An inner look at SARS and why it needs to end


Confesor Nieves and Azalea Miles

In Nigeria, the police beat, rape, and murder men, women, and children for things as simple as being well dressed, having piercings, owning a cellphone, and many other non-illegal activities. They are notoriously known in the country as being cruel to citizens and infringing on human rights without consequence. This abuse sparked a movement similar to the United States’ Black Lives Matter movement called “End SARS.” They are demanding to dismantle the unit, justice for the many victims of police brutality, and more.

It started off as just grassroots activism, but two weeks of nationwide protests against police brutality have turned deadly. Nigerians are tired of being brutalized by SARS and holding protests and riots to object to this mistreatment. In response to these demonstrations, on Tuesday, October 20th in Lagos, Nigeria, security forces opened fire on anti-police brutality protesters killing an estimated 12 people.

What is SARS?

The Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) is a Nigerian police force unit meant to handle crimes associated with robbery, motor vehicle theft, kidnapping, cattle rustling, and firearms. In addition to its overt police brutality, SARS is also controversial for its extrajudicial killings, extortion, torture, framing, blackmailing, illegal organ trade, home invasions, rape of men and women, and child arrests, invasion of privacy, and polluting bodies of water by illegally disposing of human remains. The unit was formed in 1992 when Nigerian police set up a soldier by the name of Col. Rindam to be murdered. So, in retaliation to his murder, soldiers went to Lagos, Nigeria, and killed any policeman they could find. Out of fear, Nigerian police hid away from the soldiers and abandoned the streets. This made a field day for criminals, especially robbers. So, Nigeria’s IGP at the time created SARS in response to the surge in robberies.

How have Nigerian authorities responded to the protest?

President Muhammadu Buhari agreed in a televised statement last week to disband SARS and replace them with the Special Weapons and Tactics Unit, but has been quiet ever since. He promised that SWAT officers will receive training on police conduct and use of force by the international committee of the Red Cross, but Nigerians fear that SARS will just blend in with the new unit without facing accountability. Many cabinet ministers and military officials have issued hawkish statements in recent days. The cabinet ministers are saying that the protesters and the protests had become political and were lurching toward “anarchy.”

How do Nigerians feel About the Situation?

The Nigerians feel betrayed. SARS was meant to protect them, but it turned out to be something much darker. They are trying their hardest to stop the chaos happening in their country. Nigerians just want to be safe; to be able to walk the streets again and hug their family members without thinking about whether they are going to die at the hands of the police. But, despite their fear, Nigerians are still courageously standing up for their freedom.