Going by its name, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) was set up to combat crime especially armed robbery and other related infractions. It was part of the effort by the Police to rid the society of criminal elements harassing law abiding citizens and plundering their property. At the time the outfit came into effect, the society was literally under siege and SARS was seen as a welcome relief.
But that was not for long as they soon after became part of the problem of criminality they were set up to combat. They became so dreadful that the mere mention of the word SARS sent cold shivers down the spines of Nigerians not because of their effectiveness and efficiency in crime fighting but because they had become notorious for taking the law into their own hands in dealing with criminals and in many cases, innocent people with unimaginable ruthlessness.
Extra-judicial killings became the order of the day as they made themselves willing tools in the hands of mischief makers who used them to settle scores. They had turned into a brutal squad up for hire by anyone who could afford to pay. The members of the outfit deviated from the strike force they were designed to be and joined criminals, kidnappers to abuse the rights of decent members of the society.
They became even more deadly when politicians saw in them a veritable weapon to be used to haunt their opponents. As Nigerians cried in distress, the worse these security operatives got as if they have a score to settle with decent members of the society. That lasted until recently when the Acting President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo made it clear that enough was enough and ordered the Inspector General of Police Idris Ibrahim to do the needful to check the excesses of the squad.
He ordered the IGP to immediately overhaul the entire unit to address complaints and allegations of human rights violations in parts of the country as well as to bring them back to the original task they were assigned to do. The response by the Inspector General was swift as he moved the unit hitherto under the Force Criminal Intelligence and Investigations Department (FCIID), re-designated it F-SARS and placed it under the command of a Commissioner of Police with state and zonal commands to be headed by a Chief Superintendent but not lower than a Superintendent of Police. The new SARS will be intelligence driven and restricted to the prevention and detection of armed robbery, kidnapping and apprehension of offenders linked to the stated offences.
When this decision of the Acting President was made public, the public heaved a sigh of relief as it was believed that, finally, sanity is about to return to the outfit which, in all honesty, played a good roll in the control of violent crimes in the society until they were corrupted and went rogue.
As a media outfit, we commend Professor Osinbajo for taking the bold initiative to put under effective and efficient control that police unit that started well but derailed along the line. The acting President deserves the accolades he is receiving for displaying the courage of his conviction in addressing an issue that had posed a real threat to lives and property of Nigerians.
While the reform is ongoing, we are compelled to suggest that those to be recruited into the new set of F-SARS ought to be subjected to psychological tests to ensure that they are in the proper frame of mind to be put in charge of duties that brings them in close contact with civil society. The must also receive the right orientation that will make the public feel safe as they interface with them. Furthermore, wearing vests with SARS on them must be seen to be not enough identification mark as they go about their duties. They must necessarily be made to wear easily readable name tags.
We are by no means limiting this reform measures to F-SARS alone. The entire Police force must receive the same treatment which, in our opinion, include a general review of the recruitment process to ensure that the right people are allowed access to the uniforms and weapons acquired with taxpayers’ money. What is going on now is that recruitment into, not just the Police, but also other arms of the disciplined forces has become, dangerously, a means of political patronage which does not leave room for professional assessment of prospective entrants into the force.
It is from this standpoint that we applaud the decision of the National Economic Council (NEC) to decentralise the operations of the police to aid security agencies in having greater access to information they need for easier handling of challenges they encounter along the line of duty.
However, it is the opinion of this newspaper that, as the whole gamut of police operations involve human beings, any measure that is be taken must start from the mind of those human beings who will eventually carry out the operations.