#EndSars is a political campaign organised by some Nigerians to disband the unit of the Nigerian Police Force. Starting as a social media campaign, #EndSARS is a demand for the government to disband the Nigerian Police Force Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
Under the Force Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department (FCIID), SARS is a unit that was created to combat violent crimes associated with kidnapping, armed robbery, extortion, among others.
Several Nigerians, especially the youth, have related stories of how officers and men of the unit have been engaging in extortion, unlawful arrests, humiliation, and other crimes. Such activities are not befitting of law enforcement agents with primary assignment of protecting the citizens.
The Incidence of Police Brutality in Nigeria
The Special Anti-Robbery Squad unit has been accused severally of violating the rights of Nigerians. A large number of such victims are youths who move around with laptop computers.
On Sunday, September 4, 2020, the call for the abolition of SARS grew louder with the police in Nigeria’s commercial capital, Lagos, as they pledged to cleanse the officials that are guilty of these acts.
It is not the first time Nigerians are campaigning for the disbandment of SARS. A similar campaign was launched last year, which led to the review of the police unit’s activities by a presidential panel.
However, the unit is still engaging in unlawful detention, unlawful killings, harassment, torture, and extortion.
In March, Hamilton Osahenhen Obazee was allegedly arrested and tortured. This eventually led to his death. Several demonstrations were held as people demanded the closure of the police unit.
A report by Amnesty International in 2016 revealed the frequent torture, extortion, and detention of young Nigerians by SARS personnel.
The officers’ abuse of power does not end at extortion, harassment, and unlawful detention, it sometimes resulted in murder.
On Saturday 3, October 2020, a video surfaced online, which showed a team of SARS allegedly shooting and killing a young man. The gruesome incident, which allegedly occurred in front of Wetland Hotel, Ughelli, Delta State, became viral on social media. The SARS were seen to have sped off with the victim’s white Lexus SUV’s vehicle.
This incident has sparked another outrage in Nigeria as citizens recounted their ugly encounters with the Special Anti-Robbery Squad. They also called for the disbandment of the unit.
Amnesty International has reported that at least 82 cases of torture, ill-treatment, and extra-judicial execution by SARS between January 2017 and May 2020. The victims are usually from vulnerable groups and low-income backgrounds and are predominantly males between the ages of 18 to 35.
These young people are often accused of armed robbery or internet fraud. The police unit usually targets young men dressed in ripped jeans, wearing dreadlocks, having tattoos, or/and possessing expensive gadgets and phones. SARS officers raid recreational centres, bars, and television viewing centres to unlawfully arrest youths. They are unlawfully detained and forced to pay bribes before being released. These young men are subjected to ill-treatments if they are unable to pay.
The Impunity Enjoyed by SARS Officers
Officers of the controversial police unit have not been prosecuted by the Nigerian authorities, despite several complaints and protests against them. Members of SARS continue to torture innocent Nigerians without facing the law.
There are cases of victims getting threats as they try to seek justice from police authorities. The government has repeatedly promised to reform the Nigerian Police Force. However, the force has continued to be associated with gross human rights violations.
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Social Media Users Lend their Voice
The recent killing of a young man in Ughelli, Delta State, has sparked wide outrage on social media. People have taken to the platform to narrate stories of extortion and unlawful detention by SARS officers.
Nigerians are using the hashtag #EndSARS to call on the government to address this menace that has plagued the society.
In November 2017, #EndSARS trended on social media for weeks. Several Nigerians narrated their stories. However, very little has changed since then. Social media users have shared how they were accosted by the officers for simple things such as carrying a backpack or laptop.
A Twitter user wrote:
“We are so used to this pain and hopeless endurance. Almost everyone has had one or two encounters with SARS brutality/extortion. #EndSARS”
Celebrities Support the #EndSARS Movement
Several Nigerian celebrities have taken to social media to demand an end to police brutality. Celebrities, such as Wizkid, Don Jazzy, Runtown, Falz, Yemi Alade, Kate Henshaw, DJ Spinall, and Mr. Eazi, have called on the government to put an end to the illegal activities by SARS officers.
Multi-award-winning artist, Yemi Alade, took to her Twitter page to write:
“I know you see these tweets… you can monitor bigbrother from Government House….oya #EndSARS now, innocent Nigerian Youths are being killed every day.”
DJ Spinall also wrote:
“Woke up to this SARS headache again today. We protested when Kolade Johnson was murdered & now we back at this same shit again. #EndSARS”
Police Bans SARS Police Unit for the Third Time
On Sunday, 4 October 2020, the Inspector-General of Police, M.A Adamu, banned the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (FSARS) and other Tactical Squads of the Force from carrying out routine operations. The Police further announced that personnel without uniform are not authorised to embark on tactical assignments or patrols. The announcement occurred after an online outrage called for an end to the activities of the police unit.
The Inspector-General of Police said:
“They must always appear in their police uniforms or approved tactical gear.”
He further warned the officers to desist from invading on the citizens’ privacy through an unauthorised search of laptops, phones, etc.
“They are to concentrate and respond only to cases of armed robbery, kidnapping and other violent crimes when the need arises.”
He confirmed their acts of human rights abuse and has ordered monitoring of the Tactical Squads and other police officers’ activities by the Monitoring Unit and X-Squad.
“They are to ensure prompt arrest, investigation, and prosecution of all erring police officers who violate these directives and other extant regulations of the Force.”
However, a similar pattern has been followed over the years. Some Nigerians believe that it is another medium to keep them quiet. This is because a similar announcement was made in 2017 and 2018 when the killings by SARS officers spiked a nationwide outrage. These moves have had no impact on protecting the citizens against police brutality and Nigerians are ready to fight for an effective declaration.
Is there a Solution to Police Brutality in Nigeria?
The law clarifies how citizens should be treated by SARS officers. However, it does not spell out the punishment for failure to abide by this rule.
It is pertinent that the government criminalises any undue behaviour by SARS officers, and this should be adopted in all states.
While the #EndSARS campaign calls for the disbandment of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, it does not focus on the flaws in the policing system and criminal justice in Nigeria.