THE BEGINNING OF SARS
SARS, Special Anti-Robbery Squad, was a sub-unit of Nigeria Police Force under the State Criminal and Anti-Robbery Squad. The purpose of this squad was to investigate, apprehend and detain criminals who bore illegal firearms, robbed the masses, and kidnapped children and adults in the nation. For a fluid operation, they were allowed to serve as undercover agents.
However, over the years, various individuals and groups accused SARS operatives of violation of human rights, illegal arrests and detentions, manhandling of Nigerian youths, sexual harassment and rape, and extra-judicial killings. So far, Amnesty International has documented 82 cases of police brutality between 2017 and 2020. Yet, the bad eggs within the squad seemed to be beyond control.
In 2017, the government responded to the public as regards SARS by stating that the unit would be reformed however the killings continued. On 8th October 2020, Nigerian celebrities such as Falz and Runtown took to the streets to protest against police brutality in solidarity with victims of the same. Following this, organized protests began all over the nation for the disbandment of SARS. The protests were called #EndSARS (End Special Anti-Robbery Squad) protests; this name was culled from the online protests which began in 2017 on Twitter to end the squad.
According to Wikipedia, about 28 million #EndSARS tweets were made on Twitter. For about two weeks, Nigerian youths protested against police brutality with no pronounced leadership. They marched in every state in the nation chanting, “Enough is Enough! Sorosoke! (Speak out!)”
On 11th October 2020, SARS was dissolved! DCP Frank Mba, Force PRO, stated 5 things for the general public to know about the dissolution of SARS:
- The Inspector-General of Police has dissolved the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) across all the 36 state commands and the FCT with immediate effect.
- All officers and men serving in the unit will be redeployed to other police commands, formations and units.
- A new policing arrangement for tackling the offences of armed robbery and other violent crimes will be unveiled to the public soon.
- A Citizens’ and Strategic Shareholders’ Forum will be launched to provide an avenue for citizens to regularly interface and advise the Police Authority on issues touching on the general public.
- To deal with the report of crimes committed against citizens, an Investigative Team will be constituted which will include Civil Society Organisations and culprits will be punished.
In response to the Nigeria Police Force, the Nigerian Youths made 5 demands – #5for5. They are as follows:
- Immediate release of all arrested protesters.
- Justice for all deceased victims of police brutality and appropriate compensation for their families.
- Setting up an independent body to oversee the investigation and prosecution of all reports of police misconduct (within 10 days).
- In line with the new Police Act, psychological evaluation and retraining (to be confirmed by an independent body) of all disbanded SARS officers before they can be redeployed.
- Increase police salary so that they are adequately compensated for protecting the lives and property of citizens.
On 13th October 2020, the Presidential Panel on Police Reforms met and okayed the 5 demands made by the Nigerian Youths. The protests did not stop as the Nigerian Youths determined not to give in until their demands were implemented.
Later, the protests were not just about #EndSARS or #EndPoliceBrutality; they were about something bigger – #EndBadGovernanceInNigeria.
I raised my hand, clenched my fist and started walking back shortly. They were shooting at me.Aisha Yesufu
Unfortunately, the #EndSARS protests degenerated into a bloodbath on October 20th 2020 at Lekki tollgate as the Nigeria Army allegedly shot at unarmed protesters. In an Instagram live video of the shooting by a Nigerian celebrity, DJ Switch, protesters sat on the floor and lifted their flags in a bid to call for peace. The protesters sang the Nigerian National Anthem in agony and solidarity. The picture of a man who was shot during the massacre went viral as he was being helped by DJ Switch. His wounded legs were wrapped with the Nigerian flag.
According to Amnesty International, before the massacre, cameras at the scene – Lekki tollgate – were removed and billboards were switched off. Till date, the one who gave the order to massacre the unarmed protesters has not been apprehended. However, human rights activists like Femi Falana have set up private investigative panels to look into the killings of the protesters.
After several days, the Nigerian President delivered a 10-minute speech to the nation. However, the speech did not address the matter of the Lekki massacre, rather, it focused on youth empowerment and the termination of the #EndSARS protests. The speech was widely condemned due to its apparent lack of empathy.
Initially, the Lagos State Governor denied that casualties were recorded at the Lekki massacre while the Army denied their presence at Lekki toll gate on October 20th 2020 and stated that the live videos were “photoshopped”.
DJ Switch openly testified that the Nigeria Army arrived the scene of the massacre without any warning and shot at unarmed protesters. Thereafter, a CNN journalist held an interview with the Lagos State Governor where he exposed the Nigeria Army and admitted that casualties were recorded. This sparked an outcry for the exposure of the one who ordered the shooting. The Army reacted by saying that they were at the venue of the incident to ensure that the curfew placed by the Lagos State Governor a few hours earlier that day was obeyed.
Joe Biden (The US President-Elect), Hilary Clinton (The former US Secretary of State), Africa Union Commission, etc. all condemned the killings, called for an end to violence and urged the Nigeria Government to negotiate with the protesters. Many international celebrities voiced their displeasure about the turn of events.
Although the protests were halted abruptly and the hearts of Nigerians were broken, there is still hope for the nation. The #EndSARS protests can be seen as a stepping stone towards the liberation of the nation from bad governance. Now, people must be educated on becoming and choosing leaders that can effect positive changes in the nation. Lead Resources trains people with hearts and track records of leadership for a national takeover in a programme called Mainstream Successor Generation. At no other point in history has this solution been more useful to the nation. Those interested may simply contact Lead Resources here.
2023 is near. In a jiffy, your vote will either be a life-jacket or a bullet. Vote wisely!
Osatohanmwen Osadiaye Osabuohien is the Executive Director of Nerve Empowerment Foundation. He is a graduate of the University of Benin, Faculty of Arts, Department of Religion. He is a research analyst by profession and he has a strong interest in analyzing societal challenges.