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Opinions of Tuesday, 13 October 2020

Columnist: Felix Oladeji

SARS and need for fundamental police reform

For years now, human rights organizations, civil society and the media have documented and reported cases of extrajudicial killings, torture, and other ill-treatment allegedly committed by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS of the Nigeria Police.

More recently, a host of Nigerian celebrities have been lending their voices to the #EndSARS movement. Many are calling on the authorities to ensure that measures are taken to immediately end the practice of torture and ill-treatment by SARS and that, all complaints of torture by SARS are independently and impartially investigated as prescribed by the Anti-Torture Act 2017.

Last year, the #EndSARS campaign led to the formation of a presidential panel to review the activities of the police unit. President Buhari has since ordered the implementation of the report of the panel. However, nothing seems to have changed since then.

According to an Amnesty International investigation published in June of this year, the rights group accused SARS officers of using torture and other ill-treatment to execute, punish and extract information from suspects. Amnesty International documented 82 cases between January 2017 and May 2020. They found out that the police unit allegedly targets Nigerians between the age of 17 and 30.

The failure of the authorities to bring an end to the gross human rights violations perpetuated by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad or to bring any SARS officer to justice is unacceptable. Nigerians are outraged by the systemic human rights violations perpetrated by SARS with impunity. The systemic use of torture and other ill treatment by SARS officers for police investigations points to an absolute disregard for international human rights laws and standards.

It is time to finally end impunity for police brutality and torture in Nigeria. The authorities must go beyond lip service and ensure there are real reforms. These reforms must translate into holding police officers suspected of torture to account, ending torture, unlawful detention, extortion, extrajudicial execution and other human rights violations that SARS officers have been known for across Nigeria.

The government needs to take reform seriously if they are going to improve safety and restore confidence in the police. It is also essential to ensure that the police do not monopolize or interfere with investigations of crime and misconduct by their officers.

If anyone commits a crime, that person should be punished by the courts. No agency, SARS or otherwise, can decide who gets to live and who will die. In the eye of the law, everyone is innocent before they are proven guilty by the court.

Extra-judicial killings committed by SARS are a complete violation of natural justice. Every Nigerian and non-Nigerian existing within our borders has the right to a trial before a court. And everyone living in Nigeria has a right to enjoy the protection of the law, and to be treated in accordance with the law and no action detrimental to the life, liberty, body, reputation, or property of any person shall be taken except in accordance with the law.

The practice of extra-judicial killings shows blatant disrespect to our courts, and creates bad impressions all over the world. It is high time we prevented extra-judicial killings, and uphold the rule of law.

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