BY OUR CORRESPONDENT
The Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) created by the Nigeria Police, was perhaps established to take charge of specific functions of the police in crimes prevention and control as well as security to lives and properties excluding mounting of illegal road blocks for extortion and other minor crimes on the high ways.
The squad has branches in the 36 states of the federation including Abuja in most cases funded by the various state governments. Over the years, the organization systematically became a replica of its former self and turned to an extortion outfit that has outlived its usefulness to the people.
Several reports reveal that apart from human rights abuses, there are cases of extortion of suspects and their relations while bail of suspects either in detention or under arrest is obtained at fixed amount depending on the nature of crime committed. For instance, it was revealed that armed robbery suspects are bailed at over N1million while bail ‘fee’ for other minor crimes range from N500,000 and above depending on the bargaining capacity of suspect’s relations.
Although, the office of the Inspector-General is confirmed to have been disbursing monthly feeding allowances of suspects in police detention nationwide, in most police stations across the country and Abuja SARS headquarters, such allowances are diverted and the burden of feeding suspects rests on the shoulders of their relations including medication for the period they are detained.
While relations are forced to accept the corrupt practice without complaining as making any complain may attract a negative response, they are also forced to grease the palms of guards at the various cells before the food and medication they brought could reach their relations languishing in cells.
Not only that, black marketers within Abuja and other places are subjects of extortion and brutality. In most cases, SARS operatives storm their operational locations to cart away drums and jerry cans of fuel to compel owners to report for collection and be subjected to various degrees of extortion and intimidations including threats to their lives. Before any black marketer is allowed entry into SARS premises in Abuja to press for his case, he is forced to pay an entry fee at both gates.
Starving suspects without relations in Abuja languishing in SARS cells is no more news as dead bodies are thrown out daily because of hunger, torture and other brutal acts from those who are expected to take care of the unfortunate ‘innocent’ citizens.
Even though, the government is doing its best to overcome insecurity challenges in the country,
SARS all over the federation is not interested to assisting in overcoming the challenges. Instead, it prepares violent situations to be in a better position to extort and rob under the guise of restoring peace despite the glaring fact that it has suffered various defeats in times of trouble that necessitated the deployment of soldiers to trouble areas.
It is on record that armed robbers caught in action are encouraged by their captors to negotiate for bail and regain their freedom while car snatchers are fined and the vehicles involved seized and later auctioned to SARS operatives or other senior police officers that may be interested in such loot.
Therefore, since SARS has redefined the essence of establishing it nationwide, the Inspector-General should be advised to either disband the outfit or re-organise it for effective service.
Another point worth a mention is the involvement of SARS in debts collection from defaulters which is purely a civil case.
Civil cases are not suppose to be handled by the Police but the Nigeria Police for greed and perfection of corrupt practice, have carefully involved themselves in debts related cases including house rents for land lords through intimidation and threat.
In a recent case, a former chairman in one of the local government areas in Bauchi state who was said to have been arrested for being in possession of a suspected stolen car and a pistol was forced to mortgage his only house in Bauchi at N3million to secure his release from SARS detention camp in Abuja. The unfortunate suspect was first denied access to his lawyer even after he explained how he came about purchasing the car and source of the pistol. He was instantly detained together with his suspected accomplice in SARS dungeon to wait for the arrival of his relations for negotiation. After various degrees of extortion of unspecified amount from the relations, SARS finally agreed that the suspect’s relations should pay a ‘fee’ of N1.5million for each of the suspects to regain their freedom.
The situation in Abuja SARS dungeon was not like that before until there was a change of leadership where highly corrupt officers were brought in to take charge with most of them bribing their posting to the ‘gold mine’. A victim of SARS brutality in one of the South-South states revealed that he was arrested by SARS sometimes in October 2012 at Gimbiya Street in Abuja after a visit to his cousin at Top Rank Hotel.
He was arrested and denied the freedom to explain himself by his captors but bundled in a waiting Hilux van and driven along with other unfortunate victims to the dungeon where he stayed for three months under the most inhuman condition without adequate feeding and medication. It was later that an operative from one of the southern states advised him to arrange to inform his relations of his whereabout or he could die of hunger or even be joined with armed robbery suspects to be killed.
On receipt of the incident, his relations reached him and agreed to part away with N1.2million for his release for an offence he never committed. Another victim said of his experience in the dungeon that he was forced to sign a written statement as his statement and later forced to pay N2million to secure his freedom as suspects in SARS detention are denied access to lawyers and are never charged to court.
“Once you are arrested by SARS and detained in their cell, just be prepared for the worst human treatment that is if you arrive, the dungeon alive. You cannot complain and if you insist on doing so, be ready to face the music. Those people are heartless and satanic for all they are after is extortion”. In Abuja, car dealers, independent marketers, accredited land dealers and Bureau for Change are victims of SARS extortion and brutalities. Hotel owners etc are not spared.
SARS operatives have today become more dangerous to the people than even Boko Haram and it forms part of the reason why most people keep a distance from the police. And it is one of those reasons that Boko Haram insurgency has defied solutions because of SARS brutality and extortion. Those released from SARS detention turn back to plan revenge after release while majority prepare to even join Boko Haram for a revenge of what they experienced from those that are paid to protect them.
As the IG has set up an investigating committee on the recent attack at SARS headquarters in Abuja, let the committee be sincere in its assignment and reach out to the suspects to obtain a firsthand information on how they are treated in detention and how many suspects died of hunger, disease or extra judicially killed. How many of the suspects were taken to court for prosecution.
The committee should visit other states where CID offices are another extortion venues of suspects. In some police stations, suspects have to offer bribes before their cases are charged to courts while in others, suspects are offered the opportunity to select courts.
This is not the Police organization MD Abubakar promised Nigerians. Illegal police roadblocks are back most especially on major highways. MD Abubakar, your efforts are being defeated by those you trust as colleagues.