Senators, Reps join calls for SARS reform
The National Assembly on Wednesday took steps to make the Federal Government reform the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) unit of the Nigeria Police.
This came on the heels of the calls across the country for the scrapping of the unit.
Though the police high command has said scrapping the outfit was not in its agenda, the Force Headquarters had assured that its reform is the best action to take.
During debates on Wednesday at both chambers of the National Assembly – the Senate and the House of representatives – the lawmakers agreed that there was need to curb the excesses of SARS operatives and make all security agents answerable for their individual actions.
The Senate mandated its Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters to investigate human rights abuses by security agencies as well as allegations of extra-judicial executions and make recommendations for reparation.
It also urged the various security agencies to establish hotlines to enable Nigerians to report abuses by their agents.
The Upper Chamber urged the various security agencies to establish a special bureau unit that monitors the conduct of its officers, arrest and charge erring ones.
The House of Representatives asked the Inspector General of Police (IGP) Mohammed Adamu to submit to the parliament a five-year comprehensive record of disciplinary measures taken against officers of the force engaged in police brutality, extortion and harassment.
Senate President Ahmad Lawan supported the calls to reform the police unit instead of scrapping it.
Lawan spoke on a motion by the senator representing Lagos Central, Oluremi Tinubu, on the need to curb the excesses of security agencies, especially the dehumanising activities of the SARS.
Lawan said: “I think this is a situation that should be properly investigated. The recent incident should not be swept under the carpet.
“Those involved should be arrested and prosecuted. I don’t think it should be scrapped. It should be reformed.”
In her lead debate, Senator Tinubu stressed that security agents had continued a culture of brutality towards innocent Nigerians, despite clear provisions of the Constitution and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights against torture.
She said: “Only recently, the internet was awash with videos of some cadets of the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA), who created an illegal blockage at Sabo-Yaba in Lagos State while exclaiming that it was their turn to oppress Nigerians and nothing could be done about it.
“While the Nigerian Army is doing a good job in securing the territory against insurgents, allegations of human rights abuses by its officers cannot be overlooked.”
She urged the Senate to show concern that the chief abusers of Nigerians appear to be the police, especially its SARS unit.
Senator Tinubu also urged the “Senate to be saddened over the news of the alleged killing of Kolade Johnson, on April 1, 2020, while watching a football match at a viewing centre in a community in Lagos State.
“Only recently, Kazeem (alias Kaka), a budding football star, was pushed out of a moving vehicle to his death by SARS operatives after he had been stopped for looking like a ‘Yahoo’ boy.
“In August 2019, a video surfaced of two policemen shooting dead two unarmed people.
“Nigerian youths can no longer move freely for fear that they will be profiled and accused of being ‘Yahoo’ boys or fraudsters merely because they look good, own laptops, iPhones, nice looking cars or profiled as having dreads.
“Only recently, the global and social media was awash with the #ENDSARS campaign.”
Other senators supported the motion.
The House of Representatives also resolved to develop legislative actions, amend existing laws, the Constitution, delete Section 215(5) and replace it with provisions that ensure that judicial review of police actions is enshrined and protected by the Constitution.
It resolved to establish a framework for holding individual policemen accountable for their conducts in performing their lawful duties, including criminal and civil liabilities, while allowing the Nigeria Police Force to bear civil liability for failures in its conduct and operational procedures that lead to violations of citizens’ rights.
Moving a motion of urgent public importance, House Leader Alhassan Ado Doguwa expressed concern about the persistent outcry by Nigerians over the brutality and human rights violation by SARS.
Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila expressed concern about the activities of the police unit.
He said it was unhealthy that those saddled with the responsibility to protect Nigerians have betrayed the trust.
Hundreds of aggrieved youths on Wednesday protested at the Lagos State Police Command headquarters in Ikeja, calling for end to SARS excesses.
They carried placards with various inscriptions like “Am I the next to die?”; “Stop Police Brutality”; “Why shoot bullets at us?”; “I am not a criminal #EndSARS”; “Our lives matter”; “Stop criminalising innocent citizens” and “Stop extorting and killing us.”
From Ikeja under Bridge opposite Computer Village, the protesters marched and danced to the police command headquarters where they presented a signed register outlining their pains in the hands of SARS.
They demanded that the names of all officers who had been found culpable be made public and subjected to transparent prosecution.
They called for a public enquiry on past activities of the unit, adding that all SARS detention centres must be made open for independent investigators to assess them.
The protesters said some people were kept in SAR police custody for up to four years and more for standing in front of their homes or running errands.
According to them, the police hierarchy must ensure all unjust harassment and extortion of youths by their men and officers are brought to an end.
The protesters said policemen on duty must have their name tags depicting their units as well.
They said the police should outlaw the norm of gun-wielding policemen dressed in civil apparel in unmarked vehicles while on duty.
Some of them relived their ugly experiences or those of their family members in the hands of SARS operatives.
Although they could not realize their request to meet Police Commissioner Hakeem Odumosu, the protesters refused to leave but converted the inroads to the command headquarters as sit-outs.
Their resilience later paid off when the Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP), Operations, Ali Muhammed, addressed them and sued for peace.
He promised that the police high command would correct the anomalies.