What is EndSARS?
End Special Anti-Robbery Squad (End SARS) or #EndSARS is a social movement in Nigeria that started on “Nigerian Twitter” opposing the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, a unit of the Nigerian Police Force. It is a call to end police oppression and brutality in Nigeria. The campaign started as a social media campaign using the hashtag #ENDSARS to demand for Nigeria’s government to scrap and end the deployment of Nigeria Police Force Special Anti-Robbery Squad, popularly known as SARS. Nigerians have shared stories and video evidences of how members of SARS engaged in kidnapping, murder, theft, rape, torture, unlawful arrests, high-handedness, humiliation, unlawful detention, extrajudicial killings, and extortion.
SARS officers profile youths based on appearance. They mount illegal road blocks, conduct illegal ‘stop and search’, breaking and entry, and operate without search warrants. The unit faces allegations that its operatives harass, oppress, and extort young Nigerians for wearing or using status symbols like iPhones, luxury vehicles, and sneaker brands such as Nike or Adidas. The unit is also notorious for harassing people who have piercings, tattoos, dreadlocks, and gold chains, though many SARS officers also bear these body modifications and styles. This has been attributed to feelings of inferiority amongst the police.
The Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) is a branch of the Nigeria Police Force under the Force Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department (FCIID). The squad deals with crimes associated with armed robbery, car snatching, kidnapping, cattle rustling, and crimes associated with firearms.
According to a report and interview on the DailyTrust with the Former Deputy Commissioner of Police Operations in Ikeja, Lagos, Mike Okiro “SARS started when the infamous armed robber called Shina Rambo was having a field day in 1991. His modus operandi was to snatch cars and begin a shooting spree in a convoy of gunmen. He was so brazen that he even shot at policemen at checkpoints. So, I and the then commissioner, Ademola, came up with the Special Anti-Robbery Squad. The idea was that they would be armed in mufti, simply for the very important element of surprise. They would take cover, and communicating with walkie-talkies, hit the armed robbers. They did that two or three times, and the robbery attacks went down, drastically, and at a point stopped altogether. Soon SARS started spreading, from Lagos to other states. And I began to notice that at every roadblock, you will see armed policemen, but in mufti”. He added that the issue of SARS is dogged by what he calls ‘policy somersault’. He believes that SARS has drifted away from it’s original assignment.
SARS has been alleged to be engaged in human right abuses, illegal stop and search, illegal arrest and detention, extra-judicial killings, sexual harassment of women and brutalizing many young Nigerians. The human rights abuses of SARS are seen in trending videos on social media.
In 2017, Segun Awosanya started the #ENDSARS campaign on social media alongside other activists and it later culminated into advocacies and protests in a call to end the police brutality and scrap the notorious police unit.
According to Amnesty International’s 2016 report, SARS is indicted and responsible for human abuse, cruelty, degrading treatment of Nigerians in their custody, and other widespread torture. Some of the human right abuse by SARS include the shooting of their detainees in the leg, mock or threats of execution, hanging and severe beating.
Initial protests and reaction
Amnesty International accused the SARS officials of detaining young Nigerians illegally and extorting money from their relations. A petition signed by 10,195 people was submitted to Nigeria’s National Assembly calling for a total disbandment of SARS. In recent times, there has been talk of reforms of the force, instead of full disbandment.
The campaigners moved from social media to organized, peaceful protests in Abuja, Lagos, Ibadan, Osun, Benin, Delta, Ilorin and Owerri, promising to continue if the government refused to disband the force.
In response to the campaign, Nigeria Police Force Public Relations Officer Jimoh Moshood, accused the campaigners of being “criminals”. The Inspector General of Nigeria Police Force, Ibrahim K. Idris has ordered the reform and reorganization of SARS.
A few Senators backed the call for total disbandment of the unit in 2017.
October 2020 resurgence
On Saturday 3rd October 2020, an online trending video showed a SARS police officer allegedly shot a young Nigerian at the front of Wetland Hotel, Ughelli, Delta State. It was alleged that the police officers took away the young man’s vehicle- a Lexus SUV. The trending video raised public outcry on social media especially on twitter with #ENDSARS hashtag trending in a diverse part of Nigeria.
On Thursday 8th October 2020, nation-wide protests on ENDSARS started after weeks of outcry and anger with videos and pictures police brutality, harassment and extortion in Nigeria. The protests were led predominantly young Nigerians in diverse cities with many activists and celebrities such as Segun Awosanya, Debo Adebayo (popularly known as Mr Macaroni), Folarin Falana (popularly known as Falz), Tiwa Savage, Toke Makinwa and many others.
Nigeria Police Force disrupted the protests in some cities with firing bullets to the sky and teargas to the armless peaceful protesters as seen in Abuja and Osun.
Nigeria Government Response
In response to the public outcry on the police brutality, the Inspector-General of Nigeria Police banned the FSARS, Special Tactical Squad (STS), Intelligence Response Team (IRT), Anti-Cultism Squad and other tactical units from mounting of roadblocks, checkpoints, stop and search and other routine and patrols.
Protesters insisted on scrapping of the notorious police unit instead of a ban . This is the fourth time Nigerian government is banning SARS.
On 9th October, 2020, the Deputy Governor of Lagos State, Femi Hamzat addressed the protesters and acknowledged that police officers do not have the right to trample on the right of law-abiding citizens because they are carrying laptops, owning iPhones, driving luxurious vehicles or their look. He condemned police brutality and promised that the Lagos government will take necessary action. The deputy governor also stated that he has been harassed by the SARS police who were not wearing police uniform four years ago.
Lagos EndSARS Protests
Nigerian youths protested on EndSARS at the Lagos State Governor’s House on Thursday 8th October and slept at the gate of the government house till Friday 9th October 2020 when the Deputy Governor addressed the protesters.
International demonstrations were organized by the Nigerian diaspora in the United States, Canada, South Africa, and the United Kingdom. Many Nigerian and Nigerian diaspora celebrities gave supportive statements on social media and took part in protests, while demonstrators pledged to continue until the demands were met.
#EndSARS Global Trending
On October 9, 2020, the #EndSARS hashtag trended globally on social media. EndSARS protests, which started October 8, 2020, are still ongoing in major cities across the country and have attracted international mainstream media attention. The campaign has witnessed reactions on social media from international celebrities such as Cardi B, Trey Songz, Big Sean, John Boyega amongst others.
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