There were protests in some major cities yesterday – for and against the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), the police anti-violent crimes fighting machine.
The unit has been accused of brutality against innocent citizens.
A group of people promoting the scrapping of the unit surfaced in the social media recently, using the #EndSARS hashtag.
Following the massive campaign, Inspector General of Police Ibrahim Idris promised to restructure and reposition the unit. Police spokesman Jimoh Moshood said to end SARS was to leave the field open for armed robbers to operate freely.
In Abuja, Awka, the Anambra State capital, and Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, protests erupted yesterday.
In Abuja, the Concerned Men and Women Association of Nigeria, a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO), rejected the call for the SARS to be disbanded.
The coordinator of the association, Alhaji Sanusi Ajiya, said Nigerians do not support scrapping the unit.
Ajiya said instead of calling for the scrapping of the unit, Nigerians should seek its restructuring and monitoring of its activities.
“The recent campaign in the social media calling for the scrapping of the SARS is not in the interest of Nigerians,” he said.
But a coalition of civil society groups issued a 21-day ultimatum for the scrapping of the SARS, “failing which we will be compelled to resort to other measures to embarrass them (government) into taking action.”The #EndSARS coalition which staged a protest at the Unity Fountain, Abuja, also demanded the investigation of various allegations against operatives of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad and prosecution of indicted personnel.
The convener of the protest, Segun Awosanya said: “We demand thorough investigations into complaints filed against SARS officers. We demand that such officers be identified and immediately brought to justice. In some cases, we will provide video and pictorial evidence against officers who have been seen to be involved in such acts of brutality and extortion.”
”We give the authorities 21 days within which to meet these demands, failing which we will be compelled to resort to other measures to embarrass them into taking action.”
Some protesters also visited the police headquarters in support of SARS activities.
Deputy Inspector-General of Police (Operations) Joshak Habila, who addressed them, said: “All allegations against SARS will be investigated, they are being put together by the Force Public Relations Officer. The reason we are doing this is because we believe SARS has something to offer, but anyone found wanting will be taken out of the force.
“The Police Community Relations Committee has been telling us some of the wrongs we did and today they are saying they won’t want SARS to be thrown away. The IG is rebranding SARS. Those that have violated peoples rights or kill won’t go unpunished.”
In Awka, a group of youths staged the peaceful protest to back SARS under the aegis of concerned Anambra citizens and non-indigenes
Drawn from various local government areas in the state, they converged on Awkuzu, Oyi Local Government, carrying placards with various inscriptions, such as “Removal of SARS, an invitation to kidnapping, robbery”; “We want crime free Christmas and new year” and “Let SARS be”, among others.
The convener and the Special Assistant to Governor Willie Obiano on Political Matters, Okafor Emeka, said the protest was to drive home their warning against the consequences of scrapping the unit.
He attributed the relative peace in the state to the active and aggressive operations of that arm of the police.
Police Community Relations Committee Chair Francis Ezenwankwo, said those calling for the scraping of the unit had selfish and ulterior motives.
Ezenwankwo said: “We have a system where erring officers are disciplined, including redeployment, training and retraining, to bring out the best from them.”
Obiano’s aide, who handed over the letter written to the Commissioner of Police, Garba Umar, pleaded with the IGP to use his good offices to ensure that SARS remains in the state.
The Deputy Commissioner of Police, Chris Owolabi, who represented the commissioner of Police, praised the youths for their peaceful conduct.
He assured that their message would be delivered to the appropriate authorities.