Imagine you are walking home from work late at night. You’re stopped by a police officer. He asks you to pull up your dress to prove to him that you are wearing underwear. You then continue your journey. As you are putting your key in your front door, another police officer approaches you on your doorstep. He asks you how you got the money to buy the car sitting on your drive. He accuses you of being a prostitute. If it sounds like this could only be an excerpt from a dystopian novel, you would be mistaken. This is happening right now, in Nigeria.
Created in 1992, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) is a unit of the Nigerian police force. Its original objective was to stamp out violent crime. Since its inception, however, SARS has been widely accused of human rights violations. Initially, SARS officers were not required to wear a uniform, making them a faceless entity of law enforcement. Their increasingly visible presence in Nigerian society has led to wide-scale corruption.
First-hand accounts of SARS brutality suggest officers are targeting young Nigerian men and women, questioning their acquisition of wealth. These suspicions are allegedly dealt with extrajudicial punishment, ranging from physical violence and torture, to extortion and robbery. Other accounts suggest routine interrogation and harassment. In a twist of painful irony, SARS has become the embodiment of the behaviour it aimed to address.
Many have taken to Twitter to share their experience of SARS brutality, starting the #EndSARS movement. At the beginning of October, footage emerged of SARS officers dragging two men out of a hotel in Lagos. Neither men appear to be resisting, and yet a police officer drags one of the men’s bodies out into the street and shoots him.
In recent weeks, the issue reached a climax with protests breaking out across the country. Peaceful protestors in Lagos and Abuja have been subject to shooting and teargassing by the police. At least ten protestors are said to have been killed. News footage shows the anguish of protestors: ‘Stop killing our boyfriends, stop killing our children. Stop. Mothers are crying’, a woman cries from an open car window. ‘I am tired’, another protestor screams into a news camera lens, ‘I am tired’.
President Muhammadu Buhari has recently acknowledged the extrajudicial killings and wrongful conduct of the SARS unit. He made a statement that the unit will be ‘dissolved with immediate effect’. Buhari continues by stating that:
‘The disbandment of SARS is only the first step in our commitment to extensive police reform, in order to ensure that the primary duty of the police and other law enforcement agencies remains the protection of lives and livelihoods of our people.’
Although this may give new hope, Buhari’s announcement has been met with both joy and contempt. The disbandment of SARS states the deployment of officers to other police units. Such a measure does not ensure the complete dissolution of police brutality, sparking frustration at the lack of accountability for the abuse suffered at the hands of SARS. Osai Ojigho – Nigeria’s director of Amnesty International – released a responsive statement:
‘The police authorities must state strongly the concrete steps they will take to ensure all officers alleged to have committed human rights violations are investigated and brought to justice.’
This is not the first time anti-SARS protests have erupted. In 2017, Nigerian celebrities shared their experiences of being arrested in an effort to end SARS altogether. Nigeria’s chief of police Adamu Mohammed consequently re-organised SARS, yet as recent events have proven, reform has not quashed brutality.
The young people of Nigeria don’t want reform. They want the complete and absolute dissolution of not only SARS but police corruption. The protests have proven that there is significant disharmony between the Nigerian people and their judicial system. While SARS may be at the forefront, the mismanagement of policing culture remains the underlying source of contention.
Celebrities like John Boyega, Maya Jama, and Estelle have used their social media platforms to encourage their followers to speak out against SARS.
The thread underneath Boyega’s tweet is packed with replies tagging international news outlets, begging for this issue to be broadcast on a global scale. We are still living in an age of catastrophic injustice and, tragically, many of these issues slip beneath our critical attention.
But there is a possibility of change. In the wake of George Floyd’s murder, outrage crescendoed across the world at police brutality and systemic racism. Although greater reform is desperately needed, the Black Lives Matter movement has already prompted action. From the disbandment of the Minneapolis police department to the removal of the Colston statue, 2020 has shown young people that using our voices can instigate change. To continue the fight, we need to keep the momentum going, and spreading awareness is the first step in causing global outrage.
So what can we do here in the United Kingdom? Well, education is the first step. Below is a comprehensive guide on the issue of SARS, as well as spaces to donate and volunteer. The guide also suggests social media accounts to follow to keep up to date on the issue. Let’s spread the word.
#EndSARS Hub: https://endsars.carrd.co/#
Comment your thoughts and rate this article below!