Nigeria restates ban on SARS operatives from conducting stop and search raids
London, September 5, 2018 (AltAfrica)-The Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, on Wednesday repeated his warning to Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) to stop indiscriminate search of citizens.
Mr Idris reportedly issued the latest directive at a training organised for SARS operatives in Anambra State Wednesday afternoon.
“You are barred from searching handsets and laptops of innocent citizens, unless the search is directly linked to a case or directed by IGP or any person or persons he so delegated,” Mr Idris reportedly said through Amaechi Elumelu, the national coordinator of X-Squad.
Mr Elumelu also reportedly warned officers to stop keeping suspects in perpetual custody without filing court charges, saying they now have a maximum of two days to take issues to court.
“Forthwith, any FSARS officer who detains any suspect beyond 48 hours without recourse to the court risks dismissal,” Mr Elumelu said.
If officers heed Mr Idris’ latest directive, it could engender a significant reduction in the violation of Nigerian Constitution by police officers. The Nigerian law prohibits keeping suspects in custody beyond 48 hours without arraignment, but security agencies have flouted this for decades.
Some citizens have been arrested and kept in jail for years without trial, often on watery allegations and many are sometimes freed without restitution. While brutal tactics of Nigerian law enforcement authorities have drawn increased scrutiny in recent years, the transgressions of police officers have sparked greater outrage and condemnation.
Many citizens have taken to the Internet within the past year to amplify their, often personal, suffering and call for urgent solution by the Nigerian government. In November 2017, the advocacy picked with the launch of #EndSARS, a social media drive which focused strictly on alleged atrocities of SARS personnel.
Although they initially dismissed most of the online complaints as fabricated, and at some point accused the lead campaigner of political inducement and threatened him with investigation, the police later agreed to embrace some reforms. Mr Idris first responded to the raging campaign by ordering a reorganisation of SARS structure nationwide.
The changes included immediate appointment of a police commissioner to oversee nationwide operations of SARS, which is a police department created to tackle violent crimes like kidnapping and armed robbery.
A few weeks later, Mr Idris banned officers from indiscriminately searching Nigerians, especially commuters. The announcement was widely welcomed, especially by predominantly young Nigerians who have long dreaded SARS as a brutal and exploitative police unit.
But few weeks after police announced the new policies, Nigerians began expressing doubts about the sincerity of Mr Idris, as noticeable changes became increasingly elusive. Complaints about SARS excesses appeared more widespread than they were prior to the reorganisation.
By June, Segun Awosanya and other leader campaigners of #EndSARS said it became clear the police were not sincere about reforming the brutal squad, and resumed the campaign with even greater intensity. The advocacy of Mr Awosanya and others often brought them in collusion with police officers online, and several debates were held offline over the matter.
On August 14, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who had been quiet about his position on the #EndSARS campaign like President Muhammadu Buhari, ordered a thorough overhaul of the squad while he was acting president as the president vacationed in London.
A few hours later, Mr Idris announced full compliance with the directive, and distributed a guideline of its implementation. Mr Idris again banned SARS personnel from conducting random search of citizens without strong grounds to do so, like on emergence basis or strong intelligence.
The announcement also said SARS had been changed to Federal-SARS, even though the department had always been addressed as F-SARS in official police statement and documents. The police also said the department had been moved from Force Criminal Investigation Department (FCID) and domiciled under department of operations, again a claim that contradicted a statement they issued in early December 2017.