What is SARS?: Nigerians Protest Police Brutality

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By TobiJamesCandids, Photo used with permission from Wikimedia Commons

Young Nigerian protesters lay next to their signs, showing support for the #EndSARS movement.

#ENDSARS

#EndSARS has been trending worldwide since October when protests to end SARS in Nigeria were at an all time high. Similar to the recent Black Lives Matter protests in America, outrage sparked when a video of SARS’ police brutality went viral on Oct. 3. The video showed graphic footage of SARS officers dragging two limp men out of a hotel in Lagos, before an officer shot at one of the already unconscious men.

Upset and looking for justice, Nigerian citizens held peaceful protests across the country. At the protests, there were instances of police brutality. SARS officers shot at and sprayed tear gas at crowds of peaceful protestors.

What is SARS?

Nigeria struggled with high crime rates in the 1990s, so the Nigerian government came up with the solution of creating a police unit called SARS. SARS stands for the Special Anti-Robbery Squad. The idea behind SARS is that they could do essentially whatever they wanted to stop theft-related crime. “They were given a special remit, initially not needing to wear uniforms, acting as a sort of faceless security force,” The Guardian correspondent Emmanuel Akinwotu said.

Isa Sanusi of Amnesty International Nigeria says SARS officers were given little training to be police officers, and they lack the basic skills they need to properly perform their duties. “They don’t have investigative skills, therefore they believe that only by beating a person, or giving a person electric shock, by putting a person through humiliating ill-treatment that they will get the information they want,” Sanusi said in an interview for Global News.

Officers are only required to have what is equivalent to a high school diploma in America, and police academies are poorly run. Police academies in Nigeria lack the adequate training resources to properly train a police officer with regard for human lives. According to a 2017 Human Rights Watch report, “Everyone’s in on the Game – Corruption and Human Rights Abuses by the Nigeria Police Force”, they’re poorly funded largely because the funds designated to running and maintaining these academies are embezzled and mismanaged.

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Nigeria has a population of more than 200 million, and more than half are under the age of 30. These young people’s interest in technology has made them a target. SARS officers mainly target young men carrying devices such as phones and laptops, and have labeled them as “internet fraudsters.”

According to Sanusi, these unlawful arrests are caused by corruption within the police force. “It’s not about investigating internet fraud, but it’s because of corruption. When they arrest young people with computers, they believe that if you have a computer you have money, so they will arrest you and accuse you of being a ‘fraudster,’ and either your family pays them money to release you, or they kill you,” Sanusi said.

SWAT

The Nigerian government has now promised to dissolve SARS, but the fight isn’t over in Nigeria. Nigerian citizens don’t trust that this is true. This is the fifth time since 2015 that the Nigerian government has promised reform in response to public outrage. According to Akinwotu, If SARS is dissolved, SARS officers will just be moved to different parts of the police.

To replace SARS, the government has organized a new police unit: SWAT, or Special Weapons and Tactics. SARS officers will be members of the new unit, meaning that no real change has been made, and the police force that was the driving force of police brutality in Nigeria will just be rebranded.

What Americans can do to help

Sophomore Haven Golliday says that she’d never heard of the End SARS movement until she saw a TikTok about it last month, and she wishes more people knew what’s going on. “I never knew about SARS until I saw a TikTok about it a few weeks ago and decided to do some research. It’s crazy how similar the situation in Nigeria is to the BLM protests that were happening here a few months ago, it’s such an important topic that I don’t think many Americans are educated about, I wish more people knew it was happening,” Golliday said.

Here are some ways you can help contribute and raise awareness to end SARS:

Educate yourself and others:
Further research SARS and why it’s so important not only to Nigeria, but to the
world, and spread awareness and information to those you know, especially on social
media.

Donate
Places you can donate that will help end SARS:
Diasporans Against SARS: Fundraiser by Nigerian Diasporans Against Sars: Diasporans Against SARS
Feminist Coalition: Donate BTC to the Feminist Coalition
End SARS Carrd: END SARS