President Muhammadu Buhari has issued a warning to officers of the Nigeria Police Force, especially its Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), to desist from the violation of the fundamental human rights of Nigerians.

The president issued this warning during the presentation of the report of the Presidential Panel on SARS Reform at the Presidential Villa on Monday, June 3, 2019.

Officers of the Force, especially of the SARS unit, have been notorious for widespread abuse of power with public scrutiny growing over the past couple of years on their conducts including harassment, extortion and, sometimes, extra-judicial murder of innocent Nigerians. The outcry has led to demands for the scrapping of the unit and general reform that’ll make the Force more effective and fairer to Nigerians.

While speaking on Monday, President Buhari said the panel was constituted as a result of public outcry and various media reports on allegations of human rights violations perpetrated by SARS officers.

The president assured Nigerians that it’s one of his administration’s major policies to reform and reposition the Police Force to be more effective and efficient in safeguarding lives and properties, apprehending offenders and generally improving the internal security of the nation in line with its laws and international best practices.

He said, “In order to reposition the Nigeria Police Force to effectively carry out its statutory responsibilities, I have taken major steps by increasing the workforce of the Nigeria Police as well as improving the welfare of Police officers, because they put their lives on the front line on a daily basis so that the rest of us may freely go about our business in safety.

“However, in carrying out their statutory responsibilities, the Police must at all times act within the ambit of the law and must not violate the fundamental human rights of Nigerians whom they have sworn to protect.

“Where the rights of Nigerians are violated by Police Officers while discharging their functions, the Government has a responsibility to address the instances of violation in line with its human rights obligations and ensure that such Police Officers are held accountable for their actions.”

The president noted that the panel was empowered to make appropriate recommendations not just for holding police officers found wanting accountable, but also on ways SARS and the Nigeria Police could be generally reformed.

He also said the decision directing the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to constitute the membership of the panel and to take the lead in investigating the allegations of human rights violation was borne out of the mandate of the commission which include the promotion, protection and enforcement of human rights in Nigeria as enshrined under sections 5 and 6 of the NHRC Act, 1995 (as amended).

He said, “I am very happy with the work of the Panel and thank the Panel members for working hard towards the realization of the Presidential Directive.

“I believe that the Report of the Panel and recommendations contained therein would go a long way in redressing the grievances of the complainants, ensure accountability on the part of the Police Officers in discharging their responsibilities and facilitate the various Police reforms being introduced by this administration.

“I want to assure you and all Nigerians that this Administration will continue to fulfill its obligations of promoting and protecting human rights of Nigerians, and will give the National Human Rights Commission all the support required to ensure full implementation of the recommendations contained in its Report.”

President Buhari promised that the operations of the commission will be further strengthened to enhance its effectiveness and capability to resolve cases of human rights violations.

He said the recommendations of the panel are enforceable as decisions of the Court, and also directed the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, and the Solicitor General of the Federation/Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Justice to meet with the NHRC to work out the modalities for the implementation of the report within 3 months.

Since the outcry against SARS commenced in 2017, the unit has been reorganised three different times, including renaming it Federal SARS, with the last reorganisation this year rolling back on the one earlier enforced in 2018.

The Senate also passed a Police Reform Bill in April, but it was rejected last month by the House of Representatives which noted that some of the reforms were in violation of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).

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