As calls from some Nigerians to disband the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigeria Police Force increase by the day, due to the inhuman activities of some operatives, a professor of international law, Akin Oyebode, two human right lawyers; Femi Falana and Olasupo Ojo and others have called for a proper restructuring rather than scrapping of the Squad.
Speaking at a three-day training put together by a non-governmental organization (NGO) Coalition for Good Governance and Justice in partnership with the Nigeria Police Force for officers and men of the Akwa Ibom Police Command that began on Monday, the three lecturers and others in their separate papers called for caution on the “ENDSARS” agitation as the main objective of setting up the Squad has not been entirely defeated.
In his paper titled “The rule of law between SARS and armed robbers: Case for adherence to rule of law and constitutionally guaranteed rights by officers and men of SARS department” Oyebode; aProfessor of International Law at the University of Lagos noted that since its creation, SARS had been in the news more for bad reason than good.
However, given its relative achievements and usefulness in fighting armed robbery and sundry crimes, he posited, “there is the need to strike a utilitarian balance between efforts of the Squad to wage war against criminals, anti-social elements without doing grave damage and injustice to the tenets of rule of law, good governance and social wellbeing.”
The international lawyer therefore suggested that “a good starting point should be a thorough grasp of the niceties of rule of law vis-à-vis rule of force in order to properly situate the activities of the SARS functionaries in their onerous task of fighting gangsters within the communities.”
In the same vein, Femi Falana; a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN)speaking on the main theme of the training titled “Continuous relevance of SARS under the current democratic dispensation” agreed with Oyebode that rather than disband SARS as some aggrieved Nigerians have contended, operatives of the Squad among other things, should be continuously trained, equipped and motivated. In addition, as part of the reform strategy, SARS operatives who subject criminal suspects to torture should henceforth be identified and prosecuted while any of them convicted should be made to pay part of the damages to any victim.
Due to the high degree of ignorance on human rights among many Nigerians, the speakers among whom were Oyebode, Falana, Olasupo Ojo, Mrs. Gloria Egbuji and Debo Adeniran agreed that the human rights community should embark on massive human rights education and enlightenment programmes to empower the people to challenge the infringement of the fundamental rights guaranteed them by the Constitution and the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights Act.
The speakers generally agreed that there is the need to re-configure SARS by re-working its modus operandi with a view to inculcating new values emphasizing respect for rule of law and fundamental human rights. They also urged authorities of the Nigeria Police Force to always ensure that SARS operatives adhere to international best practices.
In his goodwill message to the participants, the Inspector General of Police (IGP) Muhammed Adamu used the opportunity to reiterate what he had said in his maiden address on assumption of office in January, 2019 as the 20th indigenous Inspector General of Police that his appointment represents a call to duty and a charge to restore the dwindling primacy of the Nigeria Police Force within the internal security architecture of Nigeria.
He therefore called on the participants and other police personnel to always be at alert to judge their behaviours within and outside the public space as they carry out their duties as law enforcement agents.
In his welcome address, the Commissioner of Police in charge of Akwa Ibom Police Command; Mr. Zaki Ahmed who had spent barely two weeks in the state said the training was imperative going by the situation prevalent in the country at the moment. He therefore enjoined officers and men participating in the training to take it seriously particularly as they were privileged to be taught by erudite scholars and human rights activists.
No fewer than 200 officers and men of SARS, anti-cultism, anti-kidnapping and other units of the Akwa Ibom Police Command participated in the programme which took place in the Godswill Akpabio Hall at the Command Headquarters.
One of the facilitators and a resource person, Mrs. Gloria Egbuji who presented a paper titled “Promoting democracy through law abiding law enforcement officials” noted that police could only promote democracy when they respect the laws and know the limit of their power.
Speaking on the “the roles and functions of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad” the Executive Director of Centre for the Rule of Law, Olasupo Ojo traced the historical emergence of SARS as a tactical unit of the Police Force, its activities over the years vis-à-vis the rights of the citizenry. He submitted that the key to understanding and successful application of the training in human rights to their career in the police is to always approach it from the interconnected human rights perspective in order to be human rights compliant.
A consultant educationist and human rights activist, Debo Adeniran who delivered paper on the sub-theme “Understanding Corruption and the Role of the Police in curbing it” pointed out that the police was the only and foremost security institution saddled with combating corruption through the special fraud unit. He however, noted that “the under-funding, ill-equipment, lack of proper training and motivation of the Force led to the proliferation of several anti-corruption agencies to tackle different corruption related cases.
According to one of the facilitators of the training on the auspice of the Coalition for Good Governance and Justice, Comrade Raji Rasheed Oyewumi, the NGO had chosen to champion the human rights education for the police particularly officers and men of SARS in the light of the spate of abuse of people’s rights which in some cases ended up in brutal and unwarranted killing of innocent citizens like the recent case of a football fan, Kolade Johnson killed in Lagos by a trigger happy inspector.