If you are somewhat active on social media, you may have heard of the term SARS, and no, I am not referring to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. In Nigeria, it stands for Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS) and it is a special branch of their police force. Throughout Nigeria, citizens are calling upon the government to finally disband the squad and to acknowledge its human rights abuses.
SARS was founded in late 1992 to deal with armed robbery, car snatching, kidnapping, cattle rustling, and other violent crimes. However, critics say that the squad has done more harm than good. In June of this year, the organization Amnesty International documented at least 82 alleged cases of torture, ill-treatment and extra-judicial execution by them between January 2017 and May 2020.
In 2017, Nigerian activists began the #ENDSARS movement in protest of police brutality. In October of this year, a second wave picked up after a video of a young man being shot by the police was posted on social media. The police allegedly took the victim’s car prior to the altercation. Two days later, after this initial video went viral, another report emerged alleging that the same squad killed upcoming musician Daniel Chibuike. According to eyewitnesses, the latter and a friend of his were approached by SARS officers, which lead them to flee the scene. While in pursuit, the officers fired rounds which ultimately killed Chibuike.
Following these accounts, on October 8th, nationwide protests erupted throughout the country. In response, the Nigeria Police Force threw tear gas, used water cannons, and shot at unarmed civilians in several cities. Throughout the past month or so, there have been 51 civilian causalities compared to the deaths of 11 police officers and 8 soldiers, at least one (Jimoh Isiaq) of which was directly caused by the unnecessary force from the police.
The government responded by disbanding SARS that same day. However, many were skeptical, as this was the fourth time that they announced the disbanding of the branch. President Muhammadu Buhari announced that there would be police reforms and a federal council mandated that states had to set up compensation funds for victims of police brutality.
On October 14th, a new Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team was announced to replace the supposed gap left with the dissolution of SARS. Critics say the move is just a rebranding of the SARS branch.
Nigerians continue to protest despite lockdown and curfew measures. Their demands have yet to be met.
By Angélique Chu