#EndSARS: “Ending Or Proscribing SARS Is Not The Solution” – Elabor Joe Agbebaku

A devoted PDP member and supporter, Barrister Elabor Joe Agbebaku has reacted to the ongoing #ENDSARS protest across states in Nigeria.

Mr Joe urged the Nigerian Government to immediately made the SARS operatives go for mandatory
rehabilitation to enable them to undergo reorientation and change of perspective.

In a press release which he personally signed on Saturday evening, October 10 said ‘SARS may have lost its purpose, but should not be ended or proscribed; what must be done in the circumstance.’

Here’s everything Joe Agbebaku said about SARS

#EndSARS protest

He said; “#EndSARS protest which has circulated every facet of the country and now penetrating some of our embassies in other countries. It’s really sad and unfortunate that we do not address issues from a substance but rather from the surface. The situation we see today has been building up for years with no proper approach to check and redirect, it has now become a ticking time bomb which if proper care is not taken would explode.”

SARS dressing and training

He said; “Taking a very close look at the SARS men, from the training they were given to the way and manner they dress, it could be observed that they were not meant to come close to the civilians on the street. This could be understood, given that they were trained and equipped to combat against guns and ammunition carrying criminals.”

Ending or proscribing SARS is not the solution

He said; “It is imperative for me to posit at this juncture that I do not think ending or proscribing SARS is the solution. I do not also think that reforming it which has now appeared as the only alternative is also a solution. This is obviously the reason why the #EndSARS protest which started first in 2016 and had since continued has not yielded any positive result. Reformation also was attempted in 2018 when Acting President Osinbajo ordered the overhauling of the unit which led IGP to change the name to Federal Special Anti- Robbery Squad (FSARS), this too did not make any difference.”

Those defending the actions of SARS

He said; “We must attempt a different approach this time around. I also observed that some persons are coming out to defend the actions of SARS, that’s unfortunate. There’s actually no legal or moral justification for what they do to civilians unless perhaps you have not been victimized or hear a story of a victim before.”

The allegations about SARS operatives extorting youth

He said; “As a lawyer, we have seen various reports, from extortion to brutality and disregard for fundamental human rights of citizens. We have also seen a worse case of compelling victims to withdraw money from their bank accounts through ATM or POS gadgets. So the acts cannot be justified. Their victims are predominantly young men. They report often that the boys dress indecently, with suspicion of them being internet fraudsters. They start by first harassing them and mandating them to open their phones for unwarranted search, then extort them by different means. It has been a recurrent thing with them. I recall a headline some years ago from Pulse.ng which read: “What SARS became was a national scourge that is a piece of witch-hunt machinery against Nigerian youth with dreadlocks, piercings, cars, expensive phones and risqué means of expression.”

It is not the duty of SARS to check indecent dressing or phone

He said; “First, let me reiterate here that it is not the duty of SARS to check indecent dressing on the streets, neither is it within their power to curb indiscipline. So there is no basis for the officers to hold any civilian on the street on the ground that he dressed tattered or indecently. It is also wrong to insist on checking an individual’s phone on the road, the law prohibits all of these. More so and more importantly, it is not the duty of SARS to go after fraudsters. This duty that they have now taken to be paramount and above every other one, they were never trained for that. As has been noted earlier and as their name indicated, they were trained to combat against criminals that go about with guns and ammunition.”

Why SARS shouldn’t arrest fraudsters

They should be forbidden from investigating fraud and fraud-related offences, they were not created nor trained for that purpose. Should the SFU require assistance in this respect, the regular Police could step in but absolutely not SARS.”

Read Mr Joe’s full statement below.

“I have been following up with the recent situation in the country, to wit the #EndSARS protest which has circulated every facet of the country and now penetrating some of our embassies in other countries. It’s really sad and unfortunate that we do not address issues from a substance but rather from the surface. The situation we see today has been building up for years with no proper approach to check and redirect, it has now become a ticking time bomb which if proper care is not taken would explode. The Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) was created under the Force Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department headed by the DIG, to curb the excess increase of violent crimes like armed robbery and kidnapping. They have long drifted away from the main purpose of which they were created, and now more interested in an area which is totally outside their sphere.

I recall I made a publication on the excessive power exhibited by the armed uniform men in the name of SARS, and warned that the power be checked. Unfortunately, nothing positive has been done in that regard. Taking a very close look at the SARS men, from the training they were given to the way and manner they dress, it could be observed that they were not meant to come close to the civilians on the street. This could be understood, given that they were trained and equipped to combat against guns and ammunition carrying criminals. It is imperative for me to posit at this juncture that I do not think ending or proscribing SARS is the solution. I do not also think that reforming it which has now appeared as the only alternative is also a solution. This is obviously the reason why the #EndSARS protest which started first in 2016 and had since continued has not yielded any positive result. Reformation also was attempted in 2018 when Acting President Osinbajo ordered the overhauling of the unit which led IGP to change the name to Federal Special Anti- Robbery Squad (FSARS), this too did not make any difference. We must attempt a different approach this time around. I also observed that some persons are coming out to defend the actions of SARS, that’s unfortunate.

There’s actually no legal or moral justification for what they do to civilians unless perhaps you have not been victimized or hear a story of a victim before. As a lawyer, we have seen various reports, from extortion to brutality and disregard for fundamental human rights of citizens. We have also seen a worse case of compelling victims to withdraw money from their bank accounts through ATM or POS gadgets. So the acts cannot be justified. Their victims are predominantly young men. They report often that the boys dress indecently, with suspicion of them being internet fraudsters. They start by first harassing them and mandating them to open their phones for unwarranted search, then extort them by different means. It has been a recurrent thing with them. I recall a headline some years ago from Pulse.ng which read: “What SARS became was a national scourge that is a piece of witch-hunt machinery against Nigerian youth with dreadlocks, piercings, cars, expensive phones and risqué means of expression.” First, let me reiterate here that it is not the duty of SARS to check indecent dressing on the streets, neither is it within their power to curb indiscipline.

So there is no basis for the officers to hold any civilian on the street on the ground that he dressed tattered or indecently. It is also wrong to insist on checking an individual’s phone on the road, the law prohibits all of these. More so and more importantly, it is not the duty of SARS to go after fraudsters. This duty that they have now taken to be paramount and above every other one, they were never trained for that. As has been noted earlier and as their name indicated, they were trained to combat against criminals that go about with guns and ammunition. So basically, this is where the problem is, you cannot train men to prepare to fight against violent criminals like armed robbers and kidnappers, and release them to go after people moving around without arms or ammunition, that’s an abuse of power. I am aware of another unit of the Police Force which is designed and created to fight against fraud-related offences, to wit: The Special Fraud Unit (SFU).

I have done some cases with some of the men there at their office in Milverton, Ikoyi. Very intelligent and highly sophisticated chaps they have there. They do neat jobs and get results. No doubt, those men were trained to do what they do and they do it very well. Therefore, one would want to ask of what business does SARS have with the fraud-related offence? Majority of the persons you would find in SARS detention are there for fraud-related offences. Not submitting that all the men in SARS are guilty of this act, however, the numbers of them engaging on this has dwarfed the ones not engaging on it. Going forward, we need a new directive. Howbeit, as I noted earlier, it should not be to scrap SARS, given the following reasons. Scrapping SARS unit does not presuppose that the men therein would be disengaged from the force. They would apparently be reintegrated into the regular police, which would absolutely add no difference whatsoever and all effort would be an exercise in futility. It may even be the case of changing the name from SARS to something else while the men are retained thereof.

I do not think that is what we want. Also and on another thought, the area which SARS was created to cover and or counter (i.e. the offence of armed robbery, kidnapping, etc.) would be exposed to a high increase in crime rate. So, as the wise saying goes, we cannot throw out the baby with the bad water. Granted, SARS has lost its purpose and the objective for its formation has been defeated and overtaken, hence, there is a need for total redirection. The following approach should be considered and undertaken to curtail the present situation. Firstly, given the tension in the nation, the operation and activities of SARS should be suspended to give room for possible readjustments and realignment. Secondly, the SARS men should immediately be made to go for mandatory rehabilitation. This is to enable them to undergo reorientation and change of perspective. Thirdly, the operation of SARS should be made to be directly under the supervision of the IGP with assistance from the DIGs and AIGs. This is to ensure that there is a coherent operation and more importantly to ensure that SARS are not working amiss or independently. Lastly, the powers and duties of SARS should be strictly restricted to the purpose and objective the unit was created. There should not be room for ultra vires or usurpation of power from SARS men. They should be limited to handle criminals with guns and ammunition. They should be forbidden from investigating fraud and fraud-related offences, they were not created nor trained for that purpose. Should the SFU require assistance in this respect, the regular Police could step in but absolutely not SARS.”

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