The raging protests and demands by Nigerian youth for an end to the Special Anti-Robbery Squad otherwise known as SARS is raising palpable fears about a spiral into breakdown of law and order. Last Friday, I was one of the many residents in Kuje Axis of the FCT-Abuja who travelled from the city centre through Kubwa-DeiDei-Zuba-Giri junction into Airport Road to escape protesters who had strategically laid siege at Dantata Interchange on Airport Road. Listening to the harrowing experiences of my neighbours who were trapped in the middle of the protesters until the following morning, what was obvious to me was that I was really lucky. The protesters’ choice of the strategic spot for their siege was to prevent would-be public officials travelling out of Abuja for their routine weekend grooves. Those my neighbours got home visibly tired out on Saturday morning.
I did remark on my Facebook page when the #ENDSARS protests started that it is a “tiring” and self-inflicted problem. My first and only experience with the unruly behaviour of SARS was on 21 April 2019 in Okene while returning to Abuja with my family from home (Auchi). We travelled home for the Easter Holiday then. For refusing a SARS officer’s offer a ride to a rascally-dressed lady whom I have never met and didn’t know from Adam at their checkpoint to Abuja, the fellow threatened me with a rude statement that “I am the one begging you now o, before I ask for your papers o.” I insisted on not picking the lady, arguing for lack of space in the car with my wife seated with me in the front row, three children at the back (one of whom was a seven month old baby) and a booth that is full and cannot accommodate the lady’s three-piece luggage. The officer did make real his threat by asking for my vehicle papers and thereafter demanded: “your money is 2k.” I declined to pay, while politely remarking that I know “my only sin is that I refused to pick your lady to Abuja …and I am resolute about that.” He later handed me my papers after my wife pleaded with him to consider the condition of our seven-month-old baby; but that was not after he got another fellow who was travelling alone to do his bidding.
My experience above was undoubtedly mild, given the numerous other experiences of families who have had their love ones extra-judicially killed and several others who have been maimed or even financially liquidated. SARS officers have been reported to use POS and, in some instances, take their victims to ATM centres to withdraw money from their accounts. In the heat of militancy in the Niger Delta region in 2004, I personally witnessed an incident around Warri while travelling on public vehicle between Benin City and Port Harcourt where a SARS officer threatened to “waste” a young man, adding that “nothing will happen” given that “this is a war zone.”
In the ongoing rage about #ENDSARS, some have made a case for SARS, arguing that it has helped addressed many security challenges in the country, while others have alluded to its excesses as simply unprecedented. Nigeria suffers generally from the refusal by its security institutions to submit themselves to democratic control, and this is bad for our democracy. Deriving from the many unprofessional practices plaguing various security institutions in the country, I stand with the call for a scrapping of SARS, while also advocating that we focus attention on total overhauling of the Nigeria Police to enable it deliver on its mandate, including the bit that SARS unduly arrogated to itself.
The country must also seek redress and justice for victims of SARS’s criminal actions and right violations. In scrapping SARS, we should ensure that it does not reincarnate in another name – be it SWAT or whatever. Nigeria is good at institutionalising ad-hoc arrangements over statutory structures.
It beats one’s imagination how a security unit put together to address a challenge in a state grew into a behemoth that now poses danger to the country and its citizens. A similar phenomenon is petroleum subsidy programme that also started as an ad-hoc arrangement that we are now finding difficult to bring to a closure. Let’s reform the Police to the extent that we will not need SARS again. The foundation for that reform is already laid in the Police Act, 2020.
#EndSARS is unprecedented moment in Nigerian history. What does it mean to you? What do you want it to change? How can we ALL build on it in transforming Nigeria into a country that works for ALL of us and not only for a few of them?
Arbiterz will like to hear from you too. Send your opinion -300/400 words-to firstname.lastname@example.org & email@example.com. You MAY include a picture of yourself, which may be from the #EndSARS battleline where you are helping to push the old Nigeria into the abyss.