Nigeria: Youth Organized Protest to Disband SARS
By: Samantha White
The Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), formed in 1992, was found in Lagos, Nigeria. This armed group was initially created to handle crime during a time when civilian threats lurked readily around every corner. Gangs plagued streets terrorizing and robbing Lagosian civilians. SARS operated as a “faceless, 15-member team that traveled in two unmarked buses, its officers wearing neither uniforms nor name tags.” Anonymity was vital for SARS to combat gangs that openly terrorized the city; however, as the threat of gangs subdued, a new threat emerged.
Although initially founded to lessen crime, SARS has been the origin of misconduct for years. With this faceless nature came the abuse of power, which over the years has progressively gotten worse. The group's anonymity makes it difficult to report officers allowing them to act as they please. They have been known to profile youth with their victims ranging from 18-35. SARS members typically shakedown young civilians who appear to be well-dressed with luxury items assuming that they participate in fraud or crime. Various reports have surfaced showing evidence of this portion of law enforcement even killing those who resist. Amnesty International has reported, “it documented more than 82 cases of abuse and extrajudicial killings by SARS officers from January 2017 to this May.”
Due to the president's lack of adhering to civilian requests to disband SARS, protests have now broken out in response to a video surfacing of two men being pulled from a hotel and shot. The video circulated generating public outcry and acting as a catalyst for protest efforts. The hashtag “#EndSARS” has begun to make global headlines gaining support from notable celebrities like Chance The Rapper and more. Groups in Canada and Europe have begun to protest as well in support of the Nigerians movement.
In response to the recent protest, President Muhammadu Buhari promised to crack down on corporate law enforcement and announced that this was only the first step in his commitment to extensive police reforms. Buhari vowed to citizens, “we will also ensure that all those responsible for the misconduct are brought to justice”
These promises fell on deaf ears with protestors with the majority of activists calling the claims “hollow.” Buhari has promised on four different occasions to disband SARS with no direct action ever being taken. Despite government claims to shut the unit down, officers continue to roam free on the streets. Determined to hold Buhari accountable, protestors claim to persist until an executive order is announced disbanding SARS.
Protestors don’t only want reformation with SARS, however, but with overall law enforcement. They have expressed a list of demands, some of which include compensation for those who have suffered from SARS brutality and psychological assessments for SARS officers who want redeployment. They demand the immediate release of imprisoned protestors and for law enforcement to use rubber bullets when dealing with the protestors as well. Multiple people have been wounded due to officers firing live ammunition into the crowds. It is still unclear whether officers will be charged for past abuse.
As protests continue to erupt we are forced to see that police brutality is not only a domestic issue but an external one. It is important that we stand in solidarity with those being oppressed. It is our duty as change-makers and future leaders to create strong bonds with our international allies in hopes of creating a better tomorrow. Do your part in facilitating social change through education, advocacy, and allyship.