Growing up in culture-rich Benin City was quite fascinating. The city, however, had its other sides. Many years back, children ran away from a building between the Prisons and the famous Ring Road, whose aroma easily put in their sub-consciousness, the pains of injections. That was the medical framework that treated our people of all ailments. Its original name, General Hospital has since changed severally. First, it became Specialist Hospital in recognition of the recruitment of some specialists in different fields of medicine.
We woke up one day to see a huge signboard by the gate of the hospital with a new name, Health Services Management Board. This was later changed to Central Hospital. In all these innovations, the only observable change was named. Drugs were, as before, still O/S (out of stock), while the mortuary never worked meaning that the hospital was hardly useful to both the living and the dead. About two years ago, our then action governor put up ultra modern buildings in the premises which President Muhammadu Buhari commissioned in 2016. So, the new name now is probably Ultra modern 5-star hospital but because it has no facilities, it has transformed into an empty hall. The lesson is that transformation can also be negative or cosmetic.
The story of the Benin General Hospital was what immediately occurred to me a few days back when I heard that based on ‘orders from above’ the dreaded police unit, SARS has been transformed to FSARS. But why add the letter ‘f‘, to the word, SARS; could it be read to mean FEAR SARS? If so, the change is superfluous as everyone is already afraid of them. It turned out that the letter ‘f’ represents the word federal, a revelation that was also not helpful. Could it be that some of the operatives doubted the federal status of their organization – the Nigeria Police? Perhaps that explains why some of them often operate in remote and rural areas with little or no federal presence. Even at that, are such areas not part of our federal system? Because the answers to my posers were neither rational nor self–explicit, I then tried to find out the position by reading more than once, the press release which announced the change. My findings were: a) the order was made by Professor Yemi Osinbajo, in his capacity as Acting President; b) the change was announced by the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris immediately the order was given as if it was anticipated; and c) details of how the new FSARS would function were spelt out.
According to the Force Public Relations Officer, Jimoh Moshood, the Inspector General of Police in compliance with the Presidential directives ordered the immediate overhauling of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) to address complaints and allegations on human rights violations against some of the personnel of the Squad from members of the public. In the new scheme of things, there would now be a Commissioner of Police that would serve as the overall head of the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad nationwide. (Rivers Governor Wike needs to listen attentively). New FSARS Commanders are being appointed for the Federal Anti-Robbery Squad (FSARS) across the country that will now exist and operate in the State and Zonal Commands under the Commissioner of Police (F-SARS) at the Force Headquarters, Abuja. A Federal SARS Commander not below the rank of Superintendent of Police (SP) will be in charge of FSARS in the Commands across the country.
The message sounded like French to me – a language I never got to learn. I tried a second reading of the statement which then sounded more like the weather-man who always talks about scattered thunder; and partly cloudy without telling us when it will rain. Is the IGP assuring Nigerians that any Police unit by whatever name called would no longer be allowed to be judgmental, intimidating and brutal bearing in mind that they have no powers to PUNISH anyone? If that is what he is saying, let it be translated into Nigeria’s main languages and made available both through the modern media and the town crier; let the police solicit the support of our orientation agency officials to employ their house to house strategy to take the message to the doorsteps of all Nigerians. It is a social responsibility assignment that is likely to turn the police into our friend instantly if genuinely followed. But there is doubt if the sincere intention of the policy will be allowed to materialize by the operatives who benefit from the old order. This conclusion is informed by botched previous reforms in the police, the best example being several announcements banning checkpoints.
In August 2010, IGP, Ogbonna Onovo recognizing the illegality of checkpoints on the roads, ordered all men under his command to dismantle them; he also set up a task force to enforce the directive which reportedly caught some culprits. In February 2012, IGP Mohammed Abubakar had to also order all policemen to leave checkpoints which he also officially declared illegal. In 2014, IGP, Suleiman Abba issued a strongly worded reminder to all police operatives that the ban on police roadblocks across the nation was still in force. In 2015, IGP Solomon Arase replaced roadblocks with extensive visibility patrolling and surveillance with the threat that top officials in whose jurisdiction illegal roadblocks were detected would be held personally liable. The current IGP has gone a step further to include the removal of all forms of illegal blockage and obstructions on Highways and Roads erected by Revenue collectors inhibiting vehicular movement and smooth passage of people and goods across the country. But the menace of roadblock extortions subsists because there is always a clause in the orders where deviants hibernate.
We, therefore, fear that FSARS may find a way to reinvent SARS. Only two months back, for instance, there was a report that IGP Idris had banned SARS from conducting the stop and search operations on roads except when necessary. The determination of “when necessary” may just be the difference between SARS and FSARS. Put differently, if SARS was always inhuman, FSARS may also be but only when necessary. Let’s wait for the clarification of the difference as was done a few days ago about the sacked DG of the DSS, Lawal Daura. We now know that the man is in police custody not as detention but for interrogation. In other words, unlike a man who is in custody with no one talking to him, Daura is also in police custody but people are busy talking to him. Great difference!!