The increasing spate of extortion, harassment, torture and other human rights abuses perpetrated by personnel of Special Anti- Robbery Squad (SARS) has continued to elicit concern among local and international human rights groups , media and general public. The lack of effective internal and external mechanisms to hold SARS operatives accountable to the communities they serve has been identified as one of the main contributory factors for the abuses and impunity.
The public clamour against the detestable activities of SARS operatives led to the national call to disband the unit through the ‘ENDSARS’ campaign which has gained public support nationwide through the social media. In a bid to address the problem the Inspector General of Police responded by announcing plans to reorganize and reform–but not to disband–SARS units. Although the form of reorganization to be made remains unclear, however the Nigeria Police Force have provided a list of emergency contact numbers to aid public reporting on the activities of SAR operatives. Other agencies such as the National Human Rights Commission and local human rights groups have initiated various efforts to join the advocacy for reform of the activities of the unit towards finding sustainable solutions to the problems.
CLEEN Foundation in collaboration with Network on Police Reform in Nigeria (NOPRIN), National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and Nigeria Policing Programme (NPP) organized a public hearing on activities of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) unit of the Nigeria Police Force in two main cities –Port Harcourt, Rivers State for South-South and Owerri, Imo State for South-East.
The Objectives of the public hearing includes, to provide a platform for voices of the numerous victims, their relatives and witnesses of abuse by SARS operatives to be heard;
Document testimonies and experiences of victims and make relevant that could be adopted by the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) to combat impunity in the law enforcement system in Nigeria; Enhance accountability of the police/policing providers.
This is in response to the public outcry across the country on the high level of human right abuses perpetrated by the SARs unit of the NPF which led to an online campaign tagged #EndSARS calling for the end of the unit in NPF. However, there were divergent opinion in the campaign as some were of the opinion that the unit should be reformed #ReformSARS campaign.
The public hearing is targeted to provide a platform for voices of the numerous victims, their relatives and witnesses of human right abuses by SARS operatives to be heard by the authorities with the mandate to protect human rights in Nigeria.
The panel will document testimonies and experiences of victims and make relevant recommendations that could be adopted by the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) and Police Service Commission to enforce discipline, combat impunity in the law enforcement system and enhance accountability of the police in Nigeria.
The public hearings recorded great success with good number of expected results recorded. A good number of victims of human right abuses cases were recorded detailing key testimonies, findings and recommendations which will be sent to the police authorities to improve transparency and accountability of their personnel.
Nnamdi odo, CLEEN Foundation