Nigerian senators have joined their voices to the national outrage against the extra-judicial activities of officers of the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (FSARS) of the Nigeria Police Force.
Millions of Nigerians have campaigned for years to have the unit scrapped after numerous well-documented incidents of abuse including harassment, extortion, torture, and extra-judicial murder.
The latest outrage against FSARS over the past weekend led the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, to announce a number of restrictions to their operations on Sunday, October 4, 2020.
During plenary on Wednesday, October 7, Senator Remi Tinubu (Lagos Central - APC), raised a point of concern over the activities of the notorious unit.
"Despite assurances by the IGP that there will be reform of SARS, Nigerians are still daily being abducted and extorted under duress with no mechanism in place for complaints and resolution," the lawmaker complained.
She condemned some of the high-profile abuse cases that FSARS officers have been involved and listed a host of prayers for lawmakers to pass to rein in the excesses of the unit.
In his contribution, Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege (Delta Central - APC), expressed concern that it is now difficult to tell the difference between FSARS officers and actual criminals because of the way they operate.
"These people have become more like extortionists," he said.
Senator Stella Oduah (Anambra North - PDP) also condemned the operations of FSARS as uncivilised, and called for proper training of officers to improve the rules of engagement.
Senator Elisha Abbo (Adamawa North - PDP) said the actions of FSARS officers have been shameful and that the unit must be retooled to perform its primary functions.
"I am calling the IGP to find a way so SARS can be reformed so it can serve Nigerian citizens," the lawmaker said.
Senator Istifanus Gyang (Plateau North - PDP) said the actions of FSARS is not just hurting Nigerians but also hurting the country's global image.
Senate President, Ahmad Lawan (Yobe North - APC), said cases of abuse by FSARS officers should not be swept under the carpet.
However, he said it's not the best idea to scrap the unit, but to reform it to be guided by the rule of law.
"There are good elements in SARS that have been doing a wonderful job.
"If you scrap SARS, for example, you lose the chance of getting those that are doing well to continue to do well.
"Anybody that commits excesses should be prosecuted," he said.
After the deliberations, lawmakers unanimously passed resolutions proposed by Senator Tinubu, including a mandate for the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters to investigate human right abuses perpetrated by security agents.
She also urged various security agencies to establish hotlines to enable Nigerians report abuses by their agents; and for the agencies to establish a Special Bureau Unit that monitors the contacts of officers, and to arrest and charge erring ones.
Another resolution was also passed to mandate the Senate Committee on Police Affairs and Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters to investigate allegations of extrajudicial killings and make recommendations.
The Senate Committee on Police Affairs was also mandated to organise a stakeholders meeting to investigate the implementation of the Police Trust Fund passed in 2019.
According to new measures approved by IGP Adamu, FSARS and other tactical squads are banned from carrying out routine patrols, and other conventional low-risk duties including stop and search duties, checkpoints, mounting of roadblocks, and traffic checks.
They are also banned from embarking on patrols or assignments without official uniform or tactical gear.
"The IGP has warned the tactical squads against the invasion of the privacy of citizens particularly through indiscriminate and unauthorized 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," an official statement read.
Many Nigerians have expressed little confidence in the new measures, especially since they were measures similarly announced in 2017, 2018, and 2019.
Despite the IGP's moves, there are a series of protests scheduled to take place against police brutality in some states this week.