Despite the coronavirus pandemic putting certain aspects of our lives on hold, people are still finding ways to come together to speak out, campaign and protest against issues which continue to affect countries across the world.
Nigeria is witnessing an uprising. An unprecedented number of young people have taken to the streets in cities across Nigeria to protest against SARS and police brutality in Nigeria.
The Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) was formed in 1992 in a bid to target crime and gangs in Lagos, Nigeria. The unit predominately operates anonymously, with 15-member teams patrolling the streets in plain clothes and traveling in unmarked buses.
However, since then the unit has unlawfully grown and spread across the country, it is notorious for inflicting abuse on Nigerian citizens. The faceless nature of these officers has made it difficult hold them accountable.
SARS officers are known for targeting young people, predominantly males from low-income backgrounds between the ages of 18-35, and pressuring them to hand over money. If they have refused these youths have been accosted, tortured, abused, sexually assaulted or killed for resisting.
Even though the #EndSARS campaign has since forced the Nigerian government to order for the immediate dissolution of the SARS force. However, this has not eradicated the problem. The problem is the entire system.
The Nigerian government have already once promised to shut down the unit, but these same SARS officers have remained, patrolling on the streets. Nigerian authorities have also failed to prosecute a single SARS officer on charges of torture and abuse despite existing evidence - even after the anti-torture legislation was introduced in the country in 2017.
According to CNN, a new tactical unit to replace SARS known as Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) will recruit former SARS officers, but will “undergo psychological and medical examinations to make sure they are fit,” says inspector general of police in Nigeria, Mohammed Adamu.
The fight to end police brutality in the country is still just as pressing – during the recent protests, Amnesty International report at least 10 people have been murdered by the police.
There is pervasive sense of frustration within Nigeria as protesters on the ground are calling for widespread police reform, prosecution of a number of SARS officers, the majority of whom have already been deployed into other police departments. Protesters also want to see the government address broader problems with the police in addition to offering compensation for victims of police violence and evaluating better pay for police officers as a means of reducing the risk of civilians being exploited financially.
Black lives matter everywhere. Even if you are not based in Nigeria you can still support the campaign from afar. Read up on SARS, protest, donate and educate yourself about police brutality in Nigeria, which will put you in a better position to raise awareness about the #EndSARS and #EndSWAT movements.
Continue to amplify Nigerian voices and activists on the ground, whether on social media, online platforms, or conversations with friends. We all have a duty to ensure as many people as possible are made aware about what’s happening in Nigeria.
Words: Maggie Ibiam
Cover image by Stephen Tayo