SARS (Special Anti-robbery Squad) developed in Nigeria as a result of an upsurge of armed robbery in 1992 by former police commissioner Simeon Midenda and specifically when a Colonel of the Nigerian Army was killed by police officers at a checkpoint in Lagos who were arrested and prosecuted. The Army was privy to this and soldiers stormed the streets of Lagos to find scapegoats in police officers leading to a nationwide retreat of the Nigerian police that found most police officers fleeing from their checkpoint and security duties and some resigning. This is turn led to an increase in crime rate and the formation of SARS, a new police body with only a few members operating in the shadows to curb crime. It was officially commissioned following a settlement with the Army.
The official duty of SARS is to protect innocent Nigerians byinvestigating and arresting armed robbers. But they have sinceswayed from that to attacking, harassing, detaining, robbing,threatening and killing innocent Nigerians especially youths.They mostly roam major roads; stopping people in private or public vehicles or just going about their businesses; asking aggressively for means of identification without warrant and proceeding to extort money from them, sometimes violently.
While they may actually have solved some rather obscure robbery cases. They are renowned nationwide for particularly profiling young Nigerians who appear rather flashy; whose personal styles are highlighted by locks, nice cars, pricey-looking clothes, piercings, tattoos, expensive gadgets, and so on. This led to a widespread pent-up frustration which eventually turned to outbursts that range from people recounting their dreadful experiences with SARS to people calling for an urgent intervention by the government. All that grew into the #EndSARS movement.
Recently and most significantly from the 8th of October, the Nigerian youths with Twitter as their primary hub began raving and clamoring for an end to the brutality of SARS. And organically inspired by the nonchalance of the government to their pain, they took to the streets in increasing droves to express their anger and frustration over the gross injustice they have each directly or indirectly experience at the hands of SARS and Nigerian police.
The government responded at first by announcing through the IG of police that SARS has been dissolved and also by reintroducing a new police faction called SWAT but as that is not the first time the government would pull a fast one on its citizen, so the fast-growing public protest continues. The inaction of President especially to national crisis has been nothing to write home about and protesters have since expressed in details what they demand, to little to no positive response. Protesters especially hope to at least get justice for those innocent people SARS have killed.
The #EndSARS tag however is increasingly gaining massive support and recognition as Nigerian youths, home, and abroad have seen the hashtag trending worldwide on Twitter and other social media platforms with millions of impressions. International and national celebrities have contributed their voices, endorsing it. Celebrities in the music, sports, and tech industries, especially as a huge chunk of Nigerian youths are not just avid followers but are occupationally niched in these industries. Funds towards financing the care and encouragement of protesters have been set up and keep growing unprecedentedly.
“This is not just about SARS, it’s about ending police brutality,” said Ikechukwu Onanuku, a Nigerian rapper in Lagos, who had once been assaulted by SARS led a protest in one of Lagos suburbs. “Police brutality here in America often is an abuse of power-driven by race. To be brutalized, extorted, and murdered by your own people is unimaginable. Prayers up and I’m researching ways I can help. #EndSARS,” Trey Songz, an American rapper tweeted on Saturday. “I have a feeling that this is more than just SARS. Nigerians want true change! They are done managing faith without practical action and we support you,” John Boyega, a Nigerian-British actor.
The #EndSARS movement is the first of its kind based on magnitude and intensity. It does not help that during the protests, the police have been reported to not just show up armed but have killed over 10 protesters and detained more. Most notably were the killing of a protestor in Ogbomoso, 20-year-old Jimoh Isiaq, who was hit by a stray bullet fired at protesters, and a 55-year-old passerby in Lagos, Ikechukwu Ilohamauzo who was also hit by a stray bullet fired by police officers. They also fired tear gas, water cannons, and live ammunition at protesters in the capital of Abuja, though no one has been killed, plenty was injured.
The end of the protest is therefore not imminent since the government is said to have no control over police reform or a plan to end the police brutality that threatens the future of Nigerian youths and the nation.
By Abiola Makinde