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Special Anti-Robbery Squad

Special Anti-Robbery Squad
AbbreviationSARS
Agency overview
Formed1992
Dissolved11 October 2020
Jurisdictional structure
Operations jurisdictionNigeria
Nigeria sm02.gif
Nigeria
Size923,768 km2
Population206 million
Governing bodyMinistry of Police Affairs
Constituting instruments
  • Section 214 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended)
  • Nigeria Police Act 2020
General nature
Operational structure
HeadquartersLouis Edet House, Abuja
Website
http://www.npf.gov.ng/

The Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) was a Nigerian Police Force unit under the Force Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department headed by the Deputy Inspector General of Police Anthony Ogbizi.[1] It was created in late 1992 and was intended to deal with crimes associated with robbery, motor vehicle theft, kidnapping, cattle rustling, and crimes involving firearms.

It was disbanded on 11 October 2020, following a widespread protest from Nigerians worldwide. SARS was under controversy for being linked to acts of extrajudicial killings, extortion, torture, framing, blackmail thus leading to the protest that resulted in it being dissolved.[2][3]

On 13 October 2020, the Inspector General of Police M.A. Adamu announced a replacement squad called the Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT) in accordance with Section 18 (10) of the Police Act 2020, to “replace” the notorious police unit. According to Adamu, all personnel of the defunct SARS are to report to the Nigeria Police Headquarters for debriefing and examination. Within hours of the announcement of the replacement squad, some Nigerians took to Twitter with the hashtag #EndSWAT.[4]

History

The Special Anti-Robbery Squad was founded in late 1992 by former police commissioner Simeon Danladi Midenda. The major reason SARS was formed[according to whom?] was when Col. Rindam of the Nigerian Army was killed by police officers at a checkpoint in Lagos in September 1992, later leading to the arrest of three officers.[5] When the information reached the army, soldiers were dispatched into the streets of Lagos in search of any police officer. The Nigerian police withdrew from checkpoints, security areas and other points of interest for criminals, some police officers were said to have resigned while others fled for their lives. Due to the absence of police for two weeks crime rate increased and SARS was formed with only 15 officers operating in the shadows without knowledge of the army while monitoring police radio chatters. Due to the existence of three already established anti-robbery squads which were operational at that time, Midenda needed to distinguish his squad from the already existing teams. Midenda named his team Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). After months of dialogue[when?] the Nigerian Army and the Nigeria Police Force came to an understanding and official police duties began again in Lagos. The SARS unit was officially commissioned[when?] in Lagos following a ceasefire by the army after settlement.[citation needed]

SARS is one of the 14 units in the Force Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department which was established to detain, investigate and prosecute people involved in crimes like armed robbery, kidnapping and other forms of crimes.[citation needed]

Incidents

In mid 1996, the Lagos branch arrested two security guards at their employment for being suspected to have aided in a robbery. The two guards were not charged with a crime while arrested. In January 1997, the bodies of the guards were placed at a morgue without an explanation for their deaths.[6]

In October 2005, a SARS operative killed a bus driver in Obiaruku, Delta State for failing to pay the operative a bribe. The operative was removed from their SARS position and was arrested on charges of murder.[7]

In 2009, after several years of operations the squad grew in number and strength. Due to the surge of internet fraudsters and cultism in universities, SARS operatives infiltrated Nigerian universities, made several successful arrest but in the process harassed innocent youths. According to a publication by Pulse.ng a Nigerian news website, "What SARS became was a national scourge that a witch-hunt machinery against Nigerian youth with dreadlocks, piercings, cars, expensive phones and risque means of expression."[8]

In May 2010, Amnesty International disclosed that it would be suing the Nigerian Police over human rights abuse stating that the Special Anti-Robbery Squad in Borokiri, Port Harcourt arrested three bike riders and detained them for over one week while being "beaten every night with the butt of a gun and iron belt."[9] On 20 May 2010, a Federal High Court in Enugu State, ordered the then IGP Ogbonna Okechukwu Onovo to produce a Special Anti-Robbery Squad officer who had gunned down a 15 years-old boy in high school. According to the SARS officer, the teen was mistaken for a kidnapper.[10] On 27 July 2010, an extensive editorial report was published by Sahara Reporters on how SARS among other police unit profit 9.35 Billion Naira ($60 million) from roadblocks and extortion within 18 months.[11]

On 3 June 2011, the Nigeria Police Force discovered an attempt by a SARS operative Musa Agbu to bomb the force headquarters because the IGP Hafiz Ringim scuttled his ambition.[clarification needed][12]

Following several reports of human rights violation by members of the public to the office of the Inspector General of Police, on 7 August 2015, the then IGP Solomon Arase announced that it would be splitting the SARS unit into two units, operational unit and the investigation unit to curtail case of human rights violation.[13] In September 2016, Pulse.ng compiled a report on Nigeria Police brutality with the heading "Meet SARS, the Police Unit with license to kill". The report highlighted the brutality and ignorance of the rules of engagement in the Special Anti-Robbery Squad.[14]

A September 2016 report published by Amnesty International detailed extensive torture and detainment without being tried. The report detailed SARS forcing confessions, withholding food, and other abuses.[15]

On 10 August 2019, while SARS operatives were on a raid in Ijegun to arrest kidnappers in the area, operatives of the unit fired several shots in a bid to subdue the kidnappers and during the course of action a stray bullet hit a pregnant woman, she reportedly died on the spot. An angry mob was said to have lynched two police officers on the spot.[16][17][18]

On 21 August 2019, four SARS operatives were arrested and charged with murder after being caught on film manhandling and then shooting to death two suspected phone thieves in broad daylight.[19] The two suspected phone thieves were shot dead after they had been arrested.[19]

On 5 September 2019, operatives of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad in Lekki, Lagos allegedly kidnapped, tortured and robbed Nigerian rapper Ikechukwu Onunaku. According to publications by Punch Nigeria the rapper was forced to make several withdrawals at the ATM to pay SARS operatives for doing nothing.[20][21]

Modus operandi

During its formation the Special Anti-Robbery Squad was known to operate covertly. SARS operatives were not allowed to wear police uniform, publicly carry guns or have walkie-talkies. They were given unmarked vehicles with sometimes no license plates or private plate numbers during duty.[22]

Reform and Disbanding attempts

2017 End SARS Campaign

In December 2017, Segun Awosanya took up an online advocacy campaign to demand the end of SARS brutality in the country. The campaign started as a social media campaign originally started from a hashtag created by a Twitter user (@Letter_to_jack) tagged #EndSARS to demand Nigeria's government to scrap and end the deployment of SARS. The public responded well to the hashtag with people all over Nigeria posting their experiences with SARS.[23] The campaign was reported on by international media.[24][25] By mid December, the campaign took to streets with protests occurring in Abuja.[26]

The Nigeria Police Force endured backlash over comments made by Public Relations Officer Jimoh Moshood, who claimed the campaigners of being "criminals" and "robbers". Moshood also called for the campaigners to come forward so that SARS could investigate them.[27]

During the 8th National Assembly, Nigeria's Senate backed the call for scrapping SARS.[28]

Presidency's Attempt to Reform SARS

On 14 August 2018, the Acting President of Nigeria Yemi Osinbajo ordered with immediate effect the "Overhaul" of the controversial police unit SARS following reports of human rights violation. The acting president ordered the Inspector General of Police Ibrahim Kpotun Idris to reform SARS as well as carrying out an independent investigation after “persistent complaints and reports” that concerns human rights violation.[29] After the order, the IGP announced that the unit would be renamed to Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad,[30] a new head of the unit would be appointed and also the provision of human rights desk officers to check reports.[31][32]

Decentralization of SARS

On 21 January 2019, IGP Mohammed Adamu ordered the immediate decentralization of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad. The SARS unit was centralized from the force headquarters in Abuja since its inception, the IGP also stated that the DIG of Force Criminal Investigations Department and Commissioners of Police in each state would be held accountable for actions of the SARS.[33][34]

2020 End SARS Campaign

Efforts to ban the SARS unit increased in October 2020 after a SARS police officer shot a young Nigerian man in front of the Wetland Hotel in Ughelli, Delta State. Video of the incident started trending on social media, leading to nation-wide protests within a few days.

References

  1. ^ "How I founded SARS in the Police – RTD CP Midenda". Vanguard News. 23 December 2017. Retrieved 25 February 2020.
  2. ^ "The Killing Force: Nigeria Police Turn Their Guns On Defenceless Citizens". P.M. News. 7 November 2011. Retrieved 26 February 2020.
  3. ^ Salami, Lawal (19 December 2019). "Hands in the hair: Nigerian police and men with dreadlocks". Global Comment. Retrieved 26 February 2020.
  4. ^ End Swat: Nigerians reject police unit replacing hated Sars BBC
  5. ^ United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Nigeria, 30 January 1994 Refworld - UNHCR
  6. ^ Nigeria Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1997 Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
  7. ^ Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2005 - Nigeria (Page 2) Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor
  8. ^ "#EndSARS: What exactly is the status of SARS?". Pulse Nigeria. 23 January 2019. Retrieved 26 February 2020.
  9. ^ "Amnesty Slams Nigeria For Rights Abuse". P.M. News. 27 May 2010. Retrieved 26 February 2020.
  10. ^ "Nigeria: Ovoko Killing - Court Orders IG to Produce Police Officer". allAfrica.com.
  11. ^ siteadmin (27 July 2010). "How Police Personnel Raked In 9.35Billion Naira From Roadblocks In The Southeast-Nigeria In 18 Months". Sahara Reporters. Retrieved 26 February 2020.
  12. ^ "Police foil attempt to bomb Force Headquarters". Vanguard News. 4 June 2011. Retrieved 26 February 2020.
  13. ^ "Police IG splits anti-robbery squad, SARS, to check abuses - Premium Times Nigeria". 7 August 2015. Retrieved 26 February 2020.
  14. ^ "Meet SARS, the Police Unit with license to kill". Pulse Nigeria. 23 September 2016. Retrieved 26 February 2020.
  15. ^ Nigeria: ‘You have signed your death warrant’ : Torture and other ill treatment in the Special Anti-Robbery Squad Amnesty International
  16. ^ siteadmin (10 August 2019). "Police Commiserates With Family Of Woman Killed By Operative". Sahara Reporters. Retrieved 26 February 2020.
  17. ^ Published. "UPDATE: Mob kills policeman, injures two". Punch Newspapers. Retrieved 26 February 2020.
  18. ^ "Ijegun mob beats policeman to death for killing tailor". P.M. News. 10 August 2019. Retrieved 26 February 2020.
  19. ^ a b https://punchng.com/breaking-police-arrest-officers-who-killed-suspected-igando-phone-thieves/
  20. ^ Published. "How SARS kidnapped, assaulted, robbed me —Rapper, Ikechukwu". Punch Newspapers. Retrieved 26 February 2020.
  21. ^ "Ikechukwu narrates how he was kidnapped by men of SARS [Video]". Pulse Nigeria. 5 September 2019. Retrieved 26 February 2020.
  22. ^ "How I founded SARS in the Police – RTD CP Midenda". Vanguard News. 23 December 2017. Retrieved 26 February 2020.
  23. ^ Salaudeen, Aisha (15 December 2017). "Nigerians want police's SARS force scrapped". Aljazeera. Retrieved 14 October 2020.
  24. ^ "Nigeria anger at police brutality video". BBC News. 4 December 2017. Retrieved 26 February 2020.
  25. ^ Kazeem, Yomi. "Young Nigerians are calling for a brutal special police unit to be scrapped". Quartz Africa. Retrieved 14 October 2020.
  26. ^ Bella, Naija (11 December 2017). "#EndSARS: Nigerians take to the Streets in Protest". Bellanaija. Retrieved 14 October 2020.
  27. ^ Erunke, Joseph (3 December 2017). "#EndSARS: We won't scrap SARS, Police reply anti-SARS campaigners". Vanguard Newspaper. Nigeria. Retrieved 14 October 2020.
  28. ^ Busari, Kemi (5 December 2017). "Senator backs calls for Police SARS scrapping". Nigeria: Premium Times. Retrieved 2 January 2018.
  29. ^ "Nigeria: SARS overhaul is positive step but reforms must be robust". www.amnesty.org. Retrieved 26 February 2020.
  30. ^ siteadmin (14 August 2018). "After Osinbajo's Order, Police Rename SARS 'Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad' (FSARS)". Sahara Reporters. Retrieved 26 February 2020.
  31. ^ "Nigeria's acting president orders overhaul of controversial police unit". Reuters. 14 August 2018. Retrieved 26 February 2020.
  32. ^ "Meet SARS, the Police Unit with license to kill". Pulse Nigeria. 23 September 2016. Retrieved 26 February 2020.
  33. ^ "IGP Adamu orders immediate disbandment of SARS". Pulse Nigeria. 21 January 2019. Retrieved 26 February 2020.
  34. ^ Opejobi, Seun (21 January 2019). "IGP Adamu disbands F-SARS". Daily Post Nigeria. Retrieved 26 February 2020.

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