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I saw that bullet wound in his right arm: The bullet actually put a hole in his arm. It was deep, disgusting and breathtaking. I also saw the blood-stained cotton pads on his hospital bed and I imagined the amount of blood he must have lost while battling to save his life from those bullet wounds. I imagined the pains he must have gone through after that attack and I pray that may God save his life.

He is an officer of the Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS) identified as Yusuf Adamu based in Nassarawa state and who recently came under heavy attacks alongside with his colleagues as they were attacked by armed robbers after they encountered these hoodlums during an operation. He has been battling to save his life at the hospital even after undergoing the first surgery and is billed to undergo another surgery on his bones that got shattered by the bullet. Imagine the pains of that bullet!

Now here we go. This police man was attacked in the line of duty while fighting crime. And it is commendable that he and his team actually had an upper hand and subdued these bandits in the process. If we keep getting this type of news about actual combat of men of SARS with bandits, showing that they are actually doing their job and facing their core responsibilities of fighting crimes instead of terrorizing and extorting money from innocent people, no one in Nigeria would clamour for the disbandment of SARS. We have read countless accounts in the newspapers on a regular basis of the experiences of many innocent Nigerians with SARS operatives which resulted in brutality, extortion and even deaths of these people and this is totally condemnable in a sane democratic nation.

The primary duty of SARS is to fight and curtail armed robbery and violent crimes in Nigeria. They are not meant to stop young and innocent boys on the streets of Lagos, Abuja, Warri, Port Harcourt, Enugu or any other place in Nigeria for that matter and harass, intimidate or extort money from them. No, that is not the job of SARS. So if they do their job accordingly, no one would clamour to end SARS but if on the other hand they use it as an avenue to harass innocent Nigerians, then people will continue to campaign against them. The moment any organization deviates from its responsibility and primary duty and perverts injustice, then the people will surely resist such tendencies and clamour for the scrapping of that organization no matter how good and effective it has been before. That is the problem with SARS. It started well but in recent times the complaints from Nigerians about the brutality and high handedness of SARS officials have been so overwhelming to be overlooked.

But will disbanding SARS be the ultimate solution to this problem? What about the good ones among them? If SARS is eventually disbanded, what viable alternatives will be available to fight violent crimes and armed banditry in Nigeria just like this officer did and got himself wounded by these armed robbers? Would it not amount to throwing the baby away with the bath water? I live in Lagos and although I’ve travelled to other parts of Nigeria, I’ve not had any experience with the SARS operatives, good or bad, but I can’t discountenance the negative experiences of many Nigerians who have had series of complaints about the brutality and extortion of Nigerians by SARS officials in many parts of Nigeria.

Is there not a possibility that these SARS officials who perpetrate these brutality and extortions are the bad eggs among them? Is it not possible that these bad eggs are latching on the fact that since SARS has now become popular and having considerably fought crimes in Nigeria, they now capitalize on this and now turn it into an avenue to enrich their private pockets through intimidation and brutality? The end SARS campaign may be justified considering all the alleged atrocities by them, but we must still be careful in ending SARS without providing a better alternative because we all know how deadly and daring armed bandits operate across the country even when SARS is tackling them let alone if SARS is disbanded. The Offa bank robbery which happened in broad daylight is still fresh in our minds and we all saw how these criminals killed scores of people including several police men just to achieve their aim of robbing the bank.

As we work towards reorganizing SARS, the bad eggs should be uprooted from the system. There should be a total restructuring of SARS to meet up with the current realities. I see no reason why SARS should leave its main duty of fighting violent crimes and then deviate and start terrorizing, extortion and killing innocent citizens of Nigeria. If there are too many bad eggs in SARS, then there should be a complete overhaul of the organization and injection of new hands into SARS for better service delivery to the people. When SARS stop innocent young boys who are struggling to make a living, they check their phones and tag them yahoo boys. But are all these boys actually yahoo boys? And is it the duty of SARS to check people’s phones? Is it not invasion of privacy for the police to check people’s phones without any formal complaints against such person? And why are they now using this as an avenue to extort money from this boys and also use it as an excuse to clamp innocent people into detention cells? This is barbaric, disgusting, condemnable and can only happen in an uncivilized nation and we should not allow this type of injustice in Nigeria or else we would continue to be a laughing stock to the outside world.

The Nigerian police force should take it as an urgent priority to train and retrain SARS officers and give them proper orientation about fighting crimes and about their actual duties to check these incessant harassment of innocent citizens whom they are meant to protect in the first place. If this is done and if eventually we see a change in the activities of SARS for the better, then by then we would heave a sigh of relief. Ordinarily it should be the armed bandits that should be scared when they hear of SARS and not innocent citizens going about their daily activities and trying to make a living for themselves that are now living in fear because they are scared that SARS might harass them on the way. Enough of SARS harassment. Enough is enough.

By Tayo Demola

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