After defying the earlier directives by former Inspector General of Police (IG), Mr. Ibrahim Idris, the operatives of the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (FSARS) and other police tactical squads have again been barred by the IG, Mr. Mohammed Adamu, from routine patrols, wearing mufti and engaging in stop-and-search.
The latest directive followed the extra-judicial executions, intimidation and general abuse of the rights of citizens by the operatives of the FSARS.
A citizen-led twitter campaign tagged: “End SARS” was launched against the killings and arbitrary arrests by FSARS personnel and had trended for some time without a satisfactory response from police authorities.
The killing of innocent citizens in Delta and Lagos States at the weekend had prompted the extension of the “End SARS” campaign to “Kill SARS,” setting the stage for a potential all-out citizen-led verbal attack on FSARS personnel.
There were still twitter alerts of SARS operatives searching youngsters from Oworonshoki to Kara and Sango Bus Stop in Lagos as of the time of filling this report.
But a terse statement issued yesterday by the Force Headquarters in Abuja said other tactical squads affected by the ban include the Special Tactical Squad (STS), Intelligence Response Team (IRT), Anti-Cultism Squad and other tactical squads operating at the federal, zonal and command levels were banned from carrying out routine patrols and other conventional low-risk duties notably stop-and-search duties, checkpoints, mounting of roadblocks, traffic checks among others.
The statement signed by Force PRO and Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP), Mr. Frank Mba, said the ban takes immediate effect.
“No personnel of the force is authorised to embark on patrols or tactical assignments in mufti. They must always appear in their police uniforms or approved tactical gear,” he said.
The statement said: “IG’s directives came against the backdrop of findings by the leadership of the Force that a few personnel of the tactical squads hide under this guise to perpetrate all forms of illegality, contrary to the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP), Code of Conduct and Rules of Engagement establishing the squads.
“Specifically, the IG has warned the tactical squads against the invasion of the privacy of citizens particularly through an indiscriminate and unauthorised 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.”
The IG noted that the FSARS and other police tactical squads remain a critical component of the force in confronting prevailing and emerging violent crimes in the country.
He, however, condemned every act of unprofessionalism, abuse of human rights and high-handedness by some personnel of the squads.
Consequently, the IG ordered the X-Squad and the Monitoring Unit to embark on immediate and massive nationwide monitoring of activities of tactical squads and other police officers on the road.
“They are to ensure prompt arrest, investigation and prosecution of all erring police officers who violate these directives and other extant regulations of the force,” it said.
The IG also warned that henceforth the Commissioner of Police in charge of FSARS, Commissioners of Police in charge of State Commands and the FCT as well as their supervisory Zonal Assistant Inspectors General of Police would be held liable for any misconduct within their Area of Responsibility (AOR).
He, therefore, charged them to ensure effective supervision and mentoring of the personnel of the tactical squads under their jurisdiction.
The IG got the immediate backing of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo (SAN), who applauded the banning of FSARS and other tactical squads from patrols.
Osinbajo, who spoke to State House correspondents yesterday at his Abuja residence described the routine attacks on young people as infuriating, condemning the actions of some officers he called bad “eggs of the Force.”
The vice president urged the police to stick to their mandates, commending Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) for speaking up against injustices meted out by some security operatives on young Nigerians.
However, yesterday’s directive by the IG was not the first time the police authorities would be responding to protests of FSARS.
In September 2018, following an outcry over SARS brutality, the then IG, Idris, issued a similar directive.
“You are barred from searching handsets and laptops of innocent citizens, unless the search is directly linked to a case or directed by IG or any person or persons he so delegated,” the IG had said.
Before this directive, the then Acting-President Yemi Osinbajo had in August 2018 directed the IG to overhaul SARS.
“Following persistent complaints and reports on the activities of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) that border on allegations of human rights violations, His Excellency, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo SAN, Acting-President, Federal Republic of Nigeria has directed the Inspector General of Police to, with immediate effect, overhaul the management and activities of SARS and ensure that any unit that will emerge from the process, will be intelligence-driven and restricted to the prevention and detection of armed robbery and kidnapping, and the apprehension of offenders linked to the stated offences, and nothing more,” a statement from his office had read.
Following the directive, Idris renamed the police outfit federal SARS (FSARS) and ordered operatives to go for psychiatric evaluation.
He also ordered SARS operatives to wear uniforms with identification tags.
However, the notorious FSARS defied Idris’ order and continued extra-judicial killings, harassment and extortion of innocent citizens, forcing the current IG to repeat the same other, two years later.
Meanwhile, two operatives of the FSARS and their civilian accomplice operating in Lagos State, Inspector Sale James, Inspector Monday Uchiola and Mr. Okechukwu Ogbonna were arrested by the Lagos State Police Command for acts of professional misconduct including extortion and intimidation of innocent citizens.
The operational vehicle of the men was also impounded and disciplinary procedure has already commenced against the defaulters.
Mba said the IG reaffirmed his commitment to bequeathing to Nigerians, a reformed police force that is accountable, responsible and ever ready to defend and uphold the rights of the citizens while discharging its duties of keeping the people safe and secure.
He enjoined the citizens not to allow the misconduct by a few personnel of the force to negatively impact on their belief, confidence and trust in the police.