The month of October (2020) has seen nationwide protests taking place all over Nigeria in hope of highlighting the injustice and exposing the corruption that exists within the special police unit SARS (Special Anti-Robbery Squad). The SARS unit was created to stop aggravated robbery but have reportedly been abusing their power and the people of Nigeria for decades. Finally, the peoples voice has been heard and SARS was officially dissolved on the 11th October making history and a commemorative date for the people of Nigeria and UK Black history month.
But the question is. Has the battle really been won? Or is this just another promise to be broken by the Nigerian government and police who have a long history of human rights violations including torture, extrajudicial killings, unlawful detention, arbitrary arrests, and extortion. Over the years reform has repeatedly been promised by the Nigerian authorities but little has been done to ensure that justice is adequately served.
Continuing concern regarding SARS ruthless activities led to a Twitter campaign in 2017 which uses the hashtag #EndSARS. At the time it was successful in getting the Chief of police in Nigeria to immediately re-order the SARS unit. However National protests started again on the 8th October 2020 calling for the authorities to disband the Special Anti-Robbery Squad after a video of a SARS officer shooting a young man dead in front of a hotel in Delta state was released on social media further proving reform has failed to curb the abuses administered by the SARS police unit.
This has since lead to the earnest widespread of protests which have been met with police brutality despite being overwhelmingly peaceful. The police responded to the protests by shooting water cannons, tear gas and live rounds of bullets. Civilians taking part in the protests have also been being attacked by gangs of thugs armed with guns, knives, clubs and machete’s hoping to disrupt the protests.
Amnesty international reported that at least 10 protestors were killed and 100’s injured during the peaceful demonstrations.
Nigerian researcher and human rights watch campaigner commented on the situation, saying “people exercising their right to protest and calling for an end to Police brutality are themselves being brutalised and harassed by those who should be protecting them, “This underscores the importance of the protesters’ demands and the culture of impunity across the policing system, which is in dire need of reform.”
What is SARS?
SARS (Special Anti-Robbery Squad) was originally set up in 1992 by former police commissioner Simeon Danladi Midenda to help tackle the growing problem of aggravated robbery. The pandemic had occurred due to a breakdown in relationship between the Nigerian army and the police over the killing of Colonial Ridnam at a checkpoint in Lagos. When the army was informed about the death of Ridnam army troops were dispatched onto the streets of Lagos in search of revenge against any police officer. Scared for their lives police officers withdrew from their posts and duties and went into hiding. Two weeks of absence from the police led to a rise in crime.
Mindenda initially formed SARS from only 15 officers to distinguish this new squad unit form three other established anti-robbery squads in existence. After months of negotiation eventually the arrests of three officers were made. This agreement managed to curb tension between the police and the army who ceasefire and withdrew their manpower. Official police duties in Lagos began again and the SARS were officially commissioned as a police unit. However, despite tension between the two government bodies being forgiven and forgotten the unit have been numerous human rights violations and deaths associated with those being investigated and interrogated by the unit.
A law unto Themselves
A series of allegations documented by human rights groups have directly accused and linked the unit with bribery, torture and extortion.
A report by the Nigerian Human Rights Watch in 2010 warned the authorities to intervene. Reporiting that long term failure to address police brutality would only increase the police units willingness to abuse their power the civil and human rights of the Nigerian people. People. Therefore increasing systematic violation of government authority.
“Nigerian authorities can no longer evade the need for serious reform and accountability in the police system,” Ewang said. “They should go beyond words and send a signal that it is no longer business as usual by investigating the attacks on protesters and taking immediate steps to hold officers and others accountable.”
SARS unit have been said to target the youth. Profiling those with tattoos, piercings, dyed hair or dread locks as criminals called “Yahoo-Boys” which is a slang name for an internet fraudster.
Those who are considered well-to-do or “flashy” by owning a laptop or nice car and work from home are often reported by neighbours to the police.
Bright Echefu a 22-year-old website developer told the BBC “My estate once called police officers to come pick me up because I was always at home and turning the generator on and living well”.
Human Rights Violation Incidents
6 months into the year of 1996 two security guards suspected of assisting a robbery were arrested by SARS but released without charge. The following year in January 1997 the dead bodies of the guards were placed unexplainably in the morgue with no one knowing or admitting how their deaths came about
In 2005 in Obiaruku within Delta state a SARS operative killed a man for failing to pay a bribe he had demanded. The officer in question was fired and arrested on charges of murder.
In May 2010 Amnesty international put in proceedings to sue the Nigeria Police department for brutalising three bicyclists they had arrested in Borokiri, Port Harcourt and detained for over a week allegedly beating them every night with an iron belts and gun bucks. In the same month of May 2010 The Federal High Court in Engu State ordered Ognonna Okechukwu Onoro who was at the time Inspecctor general of police to identify and handover a SARS unit officer who shot a 15 year old boy dead on the premises of his high school.
2 months later on July 2010 an extensive editorial report was published by Sahara Reporters which detailed the way SARS police units made profits from extortion and roadblocks reporting that an estimated $60 million dollars had been taken from civilians by these corrupt means over the course of the last 18 months.
During June 2011 a plan by SARS operative Musa Agbu to bomb the its head quarters was discovered by Nigerian police. Members of the public officially handed several reports of human rights violations to Solomon Arase the then General of Police who on 7 August 2015 made the announcement that he would divide the SARS unit in two with one working as an operational unit and the other as and investigations unit in a bid to decrease the number of humans rights violations occurring.
A report released in September 2016 entitled ‘Meet SARS, the Police Unit with a license to Kill’ was published by Pulse.ng highlighting the ignorance and brutality of the squads conduct against the people of Nigeria. In same month Amnesty International published a report which detailing SARS inhuman treatment of people by means of ongoing torture, imprisonment without trial, forced confessions and the withholding food from detainees amongst other abuses.
On August 10th 2019 a pregnant woman was reportedly killed instantly by the stray bullet of a SARS operative who were on a raid in Ijegun in an attempt of arrest some kidnappers in the area. In retaliation the officers were lynched on the spot by an angry mob.
Two SARS officers were arrested on 21 August 2019 after being caught on film in broad daylight beating and then shooting to death two men suspected of phone theft. The following month on September 2019 SARS operatives in the town of Lekki in Lagos reportedly kidnapped, tortured and robbed Ikechukwu Onunaku a Nigerian rapper for no apparent reason forcing him to make several ATM withdrawals before they left him alone.
Many more reports have been made in addition to the above list. Every day the people of Nigeria suffer at the hands at hands of a rogue police unit that are supposed to protect them not harass and brutalise them.
Enough is Enough
Protesters in Lagos blocked the road and highways leading into the City and Airport on Friday and in the countries capital Abuja; protestors dedicated the day to all Nigerians that have been killed by SARS police brutality.
The voice of Nigeria’s large youth population has had enough and are now demanding the SARS unit be dismantled with total police reforms and individual rogue officers to face justice accordingly. The people are fed up with individuals in a corrupt government which have been plaguing their country with contradictory virtue since its independence now 60 years ago.
These protests go beyond police brutality. Revealing a vast majority of comfortably well off youth that are deeply dissatisfied with its conservative governments past and present performance and the ignorant profiling they suffer daily from its security staff (police), who are quick to label, judge and violate. Hypocritically labelling the youth as lazy criminals based on how they look and what they do for a living. The residing truth regardless of the tattoo and piercings is that most are hard-working individuals who have predominantly had to fend for themselves without support from the Nigerian state which is always on the take.
The Nigerian Governments Reaction
The Nigerian government has now responded to the demonstrations by dissolving the SARS unit. But civilians are not convinced based on the government’s past performance and lack of commitment to promises of reform not being met. Protesters say they are being attacked by people that are backed by the police and the government and will continue to protest calling for an end to all police brutality.
In response a warning from Nigeria’s military against “subversive elements and troublemakers” has been made saying “we will maintain law and order and deal with the situation decisively”.
Calls from authorities in Abuja ordering protestors to disperse because of Covid-19 have been defied with a back lash criticizing the governments hypocrisy commenting “If they are sincere, they would have banned the crowed rallies politicians have been holding”.
Controversially during the protests police damaged and confiscated cameras from journalists and arrested dozens of protesters refusing them access to legal help and only released them because of the intervention senior government officials and the Senate President Ahmed Lawan.
Protests spread to London last weekend, in a further sign of the international solidarity that has formed around the movement.
Posts on social media and local and international TV coverage showed people taking to the streets. Marching in both the West African country and London from Marble Arch to the Nigerian High Commission. The protests have also received the backing from some high profile people and celebrities in the entertainment industry such as Nigerian super stars Wizkid and Davido, US rapper Kanye West, Star Wars actor John Boyega, Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, Star Wars actor John Boyega and premier league footballers Marcus Rashford and Mesut Ozil all showing their support.
Wizkid Commented at the London March, “My people, I want this message to go out to every Nigerian youth. Your voice has been heard,” said Wizkid at Sunday’s protest in London.
“Don’t let anyone tell you don’t have a voice. You all have a voice! And don’t be scared to speak up.
“Next election  we show real power,” he said.