By Ekene Odigwe
It is a common sight to see the police stop and search individuals on transit in broad day light and then forcefully extort money from the passengers and even collect their phones before inquiring for identification, woe to you if there’s none.
In some cases when there’s some sort of identity, it won’t even prevent them from threatening thunder and brimstones, then hassle you to unlock phone apps. That is not all, they will scroll through all messages, pictures, videos and Facebook chats.
Someone would argue that they are doing their job to keep the citizens safe. But, let’s understand that there is something called personal effect, personal property that means it is an extension of who we are. What we and the secrets we keep. Yes we keep secrets. Who doesn’t? How about some office secrets or some trade secrets, perhaps some family qualms and all?
Mr. Onyeme Henry recounts how he was grabbed by SARS some time ago along Igwuruta – Etche road in Rivers state. They checked his vehicle papers and everything was in order. They collected his phone and spent close to 15 minutes going through the contents. They later returned it before demanding for N5000 so they could let him go. Imagine such insolence!
This is a squad operating outside the law and inflicting daily brutality on Nigerians who are often legally powerless to defend themselves against criminal accusations, let alone from the torture meted out by SARS.
Stories of how individuals were unlawfully beaten, thrown into jail or arrested are being retold in all corners. People no longer feel safe walking the street, gathering for a luncheon or some after dinner hang out because SARS will molest you with impunity.
Let’s not forget that political opposition, or company competition could bribe some of these agents to plant bugs, micro-chips, or even steal documents for them; not to mention the abuse of power, like it is a must that one has to unlock a phone and when one don’t, it translates to hoarding information.
The big question is how many money bags or politicians have you seen being stopped on the road, not to mention going through their phones unless the person is in opposition or his mere existence is threatening the powers that be. Otherwise, these are the people with the right connection to privatize or even sell Nigeria to the highest bidder.
Some civil society organizations and individuals have started a campaign asking the federal government to look into this matter; but it seems what these concerned citizens are transmitting wouldn’t connect with the transmission room.
I remember an incident when a friend was kidnapped and we reached out to the police hotline. Apparently whoever was on duty that night wasn’t in the mood to help or redirect our request to anyone who could. His scornfully giggle portrays that of a man who couldn’t care less, later he said “go pay the ransom and let us be”, then the line went dead. We tried connecting afterwards but he wouldn’t take the call. It was the most frightening I have ever been.
If an organization established with the sole responsibility of keeping Nigerians safe is not living up to expectation, then of what use is this agency?.
According to the 2016 budget, the police got N7.2 billion, so it couldn’t have been an issue of underfunding.
Just recently at Onitsha, some security agents under the guise of SARS raided a street. First they started harassing and extorting elderly women and every one passing by, collecting their valuables. As if that was not enough, they jumped into a woman’s shop and picked up her wares on display. When her brother stood up to them, together with his elder sister, they were beaten to a pulp, loaded into their vehicle along with some onlookers. No one dared challenge these guys. It seemed almost like we are breeding home grown terrorists. When all these could happen in a broad day light would you imagine, what evil that goes on in the dark?
Meanwhile, let’s not forget how most UBER drivers now bring innocent passengers to the SARS spot. How do you tell someone who wears a shirt and short that she is indecently dressed? Like yes, it is against the law so we are charging you for dressing indecently.
In Nigeria, the Police Force has been typically viewed as inefficient and corrupt, from available statistics; the Nigerian Police alone had killed 7,108 persons in four years as at December 2012. Of the victims, 2,500 were detained suspects.
On my way to Port Harcourt a few days ago our driver was accosted by a mobile police man who was demanding that the transit driver “drop” something otherwise he wouldn’t allow us to leave but on sighting my Identity card after I spoke out he said “oya dey go, soon this Journalist go publish my name”, he quickly covered his name and number. What a shame!
According to Amnesty International Nigeria, apart from torture and rampant bribery, some family members stated that SARS stole their cars or withdrew all the money from their bank accounts. When people don’t pay up, they are detained and these detainees are held in a variety of locations including a grim detention centre in Abuja known as the “Abattoir” where 130 persons were kept as at 2016.
How do you begin to challenge red eyed men who are high on substance and cheap drinks (Alchohol) with a loaded gun to a fight?
Nigerians are being robbed by the Nigerian Police through the SARS and the government is sitting idle, watching.
How are Nigerians supposed to differentiate between these SARS and the robbers when these so called agents wearing no uniform or showing any sort of identification and shooting sporadically in a residential area are really officers of the law? Driving a vehicle boldly written SARS on it is not enough to prove they are who they claim they are. Anyone could get that done.
Until there are checks and balances, killing and maiming citizens as they go about their business will continue to happen; it also means that public safety is not in the presidency’s bucket list.
This is the same issue we had when codeine use was on the rise, all campaigns and advocacy were water off the ducks back until BBC Africa premiered “sweet sweet codeine” then the federal government realized it was bad and announced the ban without alternative or help for the addicts. For how long will this government fail the people? The stories are endless and disheartening, so what should we do? What can we do.
In developed countries the police, SARS inclusive, are made to wear a body camera. This is something the government needs to consider. Head count and clocking in for duty and off duty should be introduced. Their superiors should stop asking for returns, Nigerians are not their clients. Legislators should push for more stringent laws and set example of defaulters. All SARS operatives should be in their uniform and conform to the rules that established it.
The fact is if we don’t stand up against SARS’ brutality and abuse of human rights in Nigeria, soon it will be an ill wind that is stronger than hurricane and windstorms combined and it could carry you or your family too, that’s why #ENDSARS #REFROMPOLICE campaign is one step in ensuring that we build a virile safe Nigerian Society.