Udora Orizu writes that following calls across the country for the scrapping of
Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) unit of the Nigeria Police Force, federal lawmakers have resolved to draft a new legislation as part of efforts to reform the police
Following the alarming spate of recent brutality and extra judicial killings across the country, by operatives of the Police Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), members of the House of Representatives on October 7 resolved to work with the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) to draft new legislation within 30 days to establish a system of independent accountability for the Nigeria Police Force.
Recently, the media has been awash with reports of attacks and flagrant violation of the rights of the citizens by FSARS operatives. Nigerians have shared stories and video evidence of how members of the unit engaged in murder, extortion, rape, unlawful arrests, high-handedness, unlawful detention, extortion and so on, which has again led to citizens all over the country protesting, calling on the federal government for the dissolution of the unit. The protests also had celebrities come out in their numbers to show support for the #EndSARS campaign.
In the midst of the uproar, federal lawmakers in the House of Representatives are proposing a new legislation to hold erring officers of the police accountable for their actions, however there are doubts if the law will help in any way to end police brutality and stop extra judicial killings, as previous efforts by the government aimed at reforming SARS have failed.
The lawmakers at the plenary on October 7 resolved to work with the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), and civil society organisations (CSOs) to draft the legislation within 30 days.
The Speaker of the House, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, stated this when he read a short speech on the misconduct and abuse of authority by officers of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) across the country and the need for additional police reforms.
Gbajabiamila said unfortunately many of those who have betrayed the trust of the country in this manner are never answerable for their actions.
He said, ”Every day, throughout our country, interactions between the police and our citizens result in acts of horrific brutality, extortion, and retribution against the Nigerian people. Too many of the people we have assigned to protect our citizens have shown themselves unworthy of that calling. Their actions betray our trust and wreak unquantifiable damage on the already frayed fabric of our society.
”Unfortunately, many of those who have betrayed our trust in this manner are never answerable for their actions. At the heart of this fundamental failure lies the unavoidable truth that we do not have an independent framework for ensuring that members of the Nigerian Police Force (NPF) are appropriately held to account when they fail to adhere to the policies and laws that govern their operations.
”We have long expected the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) to police itself. It is now abundantly clear that this was the wrong call. For the benefit of a functioning system of policing in Nigeria, it is now necessary that parliament steps in to introduce an independent, fair and practical approach to ensure that those to whom we grant the authority to act in the name of the State, are held to the highest standards of professional conduct.
”Over the next thirty days, the House of Representatives will work with the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), with civil society and with Nigerians of good conscience to draft new legislation that establishes a system of independent accountability that holds erring members of the Police Force to account for their conduct in the performance of their duties and imposes civil and criminal liability for violations of the Police Code; and also compels the Nigerian Police Force (NPF) to take responsibility for the failures of training and discipline that leads to such violations.
”The constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in Section 215(5) states that “The question whether any and if so what, directions have been given (to the Police) under this section shall not be inquired into in any court”. This provision presents a singularly obstinate obstacle to any system of effective judicial review of policing in Nigeria. Therefore, any reforms of the operations of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) must include a constitutional amendment to expunge this painfully undemocratic clause from our country’s constitution.
”This House of Representatives will act to ensure that those agents of the State to whom we have assigned the duty to protect and serve, are deserving of the faith and respect of the Nigerian people. I ask for the support of all Nigerians as we begin this endeavour. Let us work together to achieve the vision of a nation where the citizens trust the police to always act in the public’s best interest by respecting the rights of citizens and following the due process of law.
God bless you all, and God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Also, the House directed the IG, Mohammed Adamu, to take decisive action to stop the brutality and human rights violation by the SARS and report the said actions to the House within three weeks.
The directive of the House was sequel to the adoption of a motion on the need to stop SARS brutality, moved by the Leader of the House, Hon. Alhassan Ado Doguwa. Moving the motion, Doguwa noted with great concern the persistent outcry by Nigerians over the brutality and human rights violation by SARS.
He said despite repeated announcements since 14th August 2018 by Police authorities to reform SARS, the problem of human rights abuses and impunity still persist within the Police Force.
The Leader described as disturbing the alarming rate of unauthorised raids, extortion, stealing, frame-ups, indiscriminate search of mobile phones, and other smart devices and arbitrary confiscation and fraudulent conversion of private property of citizens to personal use.
Contributing to the debate, Hon. Akin Alabi expressed shame that in 2020 there is still the need to deliberate on human rights violations by the Police who are paid by Nigerians to protect them. He called on the Inspector General of police to rise to the occasion and put a stop to the menace before angry citizens rise against the law enforcement institution.
Another lawmaker, Hon. Victor Mela opined that not all officers are bad, but the effect of the bad ones has succeeded in painting the whole force in bad lights. Mela called for strict penalties against erring officers and compensation for victims of the officers.
On his part, the Deputy minority leader, Hon. Toby Okechukwu lamented the loss of promising lives to the menace carried out by SARS operatives. He wondered why the police will repay the efforts of the government to empower them by killing citizens in the extra judicial manner in which they do. He also reiterated that the erring officers should be held responsible for all such criminal acts.
Hon. Shaba Ibrahim adopted the submissions of early contributors and stressed the fact that absolute power corrupts absolutely and this seems to be what is making the police behave in the manner in which they do. He called for the expunging of the provisions that enable the Police Act in this manner from the Nigerian constitution.
In his contribution, the minority leader, Hon. Ndudi Elumelu stated that the constitution does not give the police the right to take life in the extrajudicial manner in which some of them do, so the law is the best way to hold erring officers accountable. He also expressed sadness that the Police seem to be repaying Nigerians that have canvassed for better livelihood of the Police by terrorizing the same Nigerian public. He called for a thorough investigation into the cases of human rights violations and that the committee should ensure that the officers face the full extent of the law. Elumelu assured Nigerians that the House of Representatives is fully committed to the protection of human rights of everyone living within Nigeria.
Hon. Nnolim Nnaji on his part called for a reorganization and reorientation of the security agencies of Nigeria to make them human friendly as is obtainable worldwide. Also contributing, Hon. Nkeiruka Onyeajeocha called for proper guidelines for the mode of operation for the SARS operatives and that they should be made to strictly adhere to those guidelines.
Hon. Nicholas Ossai proposed a suggestion that the committees saddled with oversight the police should ensure they keep the police on the track of protecting and serving Nigerians and not be terrorists. While Hon. Abdulrazak Namdas expressed sadness and regret at how the SARS operatives have allowed themselves to acquire such a notorious image. He called for a reformation of the manner of operation of the operatives to be more professional and civil.
However, the #EndSARS campaign is not the first, as over the years Nigerians have repeatedly cried out to the government to scrap the unit. After a nationwide outcry in 2018, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo ordered the total overhaul of the Special Anti-robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigerian Police Force. Then in June 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari directed the setting up of a three-man committee to produce a white paper on the recommendations of the Presidential Panel on Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) Reform.
The panel headed by the executive secretary of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Tony Ojukwu, among others, recommended the renaming of SARS, dismissal of 37 police officers from the force and the prosecution of 24 officers. Receiving the report the President had ordered the IGP, solicitor-general of the federation, and NHRC executive secretary to review the recommendations within three months and come up with a white paper for further action by the federal government.
Apparently, little appears to have changed, as over a year later the incessant harassment and brutality of Nigerians by police is still happening.
After days of protests by Nigerians across the country, the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu again announced the immediate disbandment of the special anti-robbery squad (SARS).
The IGP also promised to reform SARS.
In a statement after a media briefing in Abuja on October 11, Frank Mba, police spokesman, said a new policing arrangement will be announced to fill in the gaps created by the dissolution of SARS.
The statement read in part, ”In the finest spirit of democratic, citizen-centred and community policing, the Inspector-General of Police, IGP M.A Adamu, NPM, mni has today, 11th October, 2020, dissolved the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) across the 36 State Police Commands and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) where they hitherto existed. The dissolution of SARS is in response to the yearnings of the Nigerian people, observes that by this dissolution, all officers and men of the now defunct Special Anti-robbery Squad are being redeployed with immediate effect.
”The Force is not oblivious of the ever present need to combat armed robbery, kidnapping and other violent crimes in the country which was before now the core mandate of the erstwhile Squad. He assured that a new policing arrangement to address anticipated policing gaps the dissolution of SARS would cause has been evolved and shall be announced in due course.”
But, the protesters aren’t buying it, owing to similar promises of reforming the unit in the past which failed. The disbelief was also fuelled by the fact that barely hours after the Inspector General of Police, dissolved SARS, police brutality continued as policemen assaulted protesters and journalists covering the protest. They also dispersed a crowd of protesters in Abuja with live bullets, water cannons and tear gas last Sunday.
Action they say speak louder than words, hence public believe the announcement just like previous years, is a mere ruse to stop the protests. Aligning with the public perception regarding the disbandment, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila has called on the IGP to ensure that necessary steps are taken to assure the Nigerian people that the announced dissolution is sincere and well-intentioned, and not merely meant to quell the ongoing protests across the country.
The Speaker in a statement issued by his spokesman, Lanre Lasisi last Sunday, while commending President Muhammadu Buhari and IGP for listening to the call by Nigerians across the length and breadth of the country to disband SARS, however said practical steps should be taken to support and enforce this policy pronouncement.
The Speaker further assured all Nigerians that the dissolution of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad will not preclude the ongoing efforts by the House of Representatives to effect reforms of the police through legislation.
Hopefully, the new legislation being drafted by the House of Representatives will help reform the police and bring to an end police brutality.
The Force is not oblivious of the ever present need to combat armed robbery, kidnapping and other violent crimes in the country which was before now the core mandate of the erstwhile Squad. He assured that a new policing arrangement to address anticipated policing gaps the dissolution of SARS would cause has been evolved and shall be announced in due course. But, the protesters aren’t buying it, owing to similar promises of reforming the unit in the past which failed. The disbelief was also fuelled by the fact that barely hours after the Inspector General of Police, dissolved SARS, police brutality continued as policemen assaulted protesters and journalists covering the protest