CW: violence, sexual violence
#EndSARS first went viral on social media, but this fight extends beyond the digital world. Nigerians have been protesting against police brutality, and specifically SARS (the Special Anti-Robbery Squad).
SARS has taken the lead on Nigeria’s major crimes for over 25 years, but they are known for their alleged abuses and the lack of consequences they face. In 2018, the government committed to overhauling the unit and then in January 2019, the police announced they were to further reform SARS. Critics say there has been little change. A report from Amnesty International states, “Detainees in SARS custody have been subjected to a variety of methods of torture including hanging, 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.” Amnesty documented 81 cases of police brutality in Nigeria between 2017 and 2020. These are just the documented cases. Additionally, they explained how very few cases are investigated and police officers rarely face consequences.
Protests restarted a few weeks ago, and while protesters are being peaceful, some police are exerting excessive violent force. A minimum of 12 people were killed by men in military uniform who opened fire on hundreds of protesters in Lagos on the 20th of October. Witnesses say street lights were turned off, meaning it is difficult to make sense of the videos that subsequently emerged. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, the governor of Lagos said at least 25 people had been wounded and that there are ‘no excuses for the unfortunate incident.’
As a result of the protests, the office of the Nigerian president, Muhammadu Buhari, released a statement claiming, ‘The Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigeria Police Force has been dissolved with immediate effect.’ This is not enough. Nigeria’s Amnesty International director, Osai Ojigho, said, “The announcement falls short of demands for accountability and justice for abuses committed by the unit and police in general.” The dissolving of SARS does not mean the end to police brutality. The victims of the abuses SARS have committed need justice. Police brutality in Nigeria remains a pressing issue, disproportionately impacting young people and marginalised communities.