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Why it may be difficult to scrap dreaded FSARS group

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OBI Onyebuchi, ‘not real name’ is known as a TailorBoi on social media. On September 13, 2019 at about 8 pm, he received a call from a probable client to visit and take a measurement to sew a new fabric. Because the new client resides in Ikorodu, Lagos, he suggested they meet in Ketu still within the state, in an indoor bar due to the distance from his shop.

By 9:30pm he got to the location, took the client’s measurement and they both agreed on payment. Within 30 minutes, he was done. Set for home by 10pm. Suddenly, he received a call from his sister to stay away from home for the night due to a violent attack around their residence.

“Hoodlums are fighting and shooting sporadically,” he was told. Peradventure, to avoid being caught in the web, he decided to lodge in a motel. Suddenly, as he approached the motel, he was blocked by officials of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) with a black uniform and the SARS inscription.

“The next word I heard was ‘enter motor, you are under arrest.” For what crime? He queried the gun-wielding operatives.

As he attempts to prove his identify by displaying his measuring tape rule and Identity Card, one of the officers, he said held him up, and tried pull him into the vehicle. In the process, he fell and was beaten up into the vehicle.

“They were trying to pull me up, while I was trying to pick up my ID card, then a backhand slap landed on my face, I was bleeding from the mouth,” he said narrating his ordeal.

According to him, the same officer who slapped him had lied he bit him. In a swift, four other officers reportedly came running with guns cocked. “One pointed at me and said he will waste me here if I don’t cooperate and no one will know.

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Eventually, the suspect was labelled a ‘yahoo boy,’ at the Ketu police station where he was reportedly taken for custody. In the process of profiling, another officer had allegedly shouted, “na cultist, he dey waka for night.”

The next thing was to push him into the cell except he bails himself with N100, 000. The Nigerian Police has always advocated bail is free. On its verified twitter handle, it has repeatedly shared similar message and released phone numbers for public use, should any officer demand a price for bail, yet, it looks like a deceit.

However, Onyebuchi said he was later asked to pay N2, 000. His finger was marked with a marker to indicate he was just returning from the prison cell, and to distinguish him from other possible victims of arrest.

“We left the station, getting to Ikosi road, I saw the same Danfo again filled with boys, they stopped us, we showed them the mark, they allowed us go…”

Sadly, series of this similar happenings and narration is not new. Some would say Onyebuchi was lucky because he lived to tell the story. There are others who had died of similar form of injustices perpetrated by the SARS unit and could not live to narrate their ordeals.

Still, Onyebuchi told The ICIR all he wanted is for the Federal government to scrap the feared police unit.

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How remorseful are trigger-happy FSARS operatives

In 2016, Tochukwu Iro, a 42-year old patent medicine dealer in Kano state was shot dead by SARS during a routine stop and search exercise. He was shot on the thigh along France road, adjacent Kano Pillars stadium.

The incident caused a public outcry after the deceased was pronounced dead at the Murtala Mohammed Specialist Hospital located in the state.

In the same year, in another part of the country, the SARS unit shot dead a 20-year-old undergraduate in Lagos. Though the accused officer was apprehended, four years down the lane, the arbitrary shootings has not ceased.

In 2018, angry residents from Iwo Town, Osun State, set ablaze a police station after SARS officials allegedly killed Tunde Nafiu, a student of the Federal Polytechnic, Iree. Kolade Johnson, a 36 years old father was hit by a stray bullet shot by the Police officials, as he was departing from football viewing centre.

Tiamiyu Kazeem’s dream of becoming an international footballer in Sweden was cut short early in the year. His story is not different from similar attacks that led to the untimely death of the above deceased persons and other unreported cases. He was allegedly pushed to an incoming vehicle after his arrest by SARS operatives.

Extrajudicial Killings caused by SARS (2016-2020)

Despite all these incidents, the Federal Government under leadership of different Inspector General of Police (IGPs) claimed to have scrapped the dreaded SARS group. The most recent attack in Ugheli, Delta State which sparked nationwide condemnation pushed for the disbandment of the group – fourth time it is being pronounced disbanded in four years.

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In fact, the October 4 declaration by Mohammed Adamu would be the second pronouncement made by the same authority in one administration.
Does FSARS operatives comply with special dressing code, what’s the selection mode

Notable question that has probably run through the mind of most Nigerians is the dressing code of the FSARS operatives. More so, the selection mode to become a member. Is it by competence, intelligence or might. All of these remained sketchy. Still, several pictures of SARS operative traceable on social media has often depicted the police officials in bad light.

Some victims of SARS extortion and other abuses have often misrepresent the operatives as criminals due to the dress mode. In 2019, the force threatened to sanction Inspector Michael Olubode, one of the SARS officials whose picture widely circulated on the social media and became serious public concern.

Inspector Michael Olubode, a wrongly dressed FASRS officer summoned for questioning in October 2019 by the Police Authority. Photo Credit: Social Media

Publicly verifiable pictures show police officials looking unclean, with a bushy hair and tattered jean. Some would even taint their hair, such that they could easily blend in to a unit of notorious gang group.

Seun Onigbinde, founder of Budgit, for instance had his fair share of experience. “A truck hit my car on Lagos – Ibadan expressway. We had to wait for the owner. Few hours later, I saw some poorly dressed men slinging guns around,” he tweeted.

“I asked my PA, are these men armed robbers, who are they? They are SARS, he answered.”

Another social media user @NurseDammy was quick to had his voice, “They are always dirty, unkempt and ferociously-looking like armed robbers.”

“I don’t know where in the world will a police officer be looking more dangerous than armed robber if not in Nigeria.”

A check through the Police Act does not clearly state a particular dressing pattern for a tactical unit of the force but it insists clearly the use of the police uniform. In fact, Regulation 370, Section P of the act kicked against any form of uncleanliness in force irrespective if officers are on duty or otherwise.

“Uncleanliness, that is to say, if he, while on duty or off duty in uniform in public place, is impropriety dressed or is dirty or untidy in his person, clothing or accoutrements,” the law reads.

Section Q particularly cautioned the officers against unlawful exercise of authority but not much of the law has been held sacred.

 

Are Nigerians being fooled for the umpteenth time?

Over the weekend at the peak of SARS public condemnation, Adamu, through the Force Public Relations Officer, Frank Mba announced the suspension of SARS officials from mounting routine road blocks.

The press statement does not clearly state disbandment of the FSARS group or its dismissal as demanded by the public over the years.

In fact, Adamu emphasised on how important the dreaded team has been to checking case of kidnapping, anti-robbery and the likes.

Except for the restriction on use of mufti, invasion of peoples privacy and ensuring full compliance with standard rule of engagements, the public still believe nothing has changed.

“The IGP notes that the FSARS and Police tactical squads remain a critical component of the force in confronting prevailing and emerging violent crimes in the country,” the statement read in part.

24 hours after the pronouncement, there were reports of flagrant abuse of the IGP’s order. The social media was filled with different video footages of police officers still mounting road blocks and asking for vehicular documents.

“I thought the IGP banned stop and check yesterday by the Police, FSARS, SARS….this is how I started my Monday morning at Shomolu,” Toba Adeyeye @OtunbaToba tweeted on the social media, proving a clear violation of the earlier directive.

“My final offence was I am using a privately registered vehicle to carry goods.”

A similar footage shared by Somto Okonkwo @MrSomtoOkonkwo emerged on the social media. The 29 seconds video showed the same harassment the operatives were warned against.

“Just this morning at Urora junction, Benin City, Edo State, FSARS continue terrorise innocent citizens,” he tweeted.

Efforts to understand operational model of the FSARS team, particularly if they are at liberty to dress as they wish and if their operation attracts special allowances got no response from Frank Mba, the Police Spokesperson, when contacted by The ICIR.

Author profile

Olugbenga is an Investigative Reporter with The ICIR. Do you have a scoop? Shoot him an email at oadanikin@icirnigeria.org. Twitter Handle: @OluAdanikin

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