Ogun SARS bloodletting: One killing too many
The unabated vicious killings by operatives of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and their colleagues from other units, recently, have necessitated renewed calls for the reform of the unit and indeed the entire Police system.
In 2018 and last year, for several months running, SARS was in the news, not because of positive records in crime fighting, but due to ceaseless killings and attacks on innocent citizens and gross infringements on their fundamental human rights.
Recent killing of a Remo Stars Football Club player, Tiamiyu Kazeem, also known as Kaka, by officers attached to plain-clothed Police outfit called Zonal Intervention Squad (ZIS), under the Zone 2 Command Headquarters in Lagos, has resurrected the call by Nigerians for the total scrapping of SARS and other plain-clothed outfits of the Police.
The Police had earlier lied, claiming Kazeem jumped out of the moving vehicle in which he was been conveyed and was crushed by an oncoming vehicle. But truth was later unraveled when his friend, one Abubakar, alleged that Kazeem was actually pushed out of the vehicle by an operative.
The policemen had arrested Abubakar and the deceased in Sagamu, where they had parked their vehicle to buy engine oil, and accused them of being suspected fraudsters, otherwise call yahoo-yahoo boys, adding that the plain-clothed operatives, who were in a Toyota Sienna vehicle, had seized their mobile phones.
Abubakar recounted: “We were going to his (Kazeem) father’s house when he parked at Ita-Oba Roundabout in Sagamu to buy engine oil for his car. After he left, the SARS guys parked in front of the car and started interrogating me.
“They asked who I was, what I was doing there and who owned the car. I told them the car belonged to my friend (Kazeem) and they asked where he was. I told them he went to buy something.
“They took my phone and my friend’s phone from me; they did not explain anything to me. One of them handed the phones to another guy in the Toyota Sienna.
“Afterwards, my friend returned from where he went to buy the engine oil; they grabbed him and pushed him inside their Sienna car and started driving. They said they were taking us to their headquarters.”
Abubakar explained that one of the officers drove Kazeem’s car and trailed the Police operational vehicle, where his friend was held, noting that after the vehicles passed the Area Command’s office at Sagamu, he queried the policeman, who insisted that they were going to SARS headquarters.
The victim’s friend said after passing the Sagamu Interchange, the policemen parked at a junction and continued to interrogate them, saying the officer with him opened the boot of the deceased’s car and when he (Abubakar) attempted to get out of the vehicle, the Police threatened to shoot him dead.
“Then they started driving again. I just saw the door of their Sienna opened and they pushed my friend out of the moving car onto the road. A car coming behind us hit him.
“After hitting him from the lane, Kaka jumped to the other lane. I came out of the car, shouting and crying for help. We put him inside his car, because they did not want to put him in their vehicle, and took him to a nearby hospital, but he was rejected.
“They asked us to take him to the General Hospital in Owode. When we got to the general hospital, we could not find the Sienna vehicle where the other SARS officers were; they had run away.
“I then saw the SARS guy that drove us making calls and asking his colleagues to come that he was in the hospital. I observed that he was moving towards the gate and I ran after him.
“We dragged each other as I insisted that he was not going anywhere and he must kill me like they killed my friend. The hospital workers came out and held him for me, while I went to call the Police, the parents of Kaka and our manager.”
Kazeem’s killing had triggered wild outrage, as residents of Sagamu protested the unwarranted killing of the Remo Stars FC defender. One person was suspected to have been killed after the protest turned violent.
The protesters were at the palace of the Akarigbo and the Paramount Ruler of Remoland, Oba Babatunde Ajayi, carrying placards and demanding justice for the deceased.
The police authorities have dismissed the particular SARS officer that pushed the footballer to his death, Olaniyi Ogunsoro, after and orderly room trial, according to the Ogun State Police Command spokesperson, Abimbola Oyeyemi, who had earlier defended the actions of the operatives, saying: “The SARS officer, Olaniyi Ogunsoro, has been dismissed from service.”
The Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) in charge of Criminal Investigation Department at the Force Headquarters, Ogunyonwon Peter, visited the family of the deceased on Tuesday in Sagamu to commiserate with them, where he announced the disbandment of all satellite offices of SARS and warned policemen to stop killing innocent Nigerians.
Kazeem’s killing is one of the many bloodlettings by plain-clothed detectives, commonly referred to as SARS, in Lagos and across the country.
The blood of four persons killed by officers in Lagos late last year is still crying for vengeance, as are four persons killed in cold blood by policemen in Lagos within two weeks in last month.
Some of the recent incidents include the killing of two friends by policemen at Owutu area of Ikorodu in the outskirts of Lagos, as well as a young man, simply identified as Owolabi, by policemen at Owode Onirin area in the same axis.
Recently, an innocent commuter around Pedro area in Lagos was killed by a Police constable, Segun Agbeyomi, who has been dismissed by the Force is now facing trial at the Ebute Metta Magistrate Court for murder of one Ibru Okomah.
Family members of two friends, Abiodun Awe and Ayo Obeto, who were allegedly shot dead by policemen at Ikorodu area, are still in agony over their dead relatives.
There was pandemonium at the Ilupeju area of Lagos on July 15, last year, when one person was shot dead by SARS operatives of the Lagos State Police Command. Youths and sympathisers then protested what they described as “one killing too many by SARS.”
But Police authorities are often quick in defence of their own, as a swift reaction by the Lagos State Police Command claimed that the boy was killed by stray bullet during an encounter between SARS operatives and notorious armed robbers/cultists.
The Command Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Bala Elkana, said: “On July, 15, about 7.30am, SARS operatives, led by Inspector Mohammed Akeem, while being led by a notorious gang leader, Ikechukwu Monye, 39, to where their arms are kept, were ambushed by members of the gang along Ajisegiri Street, Ilupeju.
“The assailants shot sporadically and at the process, killed a middle age man who was passing by…
“The Command extends its heartfelt condolences to the family of the deceased person and assured them that justice will prevail.”
However, Nigerians hardly trust Police narratives after any of such killings, as they believe such defence is coated with lies.
Ayodele Solaja and Ogheneovo Ebobo were also murdered in cold blood by a Police team led by one Inspector Fabiyi Omowayowa at Iba New Estate in Lagos on August 19, last year.
Just a few weeks ago, a young schoolgirl was killed after being hit by a stray bullet during a clash between the Police and commercial motorcycle operators, popularly known as Okada riders in the Iyana-Ipaja area of Lagos, following a restriction on their activities by the Lagos State Government. The list is endless.
Security analyst and senior journalist, Christopher Oji, who condemned the killing of Kezeem, urged the Police High Command to purge itself of bad elements.
“First and foremost, the killing is condemnable. The rate at which SARS is killing innocent people is becoming unbearable. We cannot keep quiet again; we have to talk. The authority should reorganise or even scrap SARS. Even if they reorganise and rename SARS, it is still the same.
“They should check the calibre of people they give guns. In Police Order Act, I don’t think a Corporal or Constable should carry arms. People who hold arms are from Sergeant ranks, but because of shortage of Sergeants in the Police, they started giving arms to Corporals and Constables.
“If you want to give them arms, you should train them well, educate them and every morning, the head of any section in the Nigerian Police should be able to brief the officers on the Police Order Act and what is required of them. When arms should be used and when they cannot use it.
“It is not that when you are quarrelling with someone, you just fire and kill the person. These SARS operatives drink a lot. They should check them every well. If you watch them, whenever they are going on operation, they take various alcoholic drinks.
“They should advise them against intake of alcohol and that is what is killing them. Some of them kill because of money, so they should orientate them that everything is not about money.
“How can you see a person wearing tattoo on his body and having dreadlocks and just conclude that the person is into fraud and other cyber crimes, a drug addict or 419?”
Oji added: “They see the real people doing these crimes and they are not doing anything to them, rather these SARS go and collect money from them.
“So, they need goal reorganisation. If you scrap them and you form another section, they are still the same people that would be put there. That is why I am saying they should be retrained and schooled about the Police Order Act.
“That Remo FC star that they killed, was he armed? Was he having any harmful instrument? What can a person with bare hand do? It is not justifiable that they killed the innocent boy.
“This is why we are saying that they should retrain them, reorganise that place, put cool-headed and educated people there, tell them and preach to them everyday like a sermon. Don’t say you have trained them today and that tomorrow, you won’t talk to them. In fact, they need to be talked to everyday.
“It is good to have satellite units of Police tactical units, because it is nearer to the people and that is what matters, because if the head remains at the headquarters and we have interior places like Ikorodu, Iju, Ajah, etc, it would be difficult to trail armed robbers or respond to distress calls from the command to those places, except you are going to agree with the Divisional Police Officers (DPOs) that when there is distress, they should go there first before the SARS operatives.
“But you know the lackadaisical attitudes of officers at the divisional police stations. That is why it is good to have satellite units of these anti-crime teams. We still have good people in the Police. Tribalism should not be used as the basis for posting of officers; put the right person in the right units and most of these problems would be solved”.
Another security expert, Felix Ugbechie, urged government to warn the Police to stop truncating the destinies of innocent youths.
He stressed: “The killing of the young footballer is sad, because they keep on truncating the destinies of people. We are talking about youths and a particular institution is reducing the strength and number of them by the day.
“According to the Police Act, you cannot become a Sergeant before six, seven, eight years in service, because by then, you must have experience and be exposed to many things and maturity in the service.
“Again, emotional and mental profiling for policemen should be embarked upon, because most of them are distressed, aggressive and have become threat to society.
“The police should equally take care of their staff. Somebody cannot be outside, risk his life for days, weeks and months and you don’t pay him allowances, because somebody had squandered the allowances.
“Somebody with an arm feels superior and like a god to someone without arms. The killing in Sagamu is pitiable one. I think apart from regular counselling, they should make it a law that if any Police officer kills anybody in error, he or she would also die. That will instill some fear and restriction in them.”
Ugbechie added: “Again the Police should train and continuously retrain. Nigeria is not an island, the security situation here is because of the lackadaisical attitude of the operatives and government does not care.
“The senior officers are the ones that spend the money of the junior officers who do the work. Only a very few commissioners of Police would go and face an armed robber. They are always in the office, doing more of administrative duties.
Government should have an interaction with them, strategically engage them, know their problems and work towards it, because their problem mostly is psychological; they are stressed, on the road most of 24 hours and at the end, they are not given their due allowances.
“They have families and dependants, so at any little thing, they are provoked unknowingly and unconsciously. I am sure nobody wants to kill an innocent person for no reason, or attack for nothing.
“They are killing our youths, children, the future of tomorrow and the destinies of families. Someone spends so much to send his/her child to the school and one policeman kills the child. It is not right.”
According to him: “It is a system problem and I think the Police should address it. Disbanding satellite offices is not the solution to the problem. I think the IGP did that out of anger; it was an immediate response. Everything in life is about strategy.
“Again, they should go into adaptive technology, the world has gone far, we are behind the door, which has been shut against our security system. What they do now is to use cameras everywhere”.