SARS Has Been Bastardized But It Cannot Be Scrapped - Mike Okiro Says

As the campaign for the disbandment of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad SARS continues on social media, a former Commissioner of Police now Chairman of the Police Service Commission (PSC), Mike Okiro, has said that although the special anti-robbery squad (SARS) has been bastardised, scrapping the unit is not an option.

In an interview, Okiro said the unit started in 1991 when notorious armed robber, Shina Rambo, was terrorising many cities in the country and police officers were finding it difficult to apprehend him. 

According to the former police boss, the primary responsibility of SARS when it was formed was to tackle robbery attacks and notorious criminals but along the line, the SARS officials deviated from their primary responsibility.
'This issue of SARS is dogged by what I call ‘policy somersault’. A government official, or a government makes a policy and another government comes and changes the policy or abandons it. This is what is causing it. SARS started with me as the Deputy Commissioner of Police Operations in Ikeja, Lagos, when the infamous armed robber called Shina Rambo was having a field day in 1991. His modus operandi was to snatch cars and begin a shooting spree in a convoy of gunmen. He was so brazen that he even shot at policemen at checkpoints. There was no way to stop him. So, I and the then commissioner, Ademola, came up with the Special Anti-Robbery Squad. The idea was that they would be in mufti, and armed, simply for the very important element of surprise. They would take cover, and communicating with walkie-talkies, hit the armed robbers. They did that two or three times, and the robbery attacks went down, drastically, and at a point stopped altogether. Soon SARS started spreading, from Lagos to other states. And I began to notice that at every roadblock, you will see armed policemen, but in mufti. Now, how do you differentiate between a policeman and an armed robber? The initial idea of the operatives wearing mufti, like I said, is for the element of surprise. So I’d say the original idea of SARS has been bastardised. The squad was feared before, and I mean by criminals. When there was a robbery in a bank, SARS would move there because they were trained. They also knew themselves because there was nothing like cross-firing. Every command had SARS standing by. But by the time it spread to other states, it seemed like anyone would be carrying arms, dressed in mufti, with a T-shirt with SARS emblazoned on it. Anybody can wear such an outfit. They even go into cases of bounced cheques and shady business transactions. SARS business is not to investigate, but to hit. It’s a Special Anti-Robbery Squad, not an investigative one' he said 
Okiro added that instead of disbandment, the unit should be reformed.
“We cannot throw away the bathwater with the baby. It cannot be scrapped, rather there is the need to get back to its original concept, to hit robbers and come back. Sometimes robbers take position, waiting for police patrol vehicles to come, not knowing that SARS are passing in a private vehicle. SARS needs to be restructured and not scrapped completely.” he said

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