have persisted for long is that wanting officers are rarely held accountable for their actions. The NPF will rather deploy such officers to another state or local government area instead of punishment. Lawmakers should review all legislation relating to torture and have it codified under Nigeria’s Criminal Law.
The National Human Rights Commission should also visit SARS detention facilities to investigate all allegations against its officers and have victims given justice.
It is equally important for Nigerians demanding for SARS to be scrapped, should look beyond its brutality while strongly pressurizing the NPF for reforms. Nigeria still needs SARS. The squad is invaluable to the fight against armed robbery, cultism, and kidnapping. An absolute end to SARS at these times of great security challenges is not in the country’s best interest.