Notable Nigerian leaders have for a reform in the operations of Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), after cases of harassment and extortion by members of the squad went viral on Saturday.
Former vice president Atiku Abubakar and former Senate president Bukola Saraki said on Saturday said the Special Anti-Robbery Squad has become an oppressor of the people it should protect.
“The Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) unit of the Nigerian Police was set up to confront violent crimes such as armed robbery, kidnapping and other related crimes. However, the unit has today morphed into an oppressor of the Nigerian masses who strive every day for a better life,” Atiku tweeted on Saturday.
“Reports of intimidation, harassment and outright extortion by officers of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad have continued unabated.”
In recent years, officials the SARS unit of the police have been in a public bad light for harassment, illegal arrest and extortion of citizens, especially youths.
There have also been cases of extrajudicial killings by some officials attached to SARS in different parts of Nigeria.
Amnesty International said in a 2016 report that victims of SARS brutality “are subjected to various methods of torture and ill-treatment in order to extract information and ‘confessions’.”
Although the Nigeria police say such acts contradict its responsibility to protect citizens and always issue sanctions to officers these cases of police brutality persist. At least about 30 Nigerians, mostly youths have been killed by trigger-happy police personnel between 2019 and 2020.
While the promised ‘stiffer punishment’ for culpable policemen is yet to be evident, a section of Nigerian leaders and youths continue to seek an end to police brutality.
“I strongly condemn their cruel actions against our people,” Atiku, Nigeria’s vice president from 1999 to 2007 said “I urge the government to rise to the occasion and nip this monstrosity in the bud with the seriousness it deserves.
“It’s expedient that the activities of SARS are reviewed to ensure that the rogue elements are excised from the unit and sanity returned to its operations.”
Saraki described the reports of the “continued harassment, illegal arrest, detention and high handedness by rogue cells of the SARS Unit of Police against innocent Nigerians – most of them young people – in spite of efforts to reform the Police & raise standards of policing” as disheartening.
Contrary to police responsibility, Saraki said the SARS unit officers have “become a threat to the lives and property of the very citizens they swore to protect is condemnable and unacceptable.
“I call on the Federal Government to immediately put a stop to these reprehensible activities and restructure the unit to better perform its lawful duties of safeguarding the lives and property of the Nigerian people.”
Nigeria’s youth and sports minister Sunday Dare said the government had been monitoring reports of the attacks by SARS, and promised that relevant government agencies will investigate the incidents.
“The ministry of youth and sports is worried about the menace, increasing harassments and attacks by SARS, especially targeted at youths and other innocent members of the public, and brought it to the attention of the relevant security agencies in Abuja,” Dare said in a statement by his spokesperson John Joshua-Akanj.
“The minister of youth and sports development, who has also been monitoring the reports of alleged SARS harassment and attacks, has called for immediate investigations that will unravel the truth.
“The ministry wishes to assure that this government, through relevant security agencies, will step into the matter to protect our youth and the fundament human rights of every Nigerian.”
Nigerian youths, mostly affected by the brutality via Twitter have declared #WarOnSARS with many sharing their experiences.