SARS: The Monsters We Made (Commentary)

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When in 1992, CP Simeon Danladi Midenda created the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), the intention was that of creating a tactical unit of the NPF to confront and combat the rising spate of armed robbery and kidnapping at the time.

Members of the unit, were taken through rigorous drills and given intelligence orientation to properly equip them for the nature of their assignment. As a result, SARS officials came out tougher and fiercer than regular policemen and were famed to be no-nonsense cops.

Enter Nigerians! The Nigerian society is built around intimidation. With or without any provocations, we love to arm ourselves with a “combat level” attack prowess, just to “show” fellow citizens that we are not their mates. It didn’t take long before Nigerians discovered the “no-nonsense” nature of SARS. Stories of their exploits and triumphs made the rounds and in no time, We Nigerians began to invite SARS into civil matters. Landlords used SARS to evict tenants from their houses, girlfriends who had squabbles with their boyfriends invited SARS to “teach them a lesson”. Politicians used the Anti-Robbery squad to settle political scores, intimidate opponents and even cause mayhem.

My first encounter with the infamous SARS was at a private compound in Ikot Ekpene road. The landlord had created single rooms to serve as hostels for university of Uyo Students, and about five of them stayed in the premises: one of them was a beautiful female student whose financier was a rich politician. The girl however had a campus boyfriend who sneaked in once in a while to spend some “quality time” with the sister. The lover boy however ran out of luck one Friday evening when the politician who had earlier told the girl that he had traveled out of town strolled into the compound with two SARS operatives. The drama that ensued was enough to keep residents of the compound traumatized for a lifetime. The forcemen shot sporadically in the air, threatened tenants in the compound as the broke into the room of the “culprit” in a gestapo style! The lover boy was brought out wearing just briefs, beaten up and humiliated publicly before he was whisked away.

Many other stories of how a force unit specially trained to handle complex criminal and armed robbery operations was gradually shown the way into our everyday lives abound. The fringe benefits of these extra operations were of course too numerous to mention. Tactical operations are by their very nature risky and has little or no financial benefits. Civil cases on the contrary are zero risk cases as the highly trained men are usually pitched against relatively unarmed civilian targets, in addition, the report maker will usually “drop something” to facilitate the case, and the victims will of course spend heavily to clear themselves.

Other agencies of government also found SARS to be a useful tool of operation. It is not out of place to find the EFCC, ICPC and other anti graft bodies requiring the full complement of SARS officials when going for an operation.

These and many other factors such as the endemic internal corruption among the ranks of the NPF contributed to making a monster of the specialized force unit. The special unit gradually became general purpose and imposed itself on the society.

In addition to all these, the Nigerian security architecture merges roles and responsibilities into one. Everyone in uniform or armed with firearms carry out the similar tasks. An FRSC officer once asked to see police clearance for my car and I know it sounds ridiculous, but I’ve had to explain to a police in the anticultism unit why my spare tire was missing! Men of the SARS have not been left out in this roles mixup and rascality. They gradually pulled out of tactical operations and found themselves more useful in civil matters. They constituted themselves into Vehicle Inspection Units, Economic Crimes investigation Units, civil unrest quelling forces, narcotics investigation officers, election monitors and every other thing in between.

The result ofcourse was absolute lawlessness and cold-blooded murders. Pitching a force unit trained to combat armed criminals against unarmed civilians was never going to have a happy ending. It became regular to see men of the SARS doing routine checks on our roads, going after young persons perceived to be internet fraudsters and even arresting tenants at the behest of landlords! Gradually, things began to degenerate. Stories of intimidation, torture, murder, extortion and outright robbery have been told of our men of the SARS.

The intention of creating SARS may have been pure, but right now, they have morphed into something monstrous. Their evil clearly outweighs whatever good deeds they have to their credits. There is an urgent need to bring down the entire SARS formation and indeed overhaul the Nigerian police department. It might be a herculean task, and would definitely cost lots of money, but nothing is too much to sacrifice for the lives and safety of Nigerians.

We created this monster.
If we don’t destroy it, we will be destroyed by our own creation!

Cc: Courage Mbon


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