The Black Lives Matter protests in the U.S and subsequently around the world shed a light on police brutality in the west. But recent events in Nigeria have shown that other parts of the world also struggle with police violence. The Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) – an arm of the Nigerian Police Force – has recently come under the spotlight after years of unfettered violence on citizens. Government officials announced that SARS will now disband, following weeks of protest and unrest on the streets of Nigeria and around the world.
However, this is the fourth time the controversial unit has said it will dissolve, with few changes actually being implemented. Protesters on the ground say the announcement that SARS is now defunct is a hollow victory for Nigerians as police continue their reign against citizens. People are still out on the streets fighting for systematic reform, however, protests have not been well received by police who have used water cannons, tear gas and live ammunition to disperse them. Last week, members of the Nigerian Police Force opened fire on peaceful End SARS protesters at the Lekki toll gate in Lagos State where 46 were confirmed dead. Since protests began, 56 people have died, with many others injured or missing. So, what is there to know and how exactly can you help?
What is SARS and why was it started? The Special Anti-Robbery Squad was conceived in 1992 and has been criticised since its inception. It was founded as one of the 14 units in the Force Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department, which was established to detain, investigate, and prosecute people involved in crimes like armed robbery, kidnapping, and other violent crimes. The squad was created as a mask-wearing police unit that performs undercover operations against violent crimes such as armed robbery, car snatching, kidnapping, cattle rustling, and the bearing and use of illegal firearms. Why is SARS a controversial group? SARS has been accused of several human rights violations, illegal stop and searches, illegal arrests and detentions, extrajudicial killings, sexual harassment, and brutalising young Nigerians. A study in June by Amnesty International revealed a pattern of abuse of power by SARS officers and the consistent failure by the Nigerian authorities to bring perpetrators to justice. It highlighted the deficiencies in Nigerian police accountability that contribute to, and exacerbate, these violations. People have also taken to social media to show the human rights abuses committed by the unit. How can you support the movement? Since news of the protests gained international traction, various voices have come out in support of the movement. You could learn more about what’s going on in the ground by following several figures including BBC Africa journalist Yemisi Adegoke; The Feminist Coalition who champion equality for Nigerian women; Annie Olaloku-Teriba, who has written about the history of SARS; and lawyer and writer Ayo Sogunro, who also uses his platform to educate followers. Ayo tells Metro.co.uk that due to the international attention the cause received, the Nigerian government has said they will formally disband the SARS. However, he is urging people to keep applying pressure so the government can instill meaningful changes. He tells us: ‘Further pressure on this point may shame the government into undertaking independent, impartial and transparent investigations and prosecuting those found liable for human rights violations.’ He adds ‘Another potentially helpful action is formally petitioning international bodies (the UN Human Rights Committee and Human Rights Council, the ICC, the African Commission, etc) to take a more active role in ensuring that there is accountability for documented acts of police brutality and for the Lekki Toll Gate shooting of unarmed protesters on 20 October. ‘This could also include petitioning foreign governments to impose sanctions against culpable state actors and non-state actors in Nigeria.’