With protests breaking out across (End SARS) Nigeria and in expatriate Nigerian communities around the world, the country’s president vowed to a skeptical public on Monday that he would crack down on rogue police officers accused of brutalizing citizens.
President Muhammadu Buhari’s promise came a day after his government announced that it would dismantle a widely feared police unit known as SARS, for Special Anti-Robbery Squad.
Protests against the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) that began two weeks ago continued across Nigeria on Tuesday. Demonstrators have been demanding justice for victims and an end to police impunity.
Protests began after a video emerged of officers allegedly killing a man. Soon the hashtag #EndSars, as the unit is known, began trending internationally.
Protesters of varying economic status and religion have taken to the streets to voice their demands. Top Nigerian celebrities like the pop stars Wizkid, Davido and Tiwa Savage have attended rallies in big cities.
What Is The Special Anti-Robbery Squad?
The Special Anti-Robbery Squad was created in 1992 and charged with tackling the problem of violent crime in Lagos. It operated as a faceless, 15-member team that traveled in two unmarked buses. Also known for its officers often wearing neither uniforms nor name tags.
The anonymity was considered vital for taking on the gangs that openly terrorized Lagos at the time. However, as the police unit grew, establishing itself throughout the country, its faceless nature opened the door to abuse. This made it difficult to identify and report rogue officers and emboldening them to act with impunity, critics say.
Amnesty International documented at least 82 cases of torture, extrajudicial killings, extortion and rape by SARS between January 2017 and May 2020. According to their report, victims held in SARS custody have been subjected to “mock execution, beating, punching and kicking, burning with cigarettes, waterboarding, near-asphyxiation with plastic bags, forcing detainees to assume stressful bodily positions and sexual violence.”
Arrests and cases are rarely investigated. Despite the fact that Nigeria criminalized torture in 2017, no SARS officer has been convicted.
In December 2017, after a video circulated of SARS officers fleeing the scene after killing a man, Nigerians took to social media to share their stories of abusive encounters with the police.
The people of the world’s largest Black nation deserve to prevail over state-sponsored oppression. As they say in Nigeria, “Naija no dey carry last!”