SARS: The police unit that harasses young Nigerians

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SARS police officers

The Special Anti-Robbery Squad has made it a business to extort young Nigerians

The Special Anti-Robbery Squad is now a menace on the streets.

SARS is a unit of the Nigeria Police Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department. Its duty is to arrest and investigate assassins, armed robbers, kidnappers and people involved in violent crimes.

Over time, SARS has shifted from its major duty. On September 21, 2016, Amnesty International published a story on SARS. The report highlighted the illegal activities of the Nigerian Police Force unit. These activities are extrajudicial killings and extortion of innocent people.

 

On September 23, 2016, Pulse published a story titled "SARS: Meet the Police Unit with license to kill". The story featured quotes from an anonymous man who spoke on how he was detained illegally by SARS and how he almost died.

A day after Amnesty International published its report, the Nigerian Police Force issued a statement.

 

"The Nigeria Police is determined to adhere to principles of International Police reforms, conform to standard discipline and rewards system, building trust and confidence in the citizenry and will not condone torture and other ill treatment of suspects in the Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS) detention or any of its detention facility throughout the country.

"The Nigeria Police performance in International organisations has been a source of pride to Africa and the United Nations" read the statement.

Almost a year after the statement SARS is still on the prowl. Casually scroll through your timeline on Twitter and you are bound to find a tweet or two about SARS.

 

From the tweets, the police unit is profiling young men with tattoos and dreadlocks as Internet fraudsters a.k.a Yahoo boys.

 

A young guy who doesn't have any ink on his body or dreads on his head is bound to be locked up if he is unlucky and bumps into SARS operatives.

 

There are numerous stories on social media from young men and women on the horrible activities of SARS.

In a bid to go beyond tweets on a timeline, Pulse found a young Nigerian who was willing to talk about SARS.

Patrick (not his real name) was illegally detained by the Special Anti-Robber Squad under the suspicion he was a cultist.

It all started on a day Patrick took his father's car to the mechanic to fix a dent.

"I was at the panel beater in Ijebu Ode trying to spray a dent in my dads Honda accord then I saw some plain clothed guys with guns driving close.

"I was scared at first but because I was at a distance from the car, under the shed, I kept my cool," he tells Pulse.

"They asked the panel beater for the owner of the car and he pointed to me. I was just chilled cos I then realized it was SARS. So they called me and started interrogating me. I answered all their questions cos I felt so confident and fluent" Patrick further says.

The SARS operatives demanded that they search his car. "I have been told to let one police search the car at a time. So I stayed with him till he saw a photocopy of my brother's license and another of my uncles. Since the car was a spare car at the time, we leave photocopies of our license in the car" he explains.

SARS found three driver's licenses (Patrick's, his brother's and uncle's) in the car. Patrick explained to them why this was so. "The car was a spare car at the time, we leave photocopies of our license in the car."

They did not believe him and this was when the trouble started.

"They accused me of being the one using the three licenses (plus mine) for multiple identities. I laughed because I thought it was preposterous. I explained and they said I must produce the owners of the licenses to clear myself. I told them to check the face but when they insisted, I felt no big deal" says Patrick.

It later turned out to be a big deal. When he got to the station, his phone was taken from him without his permission. SARS went through his phone and saw a random picture of an Arab man holding a gun.

"It was one of those pictures you save from BBM those days" explains Patrick. He tried telling the SARS operatives this but one of the men slapped him. "They said I was a cultist and that I usually show my friends the gun pictures to threaten them. My phone rang, and I quickly picked and told the person that called to call my mother that I was at the station."

 

The SARS operatives went ahead to strip him, removing his shirt and belt. They locked him in one of the cells. Patrick refused to speak on the horrors in the cell.

Two hours later or what must have felt like two hours to Patrick, his mother showed up. "When I heard her voice, I screamed 'mummy' from the cell. I just saw SARS come to my cell, handcuffed me and took me through the back into a waiting red car" he says.

 

Patrick was now scared for his life. "I was so sure they were going to kill me. I started saying my last prayers till they asked for the address of my house."

With Patrick in the car, SARS went to his house and without a warrant searched his house. His mother was still at the station, she didn't know SARS had taken her son back to their home.

"They asked for my room, searched it and asked for my laptop. They took my laptop and camera and we headed back to the station" Peter states.

At the police station, his mother was already speaking to the Assistant Commissioner. The SARS operatives searched Patrick's laptop and found nothing incriminating.

He was later taken to the ACP and they told his mum that he was a cultist. According to Patrick, his mum parted with money ("I don't think we paid up to N5,000)." The money in his wallet was not returned to him.

"The whole event started like 11 and didn't end until like 4:30" recounts Patrick.

Patrick's story is one of the lucky few. Many young Nigerians caught in the trap by SARS end up paying larger sums of money. According to Amnesty International, some are killed.

 

On the part of the Nigerian Police Force, it has started throwing away the bad apples in the system. This has done little to stop the tales of horror from Nigerian youths on Twitter on the illegal activities of SARS. 



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