Two groups, the Access to Justice (A2Justice) and the Network on Police Reform in Nigeria (NOPRIN), have faulted the measures taken by the Inspector-General of Police Ibrahim Idris to overhaul the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). They said the reform measures appeared to be a kneejerk reaction, which they described as “cosmetic”.
Acting President Yemi Osinbajo had last Tuesday directed Idris to immediately overhaul SARS by ensuring that it becomes an intelligence-driven unit. The presidential directive followed ceaseless outcries of Nigerians against the atrocities of SARS operatives.The groups said while they commend Osinbajo’s intervention, they regret that it took this length of time for Nigeria’s leadership to rise to the occasion and act. According to them, had SARS been reformed sooner, it could have possibly saved hundreds of lives lost to police violence each year and spared many Nigerians excruciating and harrowing encounters with SARS operatives. The groups, in a statement by A2Jusice’s Director Joseph Otteh and NOPRIN’s National Coordinator Okechukwu Nwanguma, said the latest changes were mostly a rehash of old policies.
“Late last year, the IGP had promised that the SARS unit would be revamped, announcing measures similar to the ones he has now outlined, but the promised changes did not materialise and SARS personnel continued to prowl the landscape with accustomed impunity. “After a review of the IGP’s new ‘overhaul’ order, we are convinced the measures come too short, and do not go far enough of what is needed to reform SARS.“The measures first of all appear like a knee-jerk reaction to the Presidential directive, having been announced just on the heels of the directive.
“Such speed does not provide evidence of thoughtful reflection, sober deliberation, wide and strategic consultation on an issue of such huge public importance. The IGP over-sped on the response in a way that questioned his genuineness of purpose,” they said. According to A2Justice and NOPRIN, there are no measures of accountability for unlawful actions proposed in the new policies. They noted that the IGP provided communication channels for reporting grievances against FSARS, but did not commit the police to ensuring that every complaint atives will be promptly and fairly investigated, and where substantiated, result in a definite outcome.
They pointed out that the police had always had communication lines for reporting unlawful or unprofessional behaviour of its officers but with no action taken; instead complainants are sometimes turned to crime suspects. “The internal police complaint procedure is abjectly unreliable and uninspiring,” the groups said. Besides, they said the IGP failed to offer concrete proposals for ensuring safeguards against abuses. Specifically, they said there were no measures/guarantees for protecting complainants, ensuring complaints get fair and speedy consideration, and that complainants are not subjected to reprisal attacks or persecution by persons within the police system
“A2Justice and NOPRIN, therefore, call on the IGP to go back to the drawing board, and fashion a new, more embracing and inspiring set of reforms for SARS – a set of measures more credible, purposeful and efficacious than the ones he has just released. “In addition to this, A2Justice and NOPRIN urge the IGP to undertake similar but far-reaching measures to reform the police force as a whole, and not focus on SARS alone. “The police force has been systematically degraded over the course of several decades, and is too broken, at this time, to offer services that meet the professional policing needs of Nigerians.
“Undertaking a holistic reform is needed to ensure that reforms of any Units within the police force stand a chance of succeeding. If the police force remains the way it is, the overhaul of the SARS unit will largely be unfruitful and unsustainable over time,” the groups said. A2Justice and NOPRIN urged the Presidency to order the rejuvenation of the Police Service Commission (PSC), which they accused of inertia. “Since 1999, that body has stayed inert, and neglected to perform its more important constitutional role in ensuring the police force is accountable; delegating, instead, its disciplinary functions to the same people it ought to oversee.
“This is a major anomaly that has contributed to the sustained culture of impunity within the police force and must be addressed simultaneously with efforts to reform the police force. “A2Justice and NOPRIN urge the President to give directives that push the PSC into more active gear, to justify its existence and play its part in reforming Nigeria’s police force into a truly democratic institution,” the groups added.