Nigerians have received news of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) ban from routine patrol with scepticism and have urged the government to ensure implementation.
The announcement by the Inspector General of Police on Sunday evening was poorly received by citizens who described it as one of the many unfulfilled promises.
According to the people, the government waits till they are very outraged and trending hashtags that seem like preludes to street protests.
They immediately release press statements that sound like action and crafted, sometimes, in the words that people want to hear. These hardly translate to action, citizens added.
On Sunday, in the heat of the #EndSARS movement, Nigerians, tired of being constantly targeted by the police under the guise of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), wailed.
Expectedly, Nigeria’s inspector general of police issued a statement in the evening banning SARS from carrying out stop and search duties and setting up roadblocks.
Mohammed Adamu also said members of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) must always wear uniforms.
SARS and other tactical police units have been banned from “invasion of privacy of citizens particularly through indiscriminate and unauthorized search of mobiles, laptops and smart devices,” Mr Adamu said in a statement on Sunday.
They should, he said, focus on cases of armed robberies, kidnapping and other violent crimes.
He also said that police commissioners and commanders would be held liable for the misconduct of officers in the areas they were in charge of.
“We have heard this headline before,” Matthew Paige tweeted after the IGP’s statement was tweeted.
Twitter user, Munachimdinma wrote, “Dangle ‘IGP BANS SARS’ in our faces anytime there’s agitation and then nobody is held responsible for non-implementation until things go back to status quo.”
His thoughts echoed the sentiments of Nigerians on Twitter who told the government to ensure implementation, rather than simply announcing.
Not the first time
This is not the first time government officials have issued this directive. In 2018, during the heat of the #ENDSARS trend on Twitter, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo ordered the IGP to overhaul the management of SARS.
On August 14, 2018, he tweeted, “Following persistence complaints and reports on the activities of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) that border on allegations of human rights violations, I have directed the Inspector General of Police to immediately overhaul the activities of the unit.
“The IGP will ensure that any unit that emerges from the process will be intelligence-driven,” Osinbajo added.
In 2019, following the funeral of Kolade Johnson who was killed by SARS operatives in Lagos, the government ordered for the unit’s disbandment.
@IAboyeji wrote, “How many times will you disband SARS @NigeriaGov #ENDSARS”
@RealDreylo said, “Ban SARS on live TV. Stop giving us audio bans. Let the president come on live TV and ban SARS nationwide. If they stop me on the road, will I start opening twitter for them?
On Sunday, people took to Twitter to share their experience with the policemen who are usually dressed in mufti and extort young people on flimsy grounds.
This time, the stories were heavier. Fear hung heavy in the air as the sad tales poured out. Nigerians talked about losing loved ones to SARS and fearing for their own lives.
The most popular is that young people are usually said to be dressed as internet fraudsters or drug dealers.
The SARS operatives come to this conclusion by simply gauging the flashiness of their clothes, gadgets or cars. There is nothing forensic done and the victims are made to pay between N50, 000 to N500, 000 to secure their release.
The unlucky ones, however, are killed in cold blood with their bodies left on the streets. Some others are detained for long periods before their relatives can afford their bail.
It is a structured kidnapping and robbery ring operated by the very men who have sworn to protect the citizens.
For most people, it is safer to run into armed robbers than SARS. The latter is more likely to kill a citizen for no reason.
Twitter user, Ada Beke wrote, “You are safer with armed robbers than with SARS operatives.”
Akin Joshua wrote, “As it stands now, if I am driving my car and I hear armed robbers are operating in the front while SARS is at my back, I will gladly drive to meet the armed robbers because I know I will be safe with them.”
Mobile app to stay safe
To avoid running into SARS, especially in volatile areas like Lagos and Port Harcourt, citizens have developed several digital platforms.
A mobile application ‘Sety’ gained popularity on Sunday during the online protest. The app lets users know where SARS operatives have been spotted and advise them on routes to avoid.
Other platforms exist on Twitter. One of these accounts is @SARSishere which gives tips on how to avoid harassments from the police group.
In one of its posts, it wrote, “Things to do when you meet a SARS operative. Remove your AirPods or earpiece once you meet them.”
Nigerians have noted that despite the announcement by the IGP, the menace might continue.
In a tweet on Sunday, Seun Onigbinde, BudgIT CEO, wrote, “Those SARS guys will lay low for six months. They will be back. The incentive to extort citizens is a huge one.”
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