SARS Protests in Nigeria: a Social Movement

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AFP

People carry placards in continuation of ongoing demonstrations to call for the scrapping of the controversial police unit at Ikeja, on October 9, 2020. – Nigeria’s top police chief banned a controversial anti-robbery unit and other special agents from mounting roadblocks and carrying out stop-and-search operations over accusations of abuses. Inspector-General of Police Muhammed Adamu said the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (FSARS) and other tactical squads must stop such operations “with immediate effect”. Adamu said the decision followed findings that “a few personnel” in undercover tactical squads have abused their position “to perpetrate all forms of illegality”. (Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP)

Hailey Jones, Reporter

On October 8th, Nigerian youth took to the streets to protest the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, or SARS, for their acts of police brutality. 

 

Although the movement started in 2017, it gained international attention on October 3rd, after a graphic video depicted an officer dragging a man into the street and shooting him. After the publication of the video, many grew outraged and began to protest. People shared their own stories of police brutality at the hands of SARS and illicit activity committed by the unit. The movement found its way to social media under the hashtag ‘#EndSARS’, which many have been using to bring awareness to the atrocities being committed by the Nigerian police. 

 

SARS originated in 1992 as a branch of the Nigerian police force to combat armed robberies, kidnappings, and other crimes within the realm. However, the unchecked power held by the force allows for the brutalization of citizens. The police unit has been accused of many human rights violations, including various forms of torture, illegal searches, arrests, detainments, and sexual harassment. Recently, they’ve been targeting youth with luxury vehicles or clothing, smartphones, and laptops. 

 

Protestors are seeking justice and accountability for the actions of SARS, calling for their disbandment and overall police reform. On October 11th, the Nigerian government announced that SARS had been dissolved, but critics realized that the government had made similar, unfulfilled statements in the past. Furthermore the announcement that members of SARS would be moving to other units caused temporary celebration to regress into more demonstrations. 

 

Similar to the Black Lives Matter protests in the U.S. during this past summer, protestors are being met with violence from police. On October 20th, now infamously known as Black Tuesday, the Lekki Toll Gate Massacre was committed. While peaceful protestors gathered at the Lekki Toll Gate, Nigerian armed forces opened fire without warning, injuring many and killing at least 12 citizens according to Amnesty International; however, the exact number is still unknown.

 

Moments before the massacre, electricity was cut and CCTV cameras were removed at the gate, which some believe is an attempt to conceal evidence, although the Nigerian government disputes these claims. Police fired into the crowd as demonstrators locked arms: donning the Nigerian flag, and singing the national anthem. 

 

What started as a movement against SARS has blossomed into an overall criticism of the Nigerian government and a demand for change in all facets of life: economic, educational, and health-related. Citizens want the government to take accountability and provide solutions for the unemployment crisis, poor infrastructure, inadequate education and healthcare systems, systemic corruption, and many more issues Nigerians have been frustrated with for years. The efforts of Nigerian youth are clearly making a large impact, as their cause is being backed internationally, and they have garnered support from protesters around the world. They have demonstrated remarkable leadership during these protests, demanding a better future for their country.