#EndSARS, a Cry of Anger Over Injustice
Translated by: Marine El Hajji
The Special Anti-Robbery Squad, more commonly known as SARS, is a controversial unit of the Nigerian armed forces. Over the years, official public sources have revealed that this unit has committed several acts of corruption and professional misconduct. With all these accusations, the Nigerian government struggled to restore the peace through the reforms implemented. SARS units illegally arrested and detained young people across Nigeria. Their methods, which are being contested, include kidnapping, murder, theft, and extortion of the detainees and their family members. Since the beginning of October 2020, Nigerian youth has been campaigning for the dismantling of this controversial unit. We will take a closer look into the #EndSARS movement which is calling for a radical and permanent change in the Nigerian armed forces.
Genesis of the Events
In 2018, many Nigerians denounced the violent attacks carried out by the notorious SARS. One of these incidents was particularly shocking: that of Bernard Oyabevwe, a Nigerian lawyer. He was attacked by SARS officers for defending his client. While he was on his way to Delta State Police Command in Warri to find out why his client was being held by the police, he was arrested. The officers who beat him to a pulp were members of the SARS. His picture, which went viral on Nigerian media, is quite horrifying. Later, in July 2018, as the unit had been convicted and many people demanded it be disbanded, seven policemen were killed in Abuja. Jimoh Moshood, the Public Relations Officer of the Nigerian police, declared that such events showed that the request of the SARS’ disbanding was not justified.
Laolu Akande, the spokesman for the at the time Acting President Yemi Osinbajo, said in The Punch, a Nigerian newspaper, that “The Acting President has asked the IGP [editor’s note: Inspector General of Police] to ensure that all SARS officers conduct their operations in full compliance with the rule of law and respect the international human rights law and the constitutionally guaranteed rights of suspects.” Despite the requests of former Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, the implementation of these measures failed to have the desired effect: the SARS continued to act violently towards the Nigerian population. In August 2018, the government created a judicial committee to investigate the SARS activities and propose measures for a possible reform. However, while the members reported their findings to the government, a report has yet to be published.
2020, a Year With an Electric Atmosphere
Segun Awosanya, a Nigerian activist, is the initiator of the #EndSARS movement. He began campaigning against the controversial unit in 2016. Not a single month went by without SARS triggering controversy, due to murders creating a stir. Why? Because of SARS’ forceful arrests and illegal actions. Today, #EndSARS has gained popularity as a hashtag regularly used by Nigerians on social media.
In February 2020, the murder of a promising Nigerian footballer Tiamiyu Kazeem horrified Nigeria. The controversial unit was responsible for the young player’s murder. After this murder, demonstrators took to the streets of Sagamu, Kazeem’s hometown. Five people lost their lives in the protests. Following this case, the Nigerian police simply dismissed the policemen involved in the player’s death. A few months later, the anger of the Nigerian people was rekindled.
On October 3, 2020, the murder of a man arose outrage on social networks. This event reignited the call to the #EndSARS movement on social networks and marked the beginning of the protests. Tongues were loosened and many people revealed what they have suffered at the hands of SARS officers. Many Nigerians used this hashtag to share what the unit had made them suffer. Be it extortion, torture, disappearances and murders, everything was denounced.
— Genevieve Nnaji MFR (@GenevieveNnaji1) October 9, 2020
On October 7, 2020, young people took to the streets of Lagos and began to demonstrate, demanding the SARS’ disbanding to put an end to injustice in the country and the deaths caused by the Nigerian police. In Abuja, Benin City, Delta and several cities across the country, Nigerian youth took to the streets to demand a change, notably the SARS’ disbanding, despite the repression descending upon them.
— BBC News Africa (@BBCAfrica) October 9, 2020
— 𝐆𝐢𝐝𝐢𝐭𝐫𝐚𝐟𝐟𝐢𝐜 (@Gidi_Traffic) October 9, 2020
Reactions to #EndSARS Movement
In June 2020, an Amnesty International report entitled Nigeria: Time to end impunity accused officers of the SARS police unit of using questionable professional methods. According to the report, SARS members tortured detainees and demanded bribes to release them. It also reveals that the detainees were being starved, brutalized and ridiculed by the unit’s officers. Moreover, the NGO accused the Nigerian police of covering up the unit’s crimes. Indeed, the officers have never been brought to justice or charged in any case for torturing detainees. When this report was published, the police denied Amnesty’s allegations, claiming that no torture had occurred.
On October 4, 2020, Yemi Osinbajo, told journalists in the House of Representatives that he was angry that policemen were harassing, torturing and murdering young people. He said that such actions committed by the very persons who had the responsibility to protect citizens were unacceptable. Two days later, the Minister of Police Affairs decided to open an investigation into the controversial unit. After that, several Nigerian artists such as Tiwa Savage, Wizkid or Davido joined the protest. This action of Nigerian music celebrities motivated the Nigerian youth to continue their protests.
Donald trump is not your business!
Old man! Police/Sarz still killing
Nigerian youth on a daily! Do something!
Nothing concern u for America!
Face your country !! https://t.co/thxmoYb7VE
— Wizkid (@wizkidayo) October 4, 2020
Amidst it all. We must not forget the reasons we are protesting, we must not forget the peaceful manner of the protests and we must most certainly not back down until our demands are met! Sars ending is a great start but the task is far from completed! pic.twitter.com/DdlYqca49x
— Davido (@davido) October 11, 2020
We just celebrated our 60th Independence Day but tell me one thing that is working for us to celebrate. IT IS NOT OVER MY BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE, IT HAS JUST BEGUN 🇳🇬
— Tiwa Savage ⚔️ (@TiwaSavage) October 11, 2020
On October 11, 2020, the presidency announced the disbanding of SARS. After several days of protests, under popular pressure, Inspector General of Police Mohammed Adamu announced the disbanding of the SARS Anti-Burglary Squad. “The unit which is widely criticized, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, is abolished with immediate effect, in all its formations,” he said.
The Nigerian youth got what they wanted. But the disbanding of SARS is a bitter victory for the Nigerians, as the redeployment of SARS officers is worrying. On social networks, Nigerian youngsters urge people not to fall for it and remind them to stay vigilant. Indeed, on October 20, 2020, soldiers of the Nigerian army killed several protesters in Lekki, Nigeria. This event aroused widespread outrage and many public figures across the world have spoken out about the situation. On October 23, 2020, President Buhari asked for the protests to stop. He added that he “would not allow anyone or any group to endanger peace and national security”. Moreover, he did not comment on the police repression.
The situation in Nigeria remains uncertain.