In 1991, as Shina Rambo and his gang of masked robbers unleashed a reign of terror in Lagos, Nigeria's commercial and economic capital--snatching cars and staging shooting sprees from convoys--then Deputy Commissioner of Police (Operations) in Ikeja, Mike Okiro and his team, brainstormed on a separate outfit that could give the robbers a run for their money and prevent the city from being overrun.
A special police unit, whose objectives would revolve around tackling the rampaging and brazen robbers, was born. It was called the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
Armed with walkie talkies and dressed in plain clothes, SARS personnel were not tasked with regular police duties like controlling traffic, investigating crimes or arresting suspects, in the early days.
They had only one job: to hound robbers and bring them to heel.
As Okiro puts it, "The idea of (SARS) was that they would be in mufti and armed simply for the very important element of surprise.
"They would take cover, and communicating with walkie-talkies, hit the armed robbers.
"They did that a few times, and the robbery attacks (in Lagos) went down, drastically, and at a point stopped altogether."
These days, SARS operatives appear to have left the armed robbers or criminals they were set up to tackle, to focus on young Nigerians who own laptops, cars, sport tattoos or dreadlocks or who fit their profile of internet fraudsters or 'Yahoo-Yahoo boys'.
They then corral them into rickety buses and forcibly demand cash from them in exchange for their freedom.
Sometimes, these young men are killed by trigger happy SARS operatives before they even have a chance to defend themselves.
From a special police unit that smoked robbers out of towns and cities, SARS has become the poster boy of extra-judicial killings, police brutality and human rights abuses across Nigeria.
SARS has clearly derailed from its mandate and it has been this way for years.
Just as the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) has deteriorated through the years, amid poor conditions of service and greed within the rank and file, so has SARS.
There are countless people who have had their lives snuffed out by SARS or police personnel armed with a license to kill.
There is no better time than now to remind SARS of the objectives for which it was set.
The presidency, the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu, and the Commissioners of Police across the states have to do better in terms of raising a new tribe of police and SARS personnel who are civil, better educated and better trained.
There should also be consequences for SARS or police personnel who go rogue or who kill unarmed civilians without provocation or at the slightest provocation.
Numerous attempts over the years to reform or restructure SARS have yielded little. Tales of SARS brutality and extra-judicial killings by SARS operatives remain rampant across the country.
Men and women of the police force and of SARS have to be raised and trained to be above board from the moment they are recruited.
They should also be taught civics, retrained to be better police officers who engage members of the community professionally, retrained on how to handle arms and when to deploy weapons and given a whole new orientation on decency and rules of engagement.
We can reform and restructure SARS to become a 21st-century crime-fighting outfit.
This will require that the Police cleanses itself and that the presidency, federal and state governments implement much needed reforms that will enhance the looks, pay and overall well being of law enforcement agents.
Extrajudicial killings and human rights abuses by SARS and police personnel really need to stop and now. The police should be protecting the people, not killing them.
*Pulse Editorial is the view of the editorial team at Pulse. It does not reflect the views of the organisation Pulse.