There was outrage across the country on Sunday over the harassment, extortion and extra-judicial killings of innocent Nigerians by operatives of the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad, one of the units of the Nigeria Police Force.
Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo; the Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege; and the Minister of State of State for Labour and Employment, Festus Keyamo, were among Nigerians who expressed dissatisfaction over the conduct of F-SARS operatives, describing it as unacceptable.
The Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, had earlier, in a swift reaction to the extra-judicial killings and harassment of innocent Nigerians, banned personnel of the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad from engaging in routine patrols, stop-and-search, mounting of roadblocks and traffic checks with immediate effect.
Videos of shooting of a young man by F-SARS in Ugheli, Delta State went viral on Saturday. The security men were said to have fled with his Lexus Jeep and left his body on the roadside.
On Thursday, a sales coordinator with Rifugio Communications Limited, a partner of Samsung, Joshua Oghenekevwe, was abducted by policemen at Epe on his way to Warri, Delta State. They were alleged to have seized his phone and forced him to pay them N100,000 after threatening to kill him.
On September 10, a graduate, Ifeoma Abugu, was allegedly murdered four days after her ‘introduction’ by SARS men, who whisked her away after storming the residence of her fiancé, Afam Ugwunwa, at Wumba village in the Lokogoma area of Abuja to arrest him.
I’m angry about F-SARS’ arrest, killing of young people, says Osinbajo
Briefing State House correspondents at his official residence in Abuja, Osinbajo said he was angry about the actions of some policemen, especially those attached to SARS, whom he accused of harassing and sometimes maiming and killing Nigerians nationwide.
He said such actions coming from those saddled with the responsibilities of protecting the citizens were unacceptable.
Osinbajo, therefore, commended the police authorities for the statement issued earlier in the day on the matter, saying it was wrong for policemen to be seizing laptops and phones from young Nigerians in the name of fighting cybercrime.
The vice-president said, “I am very concerned and in fact sometimes angry about what I see happening to young men and women, who are arrested, and in some cases, maimed or killed by men of the police force; in some cases, those who man tactical units of the police force such as SARS and other units.
“It is completely objectionable. It is unacceptable. These are individuals who are meant to protect Nigerians. The arrest, maiming, killing of young people or of anyone at all by these individuals is completely wrong. It is unlawful. It is illegal and all those involved ought to be investigated and prosecuted.
“This afternoon, I had a meeting with the IG of Police. We reviewed several of these issues. The President and I had had discussions on this. He is very concerned about this and he wants to see a reform of this process and I am sure you are probably aware that the IG has issued a statement, looking at all these issues, in particular, warning against the use of these tactical forces such as SARS for the purposes of anything other than anti-robbery as it is supposed to be.
“For example, in the statement, he specifically said that we can’t have a situation where SARS will say they are investigating cybercrime and arresting young men and women who are carrying laptops and their phones.
“Cybercrime is an electronic crime. There is no way that you can investigate that by seizing people’s phones in a taxi. I think it is very obvious that this is a major concern. The few bad eggs within the police force are causing a lot of these.
People don’t know difference between policemen and armed robbers – Osinbajo
“You cannot say that because you belong to a tactical unit, you can dress in your casual clothing and be armed, because people can’t even tell the difference between robbers and the police; if you are not properly dressed in police uniform. So, clearly, a reform is in the offing.”
Osinbajo urged Nigerians to continue to bring the issue regularly to the attention of government and the police.
He added, “On the part of government and the police: to ensure that every one of those allegations is properly investigated and those found responsible are prosecuted and publicised so that people know that prosecution has taken place and this is the consequence. I am very confident that we will have a reformed police force and that process has already begun.”
However, the IG, in stopping F-SARS from patrols and operating at checkpoints, added that the directive also affected the Special Tactical Squad, Intelligence Response Team, Anti-Cultism Squad and other tactical squads operating at the federal, zonal and command levels.
A statement in Abuja on Sunday by the Force spokesman, DCP Frank Mba, indicated that the directive followed incidents of unprofessional conduct, extortion, and abuse of power by the police operatives across the country.
The statement added that no personnel of the force was authorised to embark on patrols or tactical assignments in mufti, stressing that they must always appear in their police uniforms or approved tactical gear.
The statement titled, ‘IGP bans F-SARS, other police tactical squads from routine patrols,’ read, “Specifically, the IGP has warned the tactical squads against the invasion of the privacy of citizens, particularly through an indiscriminate and unauthorised search of mobile phones, laptops and other smart devices.
“They are to concentrate and respond only to cases of armed robbery, kidnapping and other violent crimes, when the need arises.”
But Sunday was not the first time the police would ban SARS. In September 2018, following an outcry over SARS brutality, Ibrahim Idris, the then IGP, issued a similar directive.
Two officers, civilian nabbed for extortion
Meanwhile, two operatives of the F-SARS and their civilian accomplice operating in Lagos State, Inspectors Sale James, Monday Uchiola and Okechukwu Ogbonna, have been arrested by the Lagos State Police Command for extortion and intimidation of innocent citizens.
The police disclosed that the operational vehicle of the men had also been impounded and the disciplinary procedure had already commenced against them.
“The IG enjoins the citizens not to allow the misconduct by a few personnel of the force to negatively impact on their belief, confidence and trust in the police,” the statement added.
Keyamo calls for comprehensive reforms and overhaul
In a related development, the Minister of State for Labour and Employment called for a comprehensive reform and overhaul of the operations of the police unit.
Keyamo, however, clarified that SARS operatives were not responsible for an alleged shooting of a young man in Ughelli, Delta State on Saturday.
The minister made the revelation in a statement in Warri on Sunday, just as he condemned the recurring brutality and extra-judicial killing by SARS operatives against defenceless Nigerians.
According to the minister, those responsible for Saturday’s shooting are known as Operation Delta Safe and not SARS.
This was as he also revealed that the victim was alive and currently receiving treatment at the hospital.
Keyamo said he already spoke with the victim’s brother, the Commissioner of Police in Delta and the Area Commander in Ughelli, where he said he was born and raised.
Also, the Deputy President of the Senate, Ovie Omo-Agege condemned the recent activities of SARS in the country.
A statement by his media office on Sunday, said Omo-Agege, expressed concern over the disturbing activities of SARS operatives.
Omo-Agege cited the alleged shooting of a man by operatives of SARS in his constituency in Ughelli over the victim’s alleged refusal to allow the operatives to search his phone.
He also recalled another shooting of a youth in the town by men of the Operation Delta Safe over the victim’s alleged refusal to allow the operatives to search his phone to buttress his argument on the need for comprehensive reforms and overhaul of security units in the country.
Omo-Agege called on the police authorities to fish out the culprits for prosecution, stressing that this will serve as deterrent to others.
Save Nigerians from SARS killings, activist begs Buhari, NASS
Similarly, an activist in Delta State, Egwu Alakpodia, decried the recent spate of extra judicial killings and citizens harassment by SARS
Alakpodia, who is the founder, Oghenero Alakpodia Foundation, urged the President, Major General Muhammad Buhari (retd.), the National Assembly and state governors to urgently intervene in the matter to avoid SARS’ further abuse of the citizens’ right to lives.
Dankwambo wants SARS disbanded
In a related development, a former governor of Gombe State, Dr Ibrahim Dankwambo, on Sunday urged the Federal Government to reform the Nigeria Police Force.
Dankwambo stated this in a tweet on Sunday.The two-time governor, who is a chieftain of the PDP, further gave the government option of either reforming the organisation or disbanding its operation, adding that the extra-judicial killings should be stopped.
He tweeted, “Reform SARS or disband it; enough of these extra-judicial killings and maiming of young Nigerians.”
A former Minister of Aviation, Osita Chidoka, called for a review of the current police funding and organisational framework.
He said this in a statement made available to journalists in Awka, Anambra State on Sunday.
Chidioka expressed the need for the Federal Government to fund personnel cost of the police, while states should take over operational and capital costs.
Meanwhile, the Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Hakeem Odumosu, has vowed to arrest, dismiss and prosecute errant police personnel, who disobey the IG’s directive on the ban of F-SARS and other tactical squads in the state.
The state Police Public Relations Officer, Muyiwa Adejobi, said in a statement on Sunday, that Adamu’s directive was aimed at sanitising the F-SARS and other tactical squads in the country, adding that Odumosu had ordered a team to monitor compliance with the directive.
Adejobi said, “In compliance with the directive of the IG, Mohammed Adamu, on checkmating the excesses and sanitising the Special Anti-Robbery Squad and other tactical squads as contained in the press statement issued by the Force Public Relations Officer, Frank Mba, numbered CZ: 5300/FPRD/FHQ/ABJ/VOL. 3/25, and dated October 4, 2020, the CP, Lagos State, Hakeem Odumosu, has vowed to arrest, dismiss and prosecute any erring police officers and men, who disobey the directives in the state.
“The CP re-echoed the IG’s directive in his Ikeja office on Sunday, October 4, 2020, and ordered his monitoring teams to go after, arrest and prosecute any personnel of police tactical squads, including F-SARS, SARS, Special Tactical Squad, Intelligence Response Team, Anti-Kidnapping, Anti-Cultism, or Anti Robbery teams or under any nomenclature from Lagos command or any formation within Lagos State, engaging in stop-and-search and any other low-risk operations like patrol; and operating on mufti, against the directives of the IG.”
Adejobi stated that Odumosu restated that any policeman embarking on patrol, stop-and-search and checking of information must be in his official police uniform with identification cards conspicuously hanged on his or her chest.