The hashtag #ENDSARS has taken the media by storm as Nigerian citizens demand the termination of the ‘Special Anti-Robbery Squad’, also known as ‘SARS’. The controversial police force unit has been notorious for brutality and oppression ever since its creation, spurring protests in Nigeria and around the world.
SARS was established in 1992 for the purpose of combatting crimes associated with robbery, motor vehicle theft, kidnapping, cattle rustling and firearms. The squad is a unit of the Force Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department (FCIID) and SARS officers often carry out undercover operations wearing plain clothes and using unmarked cars. Yet, although SARS have a responsibility to protect Nigerian citizens from danger, SARS officers have gained a reputation for their dehumanizing cruelty and brutal misconduct; the unit has been accused of several human rights violations since its deployment such as illegal stop and searches, unlawful arrests and detentions, blackmail, humiliation, extortion and theft. Many young Nigerian men have been targeted and arrested for online fraud purely on the evidence of owning a laptop or smartphone and then forced to pay bail fees to regain their freedom. There is even evidence of SARS officers engaging in kidnappings, sexual assault and extrajudicial killings.
One victim of SARS’ crimes was 32-year-old trader Ugochukwu who was arrested without a warrant at his shop for allegedly paying a gang whose members were blackmailing him in April 2018. The SARS officers requested 20,000,000 nairas from Ugochukwu, and after refusing, he endured six days of death threats and torture including a mock execution. The officers blindfolded and handcuffed Ugochukwu and drove him for two hours to a borrow pit, where they pointed guns at him. He ended up paying 6,000,000 nairas to the officers for his release.
Countless Nigerians have lost their lives to SARS violence, including John Okon who was tortured and beaten to death in his cell over the alleged theft of four television sets in November 2018. In March 2019, SARS officers also killed Solomon Yellowe and discarded his body in a mortuary. Despite knowing that Yellowe’s family were looking for him, SARS never contacted them and continuously denied ever arresting him. In September 2020, SARS of FCT Command in Abuja unlawfully arrested, raped and murdered Ifeoma Abugu. There were also 35 bodies discovered floating on the Ezzu River in Amansea, a border town linking Anambra and Enugu States back in 2013. The victims had been taken to and detained in the State SARS headquarters in Awkuzu until their disappearance. These are just a few of the many horror stories in relation to SARS.
In 2017, Nigerian citizens called for the total disbandment of SARS by signing a petition and organizing protests; however, the unit has only been reordered and reformed since then and the atrocities have continued. The movement #ENDSARS came to public attention again on 3rd October 2020 after a video of a SARS officer shooting a young man and driving off in his Lexus SUV in front of Wetland Hotel, Ughelli, Delta State went viral online. This has fueled the second wave of social media campaigns and protests which have gained more global attention than the first.
So far, the recent #ENDSARS protests in Nigeria have been met with violence. Eyewitnesses, video footage and hospital reports confirm that the Nigerian military have been opening fire on thousands of peaceful protestors in Alausa and Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos. An unknown number of people have been severely injured, killed or reported missing since the protests began and the number continues to rise.
Nigerians are having their voices savagely silenced by those in power, simply for demanding basic human rights. They have the right to live without fear for their families’ lives and to not be brutalized by those they trust to protect them. Being a SARS police officer has become a licence to kill without consequences as countless innocent victims are yet to receive justice. It is not enough to simply “reform” SARS – a terrorist organisation cannot be reformed. SARS must be abolished for good and the Nigerian police force ought to be rebuilt from within if future police brutality is to be prevented.
Visit https://endsars.carrd.co/ for more information on SARS, protests and donation links.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons