SARS: Controversial police unit arrests BudgIT staff monitoring public projects

THE NEWSGHOST, NIGERIA – On December 5, 2017, Moses Motoni, a staff of BudgIT, a civil society organisation tracking accountability in public projects in Nigeria, was arrested in Niger by men of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) unit of Nigeria Police who disguised as DHL personnel, a new report confirms.

Motoni was tracking public projects in Niger, one of the states in northern Nigeria, when he was arrested. But the police claimed that he was ‘inciting public disturbance’.

BudgIT has expressed disappointment in the action of the police and wants to press charges. The organisation described the arrest as ‘an assault on democratic accountability’.

In a statement by its communications lead, Abiola Afolabi-Sosami, the organisation said:

‘We maintain that his arrest was on the order of Senator Mohammed Sani of Niger State and abuse against human rights provision, which Moses has as a citizen of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. We also ask that the Nigerian Police should respect the rights of citizens and embrace reforms that further professional conduct.’

Afolabi-Sosami also explained the events that lead to the arrest. He said the Motoni had visited Niger South Senatorial District in Bida town to sensitise the community members on the zonal intervention projects awarded to their constituency in the 2017 budget.

He said:

‘The exact project was the installation of transformers and electrification of the following communities: Nowanya-Tawadzuru tiffin-Emitswachi-Tawadzuru Tako in Gbako LGA, Niger South Senatorial District, Niger State for N25million, as stated in the 2017 Appropriation Act.

Moses encouraged the community members to engage their representatives at the National Assembly and ensure the budgeted projects are implemented.

Shortly after the town hall meeting in Bida, Senator Sani Mohammed put a phone call through to our PTO, Moses Motoni, inviting him to a meeting in his house, which he declined as there were instructions that BudgIT tracking personnel are not allowed to meet with public officials privately.

However, on the December 5, 2017, Moses received an SMS instructing him to pick up a DHL parcel at Markafi market in Kaduna.

Unknown to our PTO, it was a decoy by the Nigerian Police Force to apprehend him. Upon arrival, he was forcefully taken into a car, handcuffed, maltreated and driven off by SARS (Special Anti-Robbery Squad) officials who disguised as DHL personnel,” Mr. Afolabi-Sosami narrated.

BudgIT was distraught at the development considering that Moses Motoni was merely exercising his rights as a citizen in a democratic nation like Nigeria. It is important to note that public information is the right of every Nigerian citizen, vis a vis public funds meant for developmental projects.

The information received pointed Senator Mohammed Sani of Niger State as the alleged architect of the arrest involving the SARS and our officer, Moses Motoni.’

After his arrest in Kaduna on December 5, Motoni a spent a night in SARS office in Abuja and was later bailed on December 6.

However, BudgIT insists it will press charges. It denied added allegations that Motoni was part of a move to topple a king in the district.

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