The menace of the men of the Special Anti-Robbery Sqaud (SARS), in various parts of Nigeria is something that has been attracting reactions from citizens in all walks of life. However, things reached its peak with the case of a journalist with Port Harcourt-based Nigeria Info radio station, Kofi Bartels, who is currently hospitalized after he was allegedly tortured and beaten to a pulp by personnel of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad in Rivers State.
According to Bartels, he suffered a swollen knee after he was hit several times with wooden bars by the policemen during an incident at Mgbuoba in the Obio/Akpo Local Government Area of the state.
The trouble started last Tuesday when he noticed that the SARS personnel were trying to arrest a boy, whose mother was selling bean cake (akara) along the road.
Bartels told Southern City News through a text message, “I drove out of my compound to see them trying to arrest a boy, who lives in the area. His mum fries akara for a living. I went to plead with them, but hesitated at a point and chose to take a shot of their bus and the number plate.
“I was given the beating of my life. Right on the road, they started by smashing my knees with wooden bars. My left knee is swollen and my right knee is seriously bruised.”
The presenter stated that the policemen took him to their base, where he was thoroughly beaten. “I was beaten mercilessly at the SARS headquarters when we got there. They took turns to slap, punch and kick me all over by at least six officers. One swore that he would have wasted me if his team was the one that picked me up.
“A couple of them told me to watch my back, saying that was my end in Rivers State, due to the human rights issues we treat (on radio) involving SARS and the police generally. It is unfortunate that innocent boys are being picked up for ransom by the SARS in Rivers State almost daily.”
As a follow-up to that, a human rights group, the Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, described the SARS/Bartels incident as an abuse and defined SARS as the most odious specie of law enforcement agents in the country.
A statement by the acting Director of the group, Wenenda King,said, “Kofi Bartels was beaten, manhandled, handcuffed like a common criminal, thrown into a bus and bundled to the SARS torture chambers at Rukpokwu Town, where the inhuman and degrading treatment continued unabated.
“It took the intervention of an ex-commander of SARS, when the news sipped out, for Kofi to know and see freedom. It could probably have been his end, but for his personality. The IHRHL unequivocally condemns this odious treatment of a citizen.
“This is happening less than two days after the President of the Federal Republic, in response to a recent report by the National Human Rights Commission, openly vowed that the rights of citizens must be respected and protected under the rule of law.
“The Inspector-General of Police was present and added his voice to the absolute requirements for citizens to be treated within the bounds of the UN minimum standards, for law enforcement officials.”
“It is our prayer in this darkest hour of law enforcement disposition, that our responsible political leaders must not look on with icy coldness and remain unmoved in the face of the perils and calamities, which the bad eggs in SARS are visiting on unsuspecting citizens of the realm,” the group added.
The Head of Station, Nigeria Info, Port Harcourt, Blessing Olomu, told pressmen that the organisation has been working hand-in-hand with the police, and they were informed by the state police command that the offending SARS officials had been arrested.
Eventually, the state Police Public Relations Officer, Nnamdi Omoni, who could not be reached via phone initially, said that the five SARS officials involved in the act, were invited to the State Police Command for interrogation over the incident.
Omoni who responded via a telephone interview, stated that apart from inviting the erring officials for questioning, the command had also visited the management of the radio station over the matter. And assured Nigeria Info management that justice would be done in the matter. “We visited the radio house on Thursday. Five SARS personnel involved in the matter have been invited for interrogation. As of the time I was leaving the office, they were still being interrogated.
“But we have gone to see the management of the broadcast station and we have assured them of justice. We are also employing other ways of resolving the matter. They (Nigeria Info) have also assured us that the incident will not affect the cordial relationship we have built overtime.
“There is no way policing can be done without the media; we invite the media when we have our achievements to showcase and they (Nigeria Info) have been assisting us. Crime fighting is not for the police alone.
“They are worthy partners to us. So, they have agreed to allow us carry out our investigation. We have also assured them that we are going to reach out to Koffi (Bartels) personally, to assist with the payment of the medical bills.”