Don’t politicise the fight against crime

By Bala Ibrahim

Following recent barrage of allegations of atrocities leveled against the operatives the police Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Ibrahim Idris, promptly ordered the immediate reorganization of the squad while an investigation is underway to get to the root of the matter. The reorganization that the police chief envisages aims to reposition the unit for more efficiency and effective service delivery to all Nigerians, while ensuring that International core value of policing with integrity is observed.
But, the social media campaign seeking the disbandment of the squad has continued unabated, even as some prominent Nigerian politicians have lent their voices to the agitations.
While the allegations of human rights violations and unlawful treatments of citizens by the SARS call for concern, there is the need to be mindful of criminal elements who would want to seize on the rising sentiments to promote their agenda of getting an otherwise active and effective unit totally discredited and perhaps even removed. The intensity of the ‘bring down SARS’ campaign is suspicious in many ways.
First, the sort of people who are expected to have direct encounter with the unit are those alleged of criminal acts, and most of the cases handled by it are connected with armed robbery and kidnapping. And in combating such acts, there may be need to apply some measure of force. In fact, where there was resistance or confrontation, it normally came down to exchanges of fire. In instances like these, it becomes difficult to stick to the observance of niceties. The paramount concern has always been how to preserve the armless and harmless citizens, even if the perpetrators would be hurt.
Second, the experiences that the Nigeria Police garnered in the apprehending evasive Evans the kidnapper have given credence to the suspicions that top armed robbers and kidnappers have influences that could be wielded to rally support for their interests. It is not out of place to suspect that the social media outburst against SARS has the hidden hands of the armed robbers propelling it.
Third, the politicians who employ the services of robbers and kidnappers to intimidate and suppress political foes are already jittery that the squad is daily clamping down their enforcers. How long would it take before they get exposed themselves? This question will certainly give sleepless nights to such politicians, so it is in their interest to support the scrapping of the unit that is constantly trailing their errand boys. The motive becomes even more suspicious when we look at the links between the principal campaigner and an anti-SARS and opposition governor from the South-south on the one hand, and another desperate politician from the north east, who has been a serial looser in the presidential race, on the other hand. They tried and failed through the Bring Back our Girls. Lost through the Resume or Resign. Lost through IPOB and Restructuring, so they now want to go through SARS. This is a clear sign that the sponsors are either linked with criminal acts or are desperate to get power, in order for them to legalize criminality.
This is not to say that there may not be substance in the claims that some operators are overstepping their boundaries. In fact, while noting that SARS has curbed armed robbery, kidnapping and cattle rustling among other crimes, the IGP is interested in having details of any infraction by the squad, and it is in this regard that he has ordered an investigation into the allegations made against it. In addition, he has seen reason to consider restructuring of the squad for effective management.
Speaking from experience, a retired Commissioner of Police, Mr. Olusola Amore told newsmen that SARS should not be scrapped. “It is like you are asking for the scrapping of the Nigeria Police Force. It is not necessary … The public only needs to ask that the alleged excesses of the unit should be curtailed. When I was the CP in Kwara State, I was able to curtail all the excesses of SARs under my command. All that members of the public need to do is to ask for the telephone number of the state Commissioner of Police, or anybody that they can reach (within the system) to report when SARs is involved in any form of excess”.
“If you scrap SARS because of people’s complaint, and people complain against Mobile Police Force, you scrap them; they complain about traffic wardens, you scrap the warden police; what will be left? You cannot say because one person is bad, then the whole people are bad. Though there are allegations of some bad eggs among SARS, there are many officers among them that are good. Try every system, there are good and bad ones, but once the bad ones are identified, they should be dealt with. Members of the public should feel free and bold to report the excesses of members of SARS to the appropriate authorities.”
It is in this professional direction that the IGP was looking when he urged members of the public who have complaints of rights violations committed by SARS operatives to lodge reports through a variety of platforms, including telephone and social media.
Now, the IGP X-Squad which was mandated to investigate the allegations against SARS will go round the state commands and police formations nationwide to apprehend defaulters.
While this is going on, a plan has been perfected to commence a new training program for all SARS operatives on core police duties, respect for human rights and humane handling and care of suspects in custody. This will be conducted in collaboration with civil society organizations, local and international non-governmental organizations and other human rights bodies.
In all modesty, the call for the scrapping of SARS is unnecessary. It is uncalled for. It is unwise and unpatriotic. A more intelligent demand would have been for investigation into the alleged atrocities, apprehension and prosecution of perpetrator, as well as instituting safeguards against violations of rights.

Ibrahim writes from Abuja

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