Federal Special Anti- Robbery Squad (FSARS) and other tactical squads were recently restricted from routine patrol in Nigeria. National Light reporters, CHIKAODI CHUKWULETA and BLESSING NNABUIFE captured some people’s reactions to the development .Excepts:
INSPECTOR General of Police, Muhammed Adamu recently banned Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad and other tactical squads. What is your take on this?
I think the IGP didn’t actually ban them but what we heard is that the IGP has actually barred them from routine patrol and maintaining of checkpoints. They should be there to function as the special squad that they are. They shouldn’t engaged in routine patrol like other units of the police force so they should be there to answer just when they are called in time of distress; to carry out investigations and special operations because they’re special forces. Like where you have incidents of kidnapping, armed robbery and other violent crimes, SARS can come up to do that.
So the routine patrols and routine check-points should be done by other units of the force and I think that’s what the IGP said and I think that decision is the right step in the right direction because over the years, we have seen these special forces purportedly created for special operations engaging in routine operation; the routine operation of patrolling, mounting checkpoints and all that; which are not what they were actually formed to do.
SARS was formed to confront armed robbery, kidnapping and other violent crimes. The Anti-cult unit was formed to tackle cultism, not to be stopping people on the road and be checking their phones. I think it’s the right step in the right direction because this has led to abuses. Overtime, we have heard of people killed, we have heard of people detained unjustly and others. So, it has led to abuse of power on the part of this special squads and I think the IGP took the right decision by restraining them to the core responsibilities for which they were created.
Do you think stop and search operation by the the Anti-robbery squad has brought good to society?
As I said before, what they’re doing is just routine patrol and routine checkpoint mounting. That is not part of their duties because stop and search is something that is routinely done at checkpoints. It’s not done only in Nigeria but it’s done everywhere; it is a standard police operating measure but the truth of the matter is that these persons should not be doing that because it is not their job to be on the road to mount checkpoints and then routinely go on patrol.
Stop and search measure is not actually to be done indiscriminately. It should be done by discretion by the police. For the IGP to have actually stopped them from that, they have done the right thing because that stop and search measure may have actually helped check crime but the truth of the matter is that it is actually being abused, particularly by this special squads especially the SARS and Special Anti-cult Unit.
I think it has helped us, it has been abused, it has also led to infringement on people’s rights, so it is the right step in the right direction for the IGP to seek help in this problem.
Do they have the right to invade into the privacy of citizens by searching of mobile phones, laptops and other smart devices?
That is not proper. It is just like entering into someone’s room to come and search the room with search warrant. Phones and laptops are private gargets; you don’t just go into that unless when there is necessity; so it is not a routine thing to stop someone and start searching the person’s phones.
That is one of the abuses that we are talking about. It must be done based on reasonable suspicion; it’s not something that you do at will- once you see somebody, you start searching the person’s phone or laptop. It is an infringement on the person’s right to privacy, so I see it as an intrusion, an infringement on the rights of persons and as an abuse of power.
How do you see their operation formerly without uniform?
The uniform serves some purpose; at least you will be able to distinguish between policemen on legal duty and armed robbers who are operating. In a situation where you see policemen in plain clothes holding guns, harassing people, you get afraid. At times, you might even suspect that these persons are criminals.
Even when you believe that they’re members of the Nigeria Police Force, you will be afraid that these people have no identity. The name tag that is attached to their uniforms, you cannot see it; so you don’t know who the person is. You can’t even see the service numbers . So the person can do anything and get away with it.
We know that we have instances where policemen ought to undertake certain operations without uniform but that is when you’re undertaking an undercover operation like what the DSS and (CID), the Criminal Investigation Department of the Nigeria Police Force should be doing.
This time around is not to stand on the road and mounting checkpoints; not to be on patrol but to go for an operation, investigation or to carry out certain arrests that require clandestine measures, covert process of operation.
It is not for routine duties of patrolling and mounting checkpoints. So, to carry out those routine duties putting on plain clothes is not proper; you use plain clothes only when you’re conducting an undercover investigation, that’s when wearing plain clothes should be permitted.
(Henry Duru is a lecturer in Department of Mass Communication, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka.)