#EndSARS Trends As Nigerians Protest Police Brutality

This week, protests broke out in Nigeria led by Nigerian activists and celebrities calling for an end to police brutality within the country. These protests were directed towards a specific Nigerian police unit known as the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). The nationwide protests were a culmination of weeks of anger and outcry online by the country’s young people over claims of kidnapping, harassment and extortion by a police unit known as the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).

The Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) is a branch of the Nigerian Police Force that deals with crimes related to armed robbery, car snatching, kidnapping, cattle rustling and firearm related crimes. This is, however, counter-productive as SARS has allegedly been committing the very same crimes they are hired to fight, with allegations by Nigerians of harassment, unlawful arrests, torture and even killings for years.

The #EndSARS campaign began in 2017 when Segun Awosanya ignited it on social media alongside numerous other activists, later culminating in protests to end police brutality and scrap the police unit. These protests resurged in 2020, when an online video was released on October 3rd showing a SARS police officer apparently shooting a young Nigerian. As protests continue in cities across Nigeria, the hashtags #EndSARS, #EndSARSprotest and #StopPolicebrutality has continued to trend on Twitter. People are campaigning for the disbandment of SARS, and sharing their own personal encounters, stories, photos and videos that, they allege, show men in Nigerian police uniforms searching their cars and harassing them. Footballers, musicians and other celebrities have also supported the online campaign. Furthermore, these protests are not confined to Nigeria alone; the Nigerian diaspora organized international demonstrations and many Nigerians and Nigerian diaspora celebrities showed their support on social media.

Nigerian Police Chief Mohammed Adamu also responded, releasing a statement that read SARS, as well as other tactical police units, are now prohibited from “carrying out routine patrols and other conventional low-risk duties — stop and search duties, checkpoints, mounting of roadblocks, traffic checks, etc. — with immediate effect…” “Voices and complaints on the issues of unprofessional conducts by some SARS operatives have been heard very loudly and clearly,” the statement read.

The police say that the ban on the SARS unit is one of many steps towards reform. However, this ban is not the first time authorities in Nigeria have censured the SARS unit. In 2018, the country’s Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, ordered the unit to be overhauled. In January 2019, the police announced another ban on the same police unit. But the human rights organization Amnesty Nigeria says not much has changed since these bans were put in place.

“A similar ban on SARS did not end police brutality because it appeared the bans were simply done to assuage the swelling public anger at the time of the announcement and not intended to end police brutality,” Amnesty Nigeria’s program manager, Seun Bakare, said.

In an email to CNN, he said as a result of past campaigns, some reforms like “the passage of the anti-torture act 2017, the signing of the new police act,” and other minor amendments have been passed. The anti-torture act of 2017, for example, is supposed to protect Nigerians, including suspects and detainees from torture and inhumane treatment. However there seems to be a lack of political will to enforce these laws.

Responses have poured in from many individuals in power, including the President of Nigeria Muhammad Buhari, who said “Our determination to reform the police should never be in doubt. I am being briefed regularly on the reform efforts ongoing to end police brutality and unethical conduct, and ensure that the Police are fully accountable to the people.”

But the move failed to appease protesters, who say they are tired of hearing promises of reform. “SARS must be banned,” demanded one protestor. “Previously there have been calls for the reformation of SARS but they have always come back stronger with evil.” This is a sentiment echoed by many others. Another protestor added, “This is the fourth time in five years this government is promising to reform SARS. Enough is enough. It has to be abolished now and the police needs immediate reform.”

Peace Olanipekun
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