WHEN Inspector-General of Police Mohammed Adamu early this week put the curb on the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (FSARS) and its components under state police commands (SARS), it wasn’t the first time the squad was being reined in without enduring effect. Hence, many people wondered: what’s new?
The police boss had said the anti-robbery unit and other tactical formations of the Force were prohibited from conducting routine patrols and other low-risk security tasks like stop-and-search, mounting of road blocks and traffic checks. Operatives were to “concentrate and respond only to cases of armed robbery, kidnapping and other violent crimes when the need arises.” A statement by Force spokesman Frank Mba cited the IGP warning concerned personnel against invading the privacy of Nigerians through “indiscriminate and unauthorised search of mobile phones, laptops and other smart devices,” adding that no Force personnel should henceforth perform official tasks in mufti but rather in police uniforms or approved tactical gear.
The new directive came against the backdrop of fresh public uproar over excesses of ‘SARSists,’ including extra-judicial killings and brutalization of purported suspects. The public has for years advocated that the squad be scrapped, amidst a rash of rouge killings and grievous bodily harming of hapless victims. But Adamu impliedly deflected that clamour, saying FSARS and other tactical formations were strategic in Nigeria’s battle against violent crimes. He however deplored acts of “unprofessionalism, abuse of human rights and high-handedness” by some personnel of the squads.
We wait to see how far this latest curb carries. Among notable interventions on the matter is one by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who confessed being angry over wanton arrests, maiming and killings of young people – or anyone at all – by SARS operatives and canvassed thorough reform of the squad. But he wasn’t coming to those terms for the first time. Osinbajo it was who, in August 2018 as Acting President, ordered the overhaul of SARS and its remodeling to a formation that is intelligence-driven and restricted to prevention and detection of armed robbery and kidnapping, as well as apprehension of offenders. In line with that order, former IGP Ibrahim Idris directed SARS personnel to stop routine patrols and search of citizens with smart gadgets “unless the search is directly linked to a case directed by IGP or any person or persons he so delegated.”
Similar directives have been issued against SARS a number of times in recent history. Where the squad was back at to warrant IGP Adamu’s fresh directives showed it’s been a leopard unable to change its spots. Since there is official reluctance to disband the unruly squad, the usefulness of the latest peremptories will be in how enduring they impact its operations. We wait to see.