SARS protests in Nigeria

FED UP WITH VIOLENCE: Protesters of all ages are taking to the streets in Nigeria to call for an end of SARS. Marcos del Mazo/Getty Images

By Amy Parr | News Editor

November 1, 2020

#EndSARS has been trending across social media platforms for the past couple of weeks, but many are still unclear as to what exactly is going on in Nigeria. SARS, which stands for Special Anti-Robbery Squad, was created back in 1992 by the Nigerian police force in order to subdue crime. SARS may have started with good intentions, but the consequences of its founding have been severe. 

In the beginning, SARS was successful and actually reduced violent crime rates in Nigeria. Unfortunately, over the years, the covert police force has grown to be as corrupt and violent as the crimes that they are supposed to be fighting against. They have been known to arrest, torture, and kill innocent people. Despite the fact that anti-torture legislation passed in Nigeria in 2017, there is evidence showing SARS’s horrific methodology has been overlooked, and not a single SARS officer had been prosecuted by the Nigerian government. 

INNOCENT VICTIMS: SARS disproportionately targets those with jewelry, piercings, tattoos, and other luxuries. Pius Utomi/Getty Images

People can’t help comparing the lack of repercussions for corrupt police states to the situation in the United States. “Both in the US and Nigeria, protesters are calling to cease abuse of power by police organizations,” junior Charlotte Fuertes said. It’s a good thing that these corrupt institutions are starting to be held accountable, and with this accountability comes the amplification of the victims’ stories. 

A report published by Amnesty International in June of this year details all of the ways in which SARS has violated human rights, providing dozens of examples. One of the more prominent victims of SARS is Miracle Onwe, who was arrested in 2017 for allegedly stealing a laptop. Despite the minor (and false) allegation, Onwe was tortured and starved for 40 days before being brought before the court. The only reason he survived was because other inmates smuggled water into his cell at night.

“It makes me wonder if SARS, or the government granting them power, possess any sort of morals,” Fuertes said. It’s hard imagining someone cruel enough to carry out these horrific acts, but Onwe’s story proves that this cruelty is all too common in Nigeria. 

Luckily, Onwe was able to escape the clutches of SARS when the court released him due to lack of evidence, and he has been able to spread awareness about the horrific tragedies happening in Nigeria. 

These crimes against humanity have been plaguing the Nigerian people for years, but protests have escalated this month due to a video of SARS officers killing an innocent man surfacing on social media platforms on October third, sparking global outrage. 

“I believe similarly to the George Floyd video, the SARS video has attracted a lot of attention from people who did not previously know about this issue in Nigeria,” junior Sarah Jaafar said. “I hope that like the George Floyd video, this video will spark awareness and invoke people to strive for change.” Similar to the abuse of power by police officers in the United States, the SARS abuse is nothing new—it’s just being caught on camera now. 

SORO SOKE: Translated from Yoruba, this phrase means “speak up” and has been a common rally cry at these protests. Olukayode Jaiyeola/Getty Images

Despite denying the validity of this video, authorities arrested the man who recorded it, which only added fuel to the fire. Since then, peaceful protests have erupted in Lagos, the largest city in Nigeria, but the peace didn’t last long. A curfew was imposed, and while enforcing this curfew, police and soldiers killed 12 people in Lagos on October 20, which resulted in the protests taking a violent turn. Some protesters resorted to vandalism, arson, and looting to get their point across. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

“It’s really sad how a lot of media only highlight violent acts during protests and disregard its main intention, to advocate for peace,” Jaafar said. “They gaslight the rarely occurring violent situations and never seem to emphasize the peace and unity that many protesters preach.” This violence isn’t what all of the protestors stand for, and the movement at large shouldn’t be held accountable for the regrettable decisions of the few violent protesters. 

As a result of the protests and social media outrage, SARS was disbanded by Muhammed Adamu, inspector general of police, on October 11. Eleven days later, the president of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, confirmed that the organization is no more, and he went on to accuse former members of SARS of committing “acts of excessive force” (which is an interesting way of saying rape, torture, and murder). 

Even though SARS has supposedly been dissolved, Nigerians are having a hard time believing that their government will actually make change. This is the fourth time in the last four years that the inspector general of police has pledged to disband SARS, so it is uncertain whether or not he will keep his word this time.

The movement isn’t over even though the physical protests are. Activists have taken to social media to spread awareness and to try to rally support. The #EndSARS has over 1.5 million posts on Instagram, and celebrities have spoken out in support of the movement. Among these celebrities is Rihanna, who wrote on her Instagram that Nigeria’s SARS is “such a betrayal to its citizens, the very people put in place to protect are the ones we are most afraid of being murdered by.” While the support is appreciated, the movement will not be over until actual change is implemented by the Nigerian government. 

“I feel that celebrities can help spread awareness and gain mass amounts of individuals to join the Nigerians in their protest for change,” Fuertes said. “However, if the government refuses to go through with their claims, there is only so much publicity can directly do for the cause.” The movement will only be over if the Nigerian government follows through and puts an end to the violence that has been tormenting innocent civilians for too long. 


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