By Tom Kingsbury | Political Editor
Update: The President of Nigeria announced on October 11 that SARS is to be fully disbanded with the officers who made up the unit being deployed elsewhere in the Nigerian Police Force.
Nigeria’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) has been banned from performing stop and searches or setting up roadblocks after the public launched a campaign against the police unit for allegedly robbing and committing acts of violence against members of the public.
Public trust of the Nigerian police – already low – further worsened after footage went viral of a young man said to have been killed by members of a unit of the Nigerian police tasked with preventing robberies. Footage then shows a van driving away, allegedly containing the SARS officers who shot him.
The hashtag #EndSARS trended on Twitter, and citizens began organizing protests as pressure mounted on the Nigerian police. The Nigerian inspector general of police banned SARS from its duties in response, ordering a re-organisation of the unit, and stating that SARS officers must always wear uniforms.
Many critics said these measures are not enough, calling for the SARS unit to be shut down.
What else is SARS accused of?
The police unit has been criticised for years regarding violence against Nigerian citizens and harassment and extortion of the public. Secret filming by the BBC shows footage of SARS officers extorting people, reporting that SARS targets young men, and abducts those who cannot pay.
Many other recordings spread on social media also appear to show SARS officers soliciting bribes and attacking and abducting civilians.
Amnesty International Nigeria has drawn attention to allegations that SARS has abducted civilians, such as Chijioke Iloanya, who has been missing since he was arrested in November 2012 and taken to the Awkuzu SARS office.
His sister made an account of her experience on twitter.
Several other concerning reports have been made of actions by the SARS unit.
Amnesty international reported that in 2019, “The Nigerian Police especially the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), the military and the State Security Service (SSS) continue to subject detainees to torture and other ill-treatment.” It added:
“Nigerian prisons remain overcrowded. About seventy percent of inmates are awaiting trial. Some of the inmates have been awaiting trial for as long as 5 years.”
Amnesty International Nigeria said:
To date, the Nigerian authorities have yet to show a genuine commitment to ending the lawless activities of SARS. #EndPoliceBrutality
— Amnesty Int. Nigeria (@AmnestyNigeria) October 6, 2020
What has the response been from Nigerian officials?
Lagos Governor Sanwo-Olu said: “Appropriate actions will be taken, and speedily too.”
The Nigerian Police Force stated:
“The Inspector General of Police wishes to inform Nigerian youths that their voices and complaints on the issues of unprofessional conducts by some SARS operatives have been heared [sic] very loudly and clearly.”
Youth Minister Sunday Dare said:
“Your grievances are being addressed at the highest level of government. As the Minister in charge of youth I know this is an issue that must be tackled. Government is doing just that.”
The Nigerian rapper known as Naira Marley had started to organise a protest against SARS, but after officials contacted him he cancelled the protest:
We won’t be protesting anymore because there’s a lot of changes being made right now. As a Marlian we will give them a week to see the changes and if there’s no changes we will start a mass protest. #togetherwecan https://t.co/RNBXZ0IOfw
— nairamarley (@officialnairam1) October 6, 2020
Marley has received some criticism online by other activists, suggesting he should not have cancelled the protest and urging public resistance against SARS to continue.
Recent public unrest has likewise been seen in Cameroon and Zimbabwe, amongst other states.