Amid concerns over SARS operations in Rivers, police arrest officers for assault

AMID concerns over continued operations by the disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), the Rivers State Police Command said it has arrested officers caught assaulting a man in a viral video.

In a statement on Tuesday, July 11, Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the Command Grace Iringe-Koko said the officers will be investigated and sanctioned according to the regulations of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF).

“The Commissioner of Police, CP Nwonyi Polycarp Emeka Psc LLB PhD, has condemned the police assault and brutality of a man in a video trending on social media. The policemen in the video have been identified and arrested. They are currently at the Command undergoing trial for their unprofessional act, which will serve as a deterrent to other police personnel.

“The Command hereby appeals to the victim to come forward to the Public Relations Department, Rivers State Police Command to give his own statement so as to aid the conclusion of the investigations and his identity will be protected,” Iringe-Koko noted.

The video showed a group of policemen dragging a man into their van in front of Crunchies restaurant, which, according to the accompanying caption, was located in Oyigbo, Rivers State.

At first, two officers were spotted dragging the man by his trousers. He refused to follow them into the van but was overpowered when at least three other policemen joined in the assault.

He was pushed to the ground and later carried into the white Toyota Hilux van parked close by.

Pictures provided by Iringe-Koko showed the faces of two policemen, although the later part of the video captured about five officers involved in the act.

The ICIR reached out to Iringe-Koko to ascertain why only two officers were arrested. She said findings by the Command revealed that the assault was actually carried out by the two arrested officers.

“They are all team members, but these two were the ones that assaulted the man. They were in the CP’s office and we did an interview. We interviewed all of them. But these team members defaulted,” she said.

Residents allege SARS operations

Some residents of Rivers State recently raised concerns over rising incidents of police brutality in the state, alleging that men suspected of being officials of the disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) were still operating and harassing citizens.

In a post on Twitter, a resident, Derek Vinebo, said he was harassed by SARS officials in 2021, one year after the group was disbanded by the Federal Government.

“20.10.20. The day the Nigerian governement murdered it’s citizens. We will never forget. Almost a year later and I got harassed by SARS in Rivers State with my friends in our way back from the market,” Vinebo tweeted.

“I thought they had banned SARS in Port Harcourt. They came to my neighbour’s yard and beat him up,” another user Keyblinks, posted on June 18, 2023.

    Rivers State Governor Siminalayi Fubara has warned against SARS operations in the state, urging the Police Command to investigate the allegations by residents.

    Although Rivers CP insisted that SARS had ceased to operate in the state, cases of police brutality have continued to be recorded against residents.

    The then Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, had announced the disbandment of SARS in October 2020, in a move seen as a prompt response by the Federal Government to the demands of Nigerians youths protesting against police brutality‎ during the #EndSARS protests.

    The IGP also announced the establishment of another police special squad – the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) Team – replace SARS. A statement issued by then police spokesman Mike Mba noted that prospective members of the new team would also undergo psychological and medical examination to ascertain their fitness and eligibility for the new assignment.

    Ijeoma Opara is a journalist with The ICIR. Reach her via [email protected] or @ije_le on Twitter.

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