The SARS we created… Which way out?

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THERE is a swelter of public opinion that latter-day octopus metamorphosing from the defunct Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) grew from years of unending police brutality during which everyone, those who should bath eyelids, looked the other way while the proverbial Rome was burning.

  TO THE camp, #EndSARS is a reactionary push by young Nigerians for fierce justice. Whether the movement would later turn out an enduring watershed in national annals or mere stop-gap would ultimately determine if SARS was just a fall guy or the hen that fetched the firewood with which her eggs were cooked by an angry generation.  

But before then, something in predictable Nigerian way of handling similar issues is about rolling away with the purple sundown of the on-going hysteria, because nobody is asking how come SARS – or how this once dreaded crime busting outfit suddenly turned a national black sheep.

  ALTHOUGH Gov. Willie Obiano, living true to his pedigree as a pathfinder always seeking to properly position the national moral compass, has taken far-reaching proactive steps to placate irate young Nigerians – who suddenly saw a collective force of attraction beyond pinging on GSM phones –before matters get out of hand, there is a danger that other states that shy away from the Anambra formula may still trigger its ripples on other parts of Nigeria.

  WHAT Gov. Obiano did was not a product of rocket science. He merely defied political correctness, by taking the bull by the horns, to set the tone for the national healing that every Nigerian, nay friends of Nigeria, expects from the on-going rage of alienated young ones.  Gov. Obiano set up a high powered panel of enquiry to probe allegations of abuse of power and public duty by operatives of SARS, now scraped.

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He went a step further to sack an ex-commander of the discredited agency who was among those plying the security levers of the administration. The governor went yet further and liaised with appropriate authorities to secure the constitutional right of bail for three persons, who were allegedly being wrongfully detained at some SARS formations in Anambra State, to keep the promise he made to demonstrators that picketed Government House Gate recently.

  ALL these are borne out of deep soul searching in a bid to know how and where water passed the bridge, rather than trading blame or buck passing when everyone knows that SARS is a collective creation. This is why the governor prefers cutting necessary concessions that will avert what may yet torpedo national peace and stability already thinning out each passing day. And this returns the issue to the digressed question on how we all created SARS and cloaked it with the thick skin we now loathe to behold like the owl afraid of its baby’s protruding eyeballs.

  YES, launched as a special police unit to combat rising spate of armed robbery in Lagos State, SARS was a brainchild of then CP Simeon Danladi Midenda. But by successes the outfit recorded in tracking armed robbers, other police formations across the federation started their own SARS units until the country at large came up with Federal SARS before the elite squads relapsed into unhinged brutality which would later write its threnody by morphing into notorious bands for kidnapping, arbitrary arrests, meddling into private commercial transactions, overzealousness, trigger-happiness, itchy fingers, extortion, torture and mysterious disappearance of suspects, extra-judicial killings, land transaction ‘arbitration’ and making ‘abattoirs’ out of detention facilities, among other heinous sleazes.

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  PERHAPS, some specific cases of the foregoing allegations may bring the point nearer home. For instance, sometime in 2015, five SARS officers allegedly killed two young men, Michael Akor and Michael Igwe in Rivers State.

Similarly, on April 1, 2019, a 36-year-old Kolade Johnson died from bullet wounds sustained when  SARS men allegedly opened fire in a raid at a viewing centre in a Lagos neighbourhood. And there are still so many other instances of SARS brutality. Yet, nothing spontaneous as the current wave of mass movement was recorded. A question quickly comes to front burner: why?

  BUT an answer will be found in a walk down memory lane dating back to the 1970s when the earliest set of sophisticated cases of armed robbery – pivoted by the notorious Ishola Oyenusi – were recorded in post-civil war Nigeria. Popular predilection for instant ‘justice’ which was an alias for jungle justice took the better part of society as merely raising an alarm of stealing in a market may bring the suspect’s life to an end – even if he or she later turned innocent. 

This was how ‘Boys-o-yeah’mobs caught fire and became the authentic police in Igbo land, in 1980s, beginning from Onitsha, where alleged underworld lords such as Otondo and Big-Do were smoked out, rounded up and thrown into River Niger.

  EVEN away from mob action, there was a legal angle to what manured the roots that stood SARS. This came by judicial attitudes to sentencing armed robbery convicts to death by firing squad in full glare of spectators. If this was meant to reduce armed robbery by making people see the end of robbers, whether it worked is open to debate.

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  BUT the death of Otondo and Big-Do et al brought only a temporary relief to Onitsha, because the seeds sown by them later germinated into the regime of another crime king, one Okwudili Ndiwe (aka Derico Nwa Mama) who towered through anomie to impose himself on the rubble.

His public execution on July 12, 2001, at Ochanja Roundabout, brought closure to an era of anguish following the arrival of Bakassi Boys, who were imported into Onitsha in 1999, from Aba, Abia State, after their anti-robbery escapades or exploits in Enyimba City. And here we are with SARS operatives who keyed into existing zeitgeist to activate darkness on the nation.

  OF COURSE, nobody is saying that armed robbers and indeed other criminal elements should go scot-free. But first among measures required for police reforms aftermath SARS is the onus of observing international best practices in crime detection and prevention. Society should be ready to wait for justice to go its whole hog before apportioning due punishments, anything to the contrary is self-help.

  WE ALSO join forces with well-meaning Nigerians clamouring for erring officers of Nigeria Police, Army, Civil Defence, Navy, etc, to be brought to book for reprimand as deterrence to others. Gov. Obiano has already set the tone. Indicted officers should be named and shamed apart from prosecution in court.

  FINALLY, only a total reorientation is the way out of this hydra-headed monster we created out of SARS.

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