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Police to protesters: Ending SARS will be difficult

By Daniel Anazia, Gbenga Salau, Eniola Daniel, Silver Nwokoro (Lagos) and John Akubo (Abuja)
10 October 2020   |   4:15 am
As the #EndSARS protests continue with verve across the country, with dissatisfied Nigerians from all walks of life demanding an end to the continued existence of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigeria Police, Force Public Relation Officer, DCP Frank Mba has said that it will be difficult to scrap the squad.

Inspector General of Police Mr Mohammed Adamu PHOTO: Twitter

• Says Woman Shot In Mouth Has No Link With #EndSARS Protest
• Lagos Govt, SPN Seek End To Brutality
• Omo-Agege Condemns Murder Of Officer In Ugheli
• We Won’t Condone Attacks On Personnel, Says IGP

As the #EndSARS protests continue with verve across the country, with dissatisfied Nigerians from all walks of life demanding an end to the continued existence of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigeria Police, Force Public Relation Officer, DCP Frank Mba has said that it will be difficult to scrap the squad.

Speaking on the raging protests yesterday on a television programme, Mba said, if the #EndSARS protests were symbolically calling for the reform of SARS, the leadership of the NPF was ready to tow that path, but noted that if the calls were for total disbandment, it will be difficult, considering the amount of investment in training that government has made in setting up the department and the very critical roles it is playing in the nation.

Meanwhile, the Lagos State Command has cleared the air on what transpired in Opebi area of the State last Thursday, where a policeman shot a woman in the mouth, saying it had nothing to do with #EndSARS protest.

The Command gave assurance that it would not leave any stone unturned in its bid to ensure that the victim gets justice.According to the state Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Olumuyiwa Adejobi, the woman, one Miss Joy Eze, living in Owonikoko Street, Idiagbon, College Road, Ogba, Lagos, was shot in her mouth by a policeman at about 9.21pm on October 8, 2020, after a fierce argument between the duo.

He said the policeman, who was in a relationship with the woman, was later identified to be one Sergeant Eze Aiwansoba, attached to the Special Protection Unit, Base 16, Ikeja, Lagos State.

He explained that the identity of the policeman was known after the Commissioner of Police, Hakeem Odumosu, ordered the Divisional Police Officer, Ikeja, to trace the whereabouts of the victim, ascertain her health condition, get more information on the incident and identify the policeman for further necessary actions.

Giving reasons as to why the call for abolition SARS may be impossible, Mba said that, for instance, some SARS operatives were involved in the fight against insurgency and banditry in the north. He said this explains why the Police had begun getting calls to the contrary from people in states like Bornu, Yobe, and some other parts of the north where SARS operatives are deeply embedded in ongoing fights.

“These people have made it very clear that ending SARS is not even an option for them because of the critical roles SARS operatives are playing in those areas, heavily on bandits, terrorists and other kinds of criminals,” he added.

The FPRO disclosed that while some of protesters are genuinely concerned about the excesses and professional misconduct being exhibited by operatives of the tactical squad, SARS, some others simply want it scrapped in order to benefit in its absence.

He said: “I have seen some of the people calling for the #EndSARS who are just pseudo activists and desperate for public validation; people who are looking to be seen as social media influencers. There are also people who are beneficiaries of criminal enterprise. Some of them, are probably people who are receiving stolen goods, who are into organised crime such as arms smuggling, illicit arms movement, importation of drugs and other kinds of crimes that are economically motivated.”

While urging Nigerians to give the Force some time to reorganise, Mba said the police leadership is aware that some officers have conducted themselves in the past in manners that are inconsistent with the code of conduct and oat of office, and standard operational procedures. He stated that the Force has a strong mechanism in dealing with erring officers.

“We will not shy away from this core responsibility of ours in bringing our personnel to book when they err. We are one of those few organisations that will publicly name and shame our own, we are one of those organisations that will publicly arrest our own,” he stated.

The force image-maker reiterated that SARS is a societal and common response that handles crime in the country, stressing that before now, the police never had any special outfit called SARS.

He explained that the unit was set up at a time when armed robberies were on the increase, adding, “The police authorities came up with SARS which became an elevated platform for the police to confront crime.”

But the Lagos state government, yesterday, lent its voice to the call against SARS, asking police authorities to put an end to the incessant harassment of Nigerians by some operatives of the Squad.

The Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) also declared yesterday that they support the protests in some states of the federation against the SARS.Lagos State PPRO, Adejobi, speaking on the woman shot in the state, stressed that the incident had no connection with the #EndSARS protest, noting that preliminary investigation showed the police sergeant was off duty and as such was not issued with police rifle or arms as at the time of the incident.

He said the Command was concerned with the ownership of the arms he used to perpetrate the act.

“The Commissioner of Police has ordered that the fleeing policeman, who is attached to another police formation within the state, be arrested by all means and made to face the consequences of his criminal act. While the Commissioner of Police condemns the act, the Command will not in any way leave any stone unturned in getting justice for the victim, sustaining the ethics and Standard Operating Procedure of the Nigeria Police Force and protecting the fundamental human rights of all and sundry across the state.”

Odumosu appealed to Lagosians, especially protesters, to maintain law and order when they embark on peaceful protests, assuring that the police would do everything possible not to infringe on their rights.

The state government in a statement by Commissioner for Information, Gbenga Omotoso, noted that it understands the pain of those protesting against the SARS.

“We know how painful it is to be victims of police brutality. It is not good. The message of the protests is clear – such acts of brutality must stop. We agree. Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu is discussing the issue with the Police authorities and hopes that the matter will be resolved in the interest of our teeming youths and in the spirit of democracy.

“The government, therefore, seeks the patience and understanding of all those concerned. Steps are being taken to correct the wrongs that have been identified. Let us remain peaceful as the authorities are addressing the issue. The Lagos State Government will do everything possible to ensure that human rights of all Lagosians are protected at all times. The Inspector-General of Police should be allowed to handle the matter, having intervened and issued directives that address the major causes of the infractions that have pitched the people, especially youths, against SARS,” the statement said.

Earlier, the Deputy Governor, Dr. Obafemi Hamzat, while addressing the protesters who stormed the State House, Alausa, Ikeja, said any officer of the squad found to have harassed innocent Nigerians should be arrested and prosecuted.

“It is okay to protest, but I say clearly that it is wrong for any law enforcement agent to criminalise another Nigerian without reasonable course. The police or the law enforcement agents must do their job. In doing that job, you cannot trample on the right of the citizens. You cannot say our youths, because of their looks or they are carrying computers are guilty of a crime. The police job is to arrest people and send them for prosecution if they do something wrong. That tenet must be adhered to,” Hamzat said.

He added: “We are not against police fighting robbery but we are saying do not unjustifiably hurt our children because of their looks. Whoever is responsible should be arrested and prosecuted.”

In a communiqué yesterday, the acting National Chairperson of the SPN, Abiodun Bamigboye and acting National Secretary, Chinedu Bosah, said they disagree with the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, on his position that the SARS could only be reformed and not disbanded.

Meanwhile, the Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege has condemned the killing of a policeman in Ughelli, Delta State, during last Thursdays #EndSARS protests.

Omo-Agege, in a statement issued by his Special Adviser, Media and Publicity Yomi Odunuga, described the incident as serious and unfortunate, noting that he supports a thorough investigation of the matter by the police.

He condoled with the family of the deceased, the entire Police Force and his Delta Central Senatorial District for the sad loss, even as he called on the police to exercise restraint and follow due process in fishing out the alleged killers.

He said: “I humbly call on our highly regarded traditional rulers to continue to urge our people to maintain the peace that we are known for in their various kingdoms and domains. Our Royal Fathers are a great force for peace at moments like this and we trust that they would help to ensure that those who wish to tear our communities apart do not succeed.

“We also call on our religious leaders to pray for our land. God will not allow the evil of bloodshed to reign in our land. Violence is never an option.

“No meaningful development can take place in an atmosphere devoid of peace. Let us embrace all peace initiatives by all stakeholders, as Delta State is not known for violence and jungle justice.

“In dealing with this very serious and unfortunate matter and bringing those responsible to book, I have assurances of the Delta State Police Command that due process as dictated by the law would be strictly followed and there will not be indiscriminate arrest of innocent citizens as they go about their lawful businesses.”

As the agitation against SARS intensifies, the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu, has warned that the police would no longer tolerate any attack on its personnel.

The IGP, who condemned the “unprovoked and violent attack” on policemen in Ughelli, also ordered the Delta State Commissioner of Police to investigate the circumstances that led to the killing of the police officer during the protest and ensure that the perpetrators of the act be brought to book.

A statement by Force Public Relation Officer, Frank Mba, stated: “The incident, which resulted in the unfortunate death of one Police officer, Corporal Etaga Stanley attached to ‘A’ Division, Ughelli, Delta State, who was attacked and brutally murdered by the protesters also left another, Sergeant Patrick Okuone with serious body injury sustained from gunshot by the protesters.

“The protesters also carted away one (1) service AK47 rifle with breach no 56-2609008 and 25 rounds of live ammunition that was with the deceased at the time of the incident.

“The IGP, who described the incident as cruel and unwarranted, has warned that the Force will no longer tolerate any attack on its personnel or any member of the law enforcement community by any individual or group protesting under any guise.

“The IGP notes that protest by citizens remain a legitimate means for airing their concerns and views. It must however be carried out with all sense of responsibility and within the confines of the law.”