The End SARS (End Special Anti-Robbery Squad) protests in Nigeria are a call for massive reforms not only in the police institution but also the wider security sector that involves counter-terrorism.
For a week now, people across Nigeria have united their voices to protest against police brutality and demand justice for victims.
Demonstrations organised on social media erupted earlier this month calling for the abolition of a notorious police unit accused of unlawful arrests, torture and extra-judicial killings.
What Is The Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS)?
The Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) was a branch of the Nigeria Police Force under the State Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department (SCIID). The Police Department was founded in 1992.
The squad was created as a faceless police unit that performs undercover operations against crimes associated with armed robbery, car snatching, kidnapping, cattle rustling, and crimes associated with firearms.
SARS have been allegedly accused of several acts of human rights violations, illegal “stop and search”, illegal arrest and detention, extrajudicial killings, sexual harassment of women and brutalizing many young Nigerians. The human rights abuses of SARS are seen in trending videos on social media.
Amnesty International documented at least 82 cases of torture, extrajudicial killings, extortion and rape by SARS between January 2017 and May 2020. According to their report, victims held in SARS custody have been subjected to “mock execution, beating, punching and kicking, burning with cigarettes, waterboarding, near-asphyxiation with plastic bags, forcing detainees to assume stressful bodily positions and sexual violence.”
How Did The Protests Start?
The protests started following the alleged killing of a young man by officers from the SARS unit at the beginning of October.
Protesters called for the unit to be disbanded.
What Has The Nigerian Government Done?
The government gave in to the demand on Sunday, announcing that the federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) was being disbanded in a rare concession to people power in Africa’s most populous nation.
The government has pledged broader reforms to Nigeria’s law enforcement.
Many greeted the move with scepticism after previous vows to reform Nigeria’s notorious police went unfulfilled, and protesters are in the streets to keep up the pressure.
The inspector general of police said on Tuesday that a new Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team would “fill the gaps arising from the dissolution of the defunct SARS”.
The announcement which followed a closed-door meeting was met with scepticism, with the hashtag #EndSWAT quickly trending online along with #EndSARS.
How The World Has Reacted To The Protests
Over the weekend, the Nigerian diaspora community also organized protests in solidarity with their counterparts at home.
On Sunday, #EndSARS protests took place in Canada, England, Germany and the United States.
Some of Nigeria’s most celebrated stars have thrown their weight – and considerable followings – behind the protests.
Afropop duo P-Square and rapper Falz were leading the movement on Tuesday in Lekki, a neighbourhood of Lagos, where several thousand people were gathering.
US rapper Kanye West has joined a growing list of international celebrities speaking out in support of large protests against police brutality in Nigeria.
“I stand with my Nigerian brothers and sisters to end police brutality, the government must answer to the peoples cries #EndPoliceBrutalityinNigeria,” West tweeted Monday.
Celebrities including singer Trey Songz (real name Tremaine Aldon Neverson), former professional footballer Rio Ferdinand and “Star Wars” actor John Boyega are also among those showing support to those protesting the disbandment of a controversial police unit in the West African nation.