This week could well have been judgment day for the police Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). Thousands of young Nigerians are using the #EndSARS hashtag to relay just how badly they’ve been treated by officers who should be protecting them from armed robbers.
It’s been a successful social media campaignthus far; with celebrities and politicians adding their voices to the clarion call to get SARS to behave like humans and not some bestial creatures.
Tales of woes
One lady said SARS made her cough out ‘bail’ money for wearing a G-string. The other said SARS groped her and fondled her breasts.
Young men have told of how SARS personnel led them to the ATM and coerced them into withdrawing money at gunpoint. SARS have arrested people for standing outside their family homes. A lady lost her son after SARS arrested him and ended his life behind bars. The late son was charged with zero crime.
There are videos all over Twitter of SARS or police officers beating up suspects who were found with laptops or smartphones on the assumption that they are ‘Yahoo Yahoo boys' or internet fraudsters. One SARS officer opened fire on civilians at a gas station and returned to the police truck menacingly like he had just won the lottery.
Nigerians have relayed stories of SARS at its very worst--the brutal, iron-fisted police force that kills and maims for a living.
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The atrocities of SARS that have been laid bare this week aren’t anything new. For years, Amnesty International (AI) and the local press have railed against the extra-judicial killings and human rights violations perpetrated by SARS.
Living the SARS nightmare
And the stories told by ordinary Nigerians concerning SARS are believable to the extent that we’ve all lived the SARS nightmare.
During my university days, I was often stopped around the Ogba, Lagos area by SARS personnel and interrogated for carrying a laptop in my backpack. Once, I had to part with money to buy my freedom. My offence? I carried a laptop which automatically made me an internet scammer in SARS' books.
As I drive home from work everyday, there they are—lurking in the Surulere shadows and yelling “how weekend…how work? We dey work for you o. Wetin dey for boys?”, through alcohol drenched breaths.
Close friends and colleagues have shared tales of SARS officers going through their phones and asking them for smartphone and laptop receipts. Is this the job SARS was commissioned to do? prying into people’s private conversations?
Yet the response from the police hierarchy as citizens have shared their tales of horror at the hand of SARS, has been typically asinine.
“As we speak, SARS is doing fantastically well across the country in reducing incidents of robbery to the barest minimum… they are doing very, very well," said police spokesperson, Jimoh Moshood.
Moshood added that those who are calling for an end to the brutality of SARS are perhaps armed robbers.
"There has not been any specific violation of human rights against any SARS personnel. So anybody that is spreading such a rumour is not doing the nation any good.
"SARS has no excesses and when there is any, we do investigate.
"The call for SARS to be scrapped should be condemned by all well-meaning Nigerians. Anybody calling for their proscription is not doing the nation any good and such people should be suspected as having something to hide," the police spokesperson added.
On Monday, the police continued to defend the action of SARS through its twitter account.
“SARS unit of @PoliceNG, for about 40 years of its creation has tremendously recorded and achieved landmark successes in arresting dare devil armed robbers, kidnappers and other violent criminals as well as reducing to the barest minimum, crimes and criminality in the country”, the tweet read.
Playing the Ostrich
The police is playing the Ostrich instead of admitting that its personnel have been an absolute disgrace. Until the police reaches that stage of admittance, it can’t address the problem that SARS has become. Until the police admits that it has an ailment, it can't seek for a cure.
And the police has to reach that conclusion before we can move forward. Living in denial isn't going to help anyone.
No one says SARS hasn’t been fighting robbers as its mandate delineates. But flogging innocent civilians on the streets with whips and pistols is monstrous, barbaric and utterly insane.
Beyond being a successful social media campaign,#EndSARs provides the police and federal government an opportunity to reform not just SARS, but the police force as a whole.
A police force that still solicits bribe on the roads and which still extorts money from motorists each passing day, shouldn’t be living in denial. It should get to work in a bid to fixing the mess it has become.