The SARS In Our Midsts !

In the last few months, the news has been riddled with complaints about the unprofessionalism of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) across the Federation which led to the protests by some Nigerians youths. The Issues Magazine can reliably confirm that the SARS is a branch of the Nigeria Police Force under the Force Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department (FCIID). The squad deals with crimes associated with armed robbery, car snatching, kidnaping, cattle rustling, and crimes associated with firearms. SARS officers carry guns, but do not wear Nigerian police uniforms, nor do they wear badges.

            There is no gainsaying the fact that the preponderance of economic and financial crimes like Advance Fee Fraud (419), Money Laundering and other similar crimes had severe negative consequences on Nigeria, including decreased Foreign Direct Investments in the country and the tainting of Nigeria’s national image. The menace of these crimes and the recognition of the magnitude and gravity of the situation led to the establishment of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). The EFCC Establishment Act mandates the EFCC to combat financial and economic crimes. The Commission is empowered to prevent, investigate, prosecute and penalise economic and financial crimes and is charged with the responsibility of enforcing the provisions of other laws and regulations relating to economic and financial crimes. The mission statement of the EFCC is to rid Nigeria of Economic and Financial Crimes and to effectively coordinate the domestic effort of the global fight against money laundering and terrorist financing. As an agency, its vision is to operate to best international standards and leading the fight against economic and financial crimes in Nigeria. The Operations Department comprises of the following sections; Advance Fee Fraud, Bank Fraud, Economic Governance, Counter-Terrorism and General Investigation.

            Cyber Crimes are criminal activities carried out by means of computers or the Internet. Cyber-crime can be defined as crimes in which a computer is the object of the crime or is used as a tool to commit an offense. Offenders may use computer technology to access personal or commercial information, or use the internet for exploitive or malicious purposes. Nigerians have shared stories of how members of SARS engaged in unlawful arrests, high-handedness, humiliation, unlawful detention, and extortion. In recent times, there have been talks geared towards the reformation of the force, instead of full disbandment. An international human right organization known as Amnesty International accused the officers of SARS of detaining young Nigerians illegally and extorting money from their relations. Amnesty International is demanding the immediate scrapping of a police special crime unit because of rights violations and corruption. “SARS is a police unit created to protect the people; instead it has become a danger to society, torturing its victims with complete impunity while fomenting a toxic climate of fear and corruption,” the rights body said. “Our research since 2016 uncovered a pattern of ruthless human rights violations by SARS, where victims are arrested and tortured until they either make a ‘confession’ or pay officers a bribe to be released.”  The End Special Anti-Robbery Squad (END SARS) is an advocacy group opposing the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, a unit of the Nigerian Police Force. The campaign started as a social media campaign using the hashtag #ENDSARS to demand for Nigeria’s government to scrap and end the deployment of Nigeria Police Force Special Anti-Robbery Squad, popularly known as SARS.

            SARS as we have it today has created space for external influence through the power of money. People with the financial muscle now use their money to control SARS (bad elements) by telling them who to arrest, slap, harass and so on, thereby,  shifting them away from their primary duties. In Nigeria, today you can’t move around freely with a starched shirt, flashy nice wrist-watch, a portable high-end phone (like the iPhone model) and car without being harassed and extorted for your successful outlook. The flawed perception that clings to the idea that if a youth is financially balanced then he must be a yahoo boy” (fraudster), neglecting the fact that there are great number of Nigerians who are really doing well in their different legal businesses. If you are lucky when caught up by them (SARS), you shall be asked to pay reasonable amount of money to their account but if you are not, you may be shot, jailed, robbed and/or framed. In considering that stands of law in the menace, the Economic and Financial Crime Commission Act [16] provides the legal framework for the establishment of the Commission. Some of the major responsibilities of the Commission, according to part 2 of the Act, include: the investigation of all financial crimes, including advance fee fraud, money laundering, counterfeiting, illegal charge transfers, and futures market fraud, fraudulent encashment of negotiable instruments, computer credit card fraud, and contract scam, among others. It has also been postulated that that cyber-crime and its vices are under the jurisdiction of EFCC being the body empowered by government to fight all forms of financial crimes including cyber-crimes in Nigeria.

             Sometimes ago, the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) in the United States, indicted about 77 Nigerians on issues related to cybercrime and this prompted the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to place all its offices in the country on red alert in a bid to track down collaborators of the Internet scam in Nigeria. The Cybercrime Act was enacted into law by the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in March, 2015. The objectives of this Act are to: Provide an Effective and Unified Legal, Regulatory and Institutional Framework for the Prohibition, Prevention, Detection, Prosecution and Punishment of Cybercrimes in Nigeria; Ensure the Protection of Critical National Information Infrastructure and Promote Cybersecurity and the Protection of Computer Systems and Networks, Electronic Communications, Data and Computer Programs, Intellectual Property and Privacy Rights. In Nigeria today, several internet assisted crimes known as cybercrimes are committed daily in various forms such as fraudulent electronic mails, pornography, identity theft, hacking, cyber harassment, spamming, Automated Teller Machine spoofing, piracy and phishing. Cybercrime law includes laws related to computer crime, internet crime, information crimes, communications crimes and technology crimes. While the internet and the digital economy represent a significant opportunity, it is also an enabler for criminal activity, that is, crimes committed by people using computers or ICT.  In the same vein, after the series of protests which led to various attacks in some states, most especially in Lagos, Ogun and Oyo where Governor Abiodun and the Oyo state Governor, Engr Seyi Makinde ascertained and ordered the protection of peaceful protesters. Abiodun said, “As a Government which promised to ensure the safety and security of its law-abiding citizens, it is our first duty to keep the people safe from harm,” the letter outlined the primary role of the State Government. It went further to give the Governor’s directive that no peaceful protester should be harmed or arrested, but in a situation where there is any form of unlawful protest leading to the vandalization of public properties, perpetrators of such dastardly act will be brought to book accordingly. “It is essentially the civic right of all citizens to make known their grievances through peaceful protests and demonstrations that will foment no danger to the State and other persons”. Governor Abiodun however stated his understanding of the dire situation occasioned by some unscrupulous elements who took advantage of the situation to vandalise State property and Police stations and vehicles. “I am equally aware of the growing violence that has emerged from this situation, especially as State property and Police stations, vehicles and personnel have been attacked by unscrupulous elements who have taken advantage of the unfortunate situation. “As provoking as this admittedly is, the State Command of the Nigeria Police under your watch should under no circumstance, resort to lethal control that will endanger the life of any citizen,” the letter concluded.  His counterpart, Engr Seyi Makinde who also expressed himself on the various attacks during the #ENDSARS by Nigerian youths recently said, “I have received with deep sadness the news of the passing of one of our children, Jimoh Isiaka, who was shot during the ENDSARS protest in Ogbomoso.

            He later died at Bowen University Teaching Hospital, Ogbomoso. Also, at this same protest, Abdulrasaq Olawale, Oluwadamilare Gbolohunmi, and five other persons sustained injuries and were taken to hospital for treatment. This situation is highly regrettable. I have contacted the Commissioner of Police, Oyo State, Nwachukwu Enwonwu, and other relevant agencies, and investigations into what led to the unfortunate incident are still ongoing. I pray that God grants the parents of Jimoh Isiaka the fortitude to bear this irreplaceable loss. The ENDSARS protests are a strong indicator of a systemic failure. It is a failure on the part of those who have been constitutionally empowered to protect the citizens. It again calls into question why State Governors are called Chief Security Officers of their state whereas, they do not have the necessary powers to control the police force. I will be paying a personal visit to the family of Jimoh Isiaka and I promise to pursue the investigations to a logical conclusion. Peaceful protests are a big part of our democratic process. The right to freedom of speech and assembly are guaranteed by our Constitution, and I will never support any attempt to rob citizens of their fundamental human rights. I call on all residents of Oyo State to please remain calm. I also call on the Police to allow residents of Oyo State protest peacefully without fear of being assaulted”. However, the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu on Sunday 11th October, 2020 announced the disbandment of the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad of the Nigeria Police Force, saying that the operatives will be redeployed to other police formations and commands. It is reported that the announcement came after days of online and offline protests against the brutality and extra-judicial killings by SARS operatives nationwide. At the briefing, the IGP said, “The Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad of the Nigeria Police Force otherwise known as SARS is hereby dissolved in all the 36 State Police Commands and the Federal Capital Territory.” The briefing was immediately followed by a statement signed by Force Public Relations Officer, DCP Frank Mba.

            The statement titled, ‘IGP Dissolves The Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS)’, partly read, “The IGP, while noting that the dissolution of SARS is in response to the yearnings of the Nigerian people, observes that by this dissolution, all officers and men of the now-defunct Special Anti-robbery Squad are being redeployed with immediate effect. “The IGP notes that the Force is not oblivious of the ever-present need to combat armed robbery, kidnapping and other violent crimes in the country which was before now the core mandate of the erstwhile Squad.”

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