NIGERIA’s attorney-general and justice minister Abubakar Malami has cast doubt on the sincerity of the government to address questions raised by the now-dissolved Special Anti-Robbery Squad (Sars) police unit by claiming there is no evidence to prosecute its operatives.
Over the last month, there have been widespread demonstrations across Nigeria in response to the human rights abuses of the Sars units. Its operatives have been accused of extortion, human rights abuses, harassment and carrying out extra-judicial killings and there have been calls for the culprits to be punished.
Forced by the weight of public opinion, the federal government has scrapped the Sars unit and replaced it with a new unit called the Special Weapon Tactical Team (Swat). Last year, a presidential investigative panel indicted 33 Sars operatives, accusing them of abuses but according to Mr Malami, there is not enough evidence to prosecute them.
Mr Malami’s office has therefore asked the inspector-general of police, Mohammed Adamu, to set up a special investigative team to conduct a thorough investigation into the cases. This presidential panel led by the executive secretary of the National Human Rights Commission, Tony Ojukwu, had between 2018 and 2019 probed complaints of brutal activities of Sars operatives and submitted its report President Muhammadu Buhari on June 3, 2019.
Its report indicted a total of 35 police operatives in 12 states and the Federal Capital Territory for various rights violations including, extra-judicial killing, death in police custody, unlawful arrest, biased investigation, unlawful intimidation, harassment, criminal assault, torture, cruelty, inhuman and degrading treatment, threat to life, extortion and confiscation of property, among others. In its conclusion, the report recommended 33 of them for prosecution and punishment, including sanctions like a reduction in rank and dismissal.
It also recommended that 57 victims be paid about N249m as compensation while the police should tender a public apology to 35 people. On October 19, the panel submitted the report to the Mr Malami accompanied with a specific list of those recommended for prosecution but after reviewing it, a committee set up by the attorney-general said the report does not meet prosecutorial needs as it was lacking in vital exhibits, such as medical evidence and statements of the suspects.
“The report of the panel does not meet prosecutorial needs as no proper investigation was concluded in all the cases. Admissible evidence such as exhibits, medical evidence, statements of the suspects and witnesses that can be used in court have not been obtained or recorded in the appropriate sheet from the suspects and witnesses by the appropriate investigation team,” the Malami committee said.