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Before EFCC becomes another SARS

Before EFCC becomes another SARS
September 22
22:14 2021

BY ADEBAYO ABUBAKAR

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When the Special Anti Robbery Squad, popularly known as SARS, was established, by the then Inspector-General of Police, about 3 decades ago, it was meant for a special purpose – to tackle the menace of armed robbery and other violent crimes that were about consuming the nation at the time.

Wikipedia, the online search engine, describes SARS as “a notorious unit of the Nigerian Police with a long record of abuses”. According to the search engine; “SARS was a branch of the Nigeria Police Force under the State Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department (SCIID). It was founded in late 1992 as one of the 14 units in the Force Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department, which was established to detain, investigate, and prosecute people involved in crimes like armed robbery, kidnapping, and other violent crimes.”

They have a special mandate to go after highway and other shades of robbers, in the land. They were, therefore, not placed under Commissioners of Police at the State level. Rather they were reporting directly, to a Deputy Inspector-General of Police. This gave them a degree of autonomy from undue interference from State Commissioners of Police.

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But along the line, SARS lost its focus, abandoning its core mandates, as clearly spelled out in the order establishing the outfit. Its operatives, simply abandoned its core mandate of fighting violent crimes like armed robbery, kidnapping among others; and started going after perceived, not suspected (on a reasonable ground) “internet fraudsters”, popularly known as “Yahoo Boy”.

Meanwhile, “Internet fraud” is a crime, the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit, NFIU was established, legally enabled, and technically equipped to combat. And they’re doing their jobs with utmost anonymity, courtesy of Hi-tech equipment.

But in the name of fighting internet fraud, which is not in the violent class of armed robbery and kidnapping, SARS, like interlopers, would have none of that. They harass, arrest, detain, extort and or execute, anybody who is unfortunate enough to fit into the profiling of the extremely corrupt and trigger-happy operatives, who are most often, in mufti.

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They went after any young man in, his between, the twenties to late thirties or early forties, wearing a deadlocked hairstyle, bearing a laptop computer, or a smartphone. Reports have it that some victims were accompanied to the ATM machines, and made to withdraw whatever is in their accounts, to purchase their freedom. The few who dared to play hard either rotten in detention got summarily executed or rendered permanently disabled physically.

When Nigerian youths stopped feeling safe in the presence of upon sighting the men of the outfit or the regular policemen, even though they do not commit any offence known to any law in the land, they took to the street with placards, and then social media, with the hash-tagged campaign of #EndSARS.

The pinnacle of it was, at the Lekki tollgate, where peaceful protesters gathered, continuously for about two weeks. But it took a violent turn, following the arrival of the military men who were reportedly invited by the Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, to enforce the newly declared curfew, on the 20th of October 2020. Many protesters were allegedly killed by bullets fired by military men. But they vehemently denied killing anybody.

The issue of how many people got killed by military bullets still remains today, a subject of controversy, as the army denied firing any life bullet. It however admitted firing what it called “blank bullet. Blood-stained pieces Nigerian National flag were seen at the scene, nevertheless.

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The protest would later spread like wild harmattan fire, across most parts of the country. It was a protest like no other before it. It was a protest that shook the very foundation of the Nigerian State. Policemen were reportedly killed and police posts and vans set ablaze.

Most of the requests by the protesters, chief among which was the disbandment of the unit with immediate effect, were granted by President Muhammadu Buhari.

As I pound my keyboard, the Nigeria Police Force, NPF, and its men are still battling with the consequent crisis of legitimacy, struggling to regain the trust of the people of Nigeria.

If a behemoth called the Nigeria Police Force could suffer this much, any law enforcement agency, especially, the paramilitary organisations need to watch it.

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That brings to the fore, the newfound penchant for impunity by men of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC. The media is awash with reports of how the commission’s men currently invade hotels, hostels, and private residences, violating people’s privacies, in the name of acting on a tip-off, or “credible intelligence”.

About a couple of years ago, they started with some senior judges; invaded their homes in the middle of the night, alleging that they were involved in money laundering. But at the end of the day, nothing was found on those priests at the temple of justice. That was the ominous sign that many Nigerian never saw or decided to ignore. If judges could suffer that much humiliation, how much more, an ordinary Nigerian like you and me?

Their mode of operation became pretty much like that of their deceased sister outfit, SARS. They profile internet fraudsters, using age, hairdo, and the level of sophistication of their electronic gadgets (personal computer, phones etc.). Meanwhile, I suppose, they have the technological enablement to track internet fraudsters, using digital footprints.

In Ilorin, the Kwara State capital, about a couple of days ago, scores of University students of; “the University of Ilorin” and “the Kwara State University, Malete”, had their hostels invaded in a Gestapo style, with some doors broken, and students, male and female, manhandled, only for the “Bawa boys”, to come out with no shred of evidence to the effect that, they have acted on any intelligence, that bore a semblance of credibility.

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Sometime last week also, there was a report of EFCC invading a hotel in Enugu and arrested students, and Youth Leaders of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, (an Igbó Socio-cultural group) who were holding a security meeting, rounded up, and driven away in Coastal Buses.

Another woman on social media alleged that they groped her in the dark after cutting the power supply to the hotel. But the spokesman of the Commission, Wilson Uwujaren, alleged that Internet fraudsters known as “Yahoo Boys” were in the habit of using naked ladies to distract EFCC officials. Funny, right?

Methinks, investigating financial crimes in the age of e-driven economy should be tech-driven, such that, an EFCC operative does not have to invade and violate the serenity of hostels, hotels, or private residences, shooting sporadically, switching off the electric power supply, and start groping women in search of evidence of internet fraud.

Every electronic transaction, fraudulent or not, leaves in its trail, digital footprints, that would make it impossible for the perpetrator(s) to escape the long arm of the law.

The most bizarre law enforcement strategy in Nigeria that is not limited to the EFCC is that they arrest most suspects before they start looking for what charges to prefer against them. That amounts to putting the cart before the horse. They arrest, torture, and detain before they begin an investigation.

Before the EFCC becomes the new “SARS”; before we start witnessing #EndEFCC, someone needs to remind them that, America’s Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI, did not fire a single shot, before they arrested the Instagram celebrity and alleged internet fraudster, Ramon Abbas, popularly known as Hushpuppi. All they did, was due diligence that is a corollary of thorough investigation before they started manhunting him until he was eventually arrested. And no sooner was he arrested than comprehensive reports of the detailed investigation by the FBI were released.

In saner climes, law enforcement agents will swoop on suspects, only if and when they have concluded their investigation. But the reverse is the case with law enforcement agencies in Nigeria. Little wonder, they find it difficult to extract convictions against most of their accused.

Could it be that the historical affinity between the Nigeria Police Force and the EFCC, is what is responsible for the police approach to financial crime-fighting? Remember, pioneer staffers of the anti-graft agency were drawn from the Nigeria Police Force. “DNA no dey lie”. The umbilical cord is too short.

As the police struggle to re-establish its legitimacy, in the eyes of Nigerians; a situation that has brought about a very large vacuum in our national security architecture, we can not afford to add the anti-graft agency to the list of law enforcement agencies that have lost their legitimacy.

Adebayo Abubakar writes from Ilorin. You can reach him via 08051388285 and [email protected]

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