Ending SARS in Nigeria
The Special Anti Robbery Squad, or SARS is a special branch of the Nigerian police force formed in 1992. The controversial unit was created to fight violent crime and was originally designed as a covert force, as the officers wore civilian clothing. According to Amnesty international, SARS is responsible for “widespread torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (other ill-treatment) of detainees in their custody.” Officers involved in the torture and other cruel treatment were rarely held accountable and often simply transferred to another location.
For over a decade human rights agencies have actively criticized the widespread use of torture in Nigerian law enforcement, but it wasn’t until recently that the hashtag #EndSARS gained attention on a global scale. The protest flooded social media after a video showing a SARS officer shooting an unarmed man surfaced in early October. Media attention only increased after Nigerian law enforcement responded to protests with violence: CBC confirmed protesters were met with tear gas, water cannons, and live rounds. At least two protesters were killed with dozens more facing serious injury.
The Nigerian government responded to the global outrage by promising to dismantle SARS, though the government announced a new armed unit would be created to fill any gaps left over from the cancellation. Since then, the government has also enacted a curfew in areas of civil unrest and has banned all protests due to the fears of coronavirus.
Protesters have the right to be skeptical, the Nigerian government actually promised to investigate and cancel SARS on four previous occasions. The investigations and cancellations never happened and Nigerians fear that SARS will simply return under a new name. World wide protest and activism continues, demanding compensation to victims and a release of all arrested Nigerian protestors. Nigerians also demand that their government allow the investigation of their law enforcement agencies by an independent body.
“The authorities have an obligation to protect Nigerians and bring to justice those who violate their human rights. Unless the authorities follow through with their promises to reform SARS and end the frequent extortion and ill-treatment of Nigerians, their empty words will be just that.” Osai Ojigho Amnesty International Country Director in the Nigeria national office