“In Nigeria, we are merely surviving. Life is having a nation where the child of nobody can become somebody without knowing anybody. And I tell you, we don’t have that country”
Aisha Yesufu, Nigerian socio-political activist & co-convenor of Bring Back Our Girls Movement
In the span of less than a week, several Nigerians — in and out of Nigeria, scattered across the world — have been formidably engaged in peaceful, powerful protests towards achieving 5 goals; the principal one being the elimination of the SARS Unit Force. From Lagos to London, Dublin to Texas, Berlin to Toronto, and across over 12 Nigerian states, no single Nigerian youth is taking this matter sitting down, nor with an apolitical stance. This is not the first time Nigerians have stood up for their rights as a nation, but one of the marking moments that will set a yardstick as to how we should and will move forward as a nation in the years to come.
History & Background:
1992: Establishment and creation of the SARS (Special Anti-Robbery Squad) Unit Force as a response to tackle rising, violent crimes and robberies perpetrated in Lagos. This unit, made up of a 15-member team with uniform-and-badge-less officers, moved around in unmarked or unidentifiable buses and cars (Lawal, Olanrewaju. NYTimes).
2009: Unit grew in numbers, with focus expanding beyond armed robbers to internet fraudsters and cybersecurity crimes. They became popularly known towards the 2010s period for their harassment and violent behaviors towards Nigerians — especially youths, targeted for being ‘flashy’ — either towards cash extortion from forcing them to withdraw or transfer money through ATM’s under duress. Victims have been: harassed, flogged, raped, extorted, killed (Funmi Oyatogun, Twitter).
2016: First SARS Protest (Lagos, Nigeria).
2015-2019: 3 to 4 reforms, overhauls, and disbandments of the SARS Unit.
2020: According to Amnesty International, there were approximately 82 cases of maltreatment, torture, as well as extrajudicial killings of Nigerian citizens by SARS between January — May 2020 (Aljazeera).
Breakdown of events from May to Oct:
Protests began through a viral video of a young man killed in Delta State, Nigeria, who was killed in a stop-and-search operation. Officials claim SARS had no involvement in this, however.
October 8th: Commencement of Lagos protests took place outside the House of Assembly. A woman was shot by a SARS official during the protest, after refusing advances made unto her, saying no to the policeman. A man was also shot during the protest.
October 9th: 10,000 protestors in different locations advocated for the elimination of the unit. This led to blocked roads and toll gates, with protests being staged in front of government official homes and buildings. Police retaliated through shootings and destruction of public property. This led to the death of Jimoh Isiaq in Ogbomosho, deaths of an estimated 8 in Ogbomosho, 1 in Abuja, and 2 in Lagos. Over 10 protesters have died.
October 10–11: Commencement of protests in London, New York, Atlanta, Berlin, Dublin, Texas, Toronto. Around 100 cities worldwide, 100,000 estimated Nigerians and other nationalities gathered to protest in front of Nigerian Consulates. The Feminist Coalition, a group of Nigerian feminists fighting against SARS injustice, created funding portals for Nigerians and other interested parties to donate to, towards funding and supporting the peaceful protests, as well as recruiting legal aid for protestors.
Nigerian artists (Wizkid, Tiwa Savage, Davido), followed by Nollywood actors (Odunlade Adekola to Desmond Elliot and Alex Ekubo) as well as lawyer and artist Folarin Falana (FalzTheBadGuy) joined nationwide protests in calling for an end to SARS, working with lawyers and activists in different states to release wrongfully arrested and detained protesters.
Feyikemi Abudu, Nigerian activist and podcaster (ISWIS Podcast), organized fundraising and external support, in collaboration with EndSarsResponse, Flutterwave, and Feminist Coalition to fund both the protests and free innocent protestors from police stations in different states.
Nigerian activists and protesters drafted 5 main demands they expect from the ENDSars Protests:
October 11: Nigerian Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Abubakar Adamu, announces that the SARS Unit force will be “dissolved and redeployed to other police commands, formations, and units” (Aljazeera). This announcement was delivered with no executive order or legislative action, deeming it null and void to Nigerians. Being the 5th announcement of this from 2015 to date, not one measure of real action was taken nor adherence to the protestors’ demands for accountability and justice. As a result, protests are still ongoing and move forward with increasing numbers, as well as larger social media exposure and outreach. Protestors await Muhammadu Buhari, President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, to officially address them; the federal constitution does not give the IGP the absolute power to dissolve SARS unless the president gives executive order to that effect (Oluwole, BusinessInsider).
Deputy Commissioner of Police, Frank Mba, responds to the 5 demands with 5 things to know about the dissolution of SARS, stating:
October 12: President Muhammadu Buhari addressed the issue of SARS, giving promises of reform and reassurance of citizens’ rights to peaceful assembly and demonstration, under Section 40 of the 1999 Constitution. Yet, this was met with stark disregard as police officers were still shooting at protestors in Lagos that same day. No executive order has been given still. SARS officers are still on the road extorting, harassing, arresting, and violating people.
October 13: The IGP announced the formation of SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics Unit), to replace SARS. Ex-officers have been ordered to return for psychological and medical examinations, as well as debriefing and reorientation for future redeployment. Meanwhile, a rising number of Nigerians are calling for Mohammed Adamu’s resignation, due to the terrible conduct of his police officers during the protest demonstrations (Toromade, Pulse).
Nigerian queer activist, Matthew Blaise, significantly highlighted the plight of the Nigerian LGBTQ+ Community in the hands of SARS through his viral posts on Instagram, as well as this in-depth article on the specific experiences LGBT folks face from SARS officials. These are, but not limited to the dehumanizing, profiling, and illegal detaining of queer people (Blaise, Out.org). The expression of the SARS Unit force’s blatant homophobia has created irreversible trauma and harm to innocent LGBTQ+ youths.
Former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Tunde Lemo, ordered the shutdown of Flutterwave, a Nigerian fintech company, due to its use as the main crowdfunding source for protests. According to The Feminist Coalition’s Instagram post, approximately N37,355,149.48 had been donated into their account to fund legal aid, food/drinks, medical supplies, etc. Their accounts were also frozen on the presumed idea that they were receiving said donations from “bad guys” (Olisah, Nairametrics). As a result of this, the company and Feminist Coalition have switched to using Bitcoin accounts to receive donations, being less susceptible to control by CBN. Over 1 million naira has been received in donations towards their Bitcoin account.
The State, Police, and the contradictory idea of “Reform”
In looking and examining the ways in which law enforcement units such as SARS are given bare repercussions or carry out their actions with no accountability, it is imperative to examine how and why the police even exist. Police brutality is not a new concept but a revolving crisis in different countries. The world's timelines, a few months ago, were surged with #BlackLivesMatter tweets as a response to the unjustified killings of innocent black lives by the police. Asides from racial undercurrents, the case is no different here in Nigeria.
A system like this, despite whatever reform, can never work to protect the interests of humans as the basis of its design is to ensure and maintain inequality in a nation. Historically, in Nigeria’s special case, the police were never designed to protect Nigerians, but the British empire as a result of colonialism. The method of training underwent during that time (1800–1960's) forced officers to see Nigerians as the enemy, and this is expressed through the ruthless and immoral way in which they exercise the law. The Nigerian Police does not see us as one, but as Nigerians against the Police. Since the departure of the British, the police currently do not protect everyday Nigerians, but solely those who are in government or have certain connections, etc.
The Nigerian police, for decades now, and other police officials in different countries have been committing crimes against their own citizens, their own country in plain sight.
Despite recorded evidence of killings, malicious acts and violence exerted onto civilians in Nigeria, not one single offender in SARS has been prosecuted (Orjimno, BBC). This can be compared with several cases of police brutality in the States, with hundreds of officers scot-free, not facing justice for the reckless killings they have caused. To release unlawfully detained protestors, pressure had to be applied from state government reps to corporate giants and lawyers, as well as activist groups. The Nigerian police, in a nutshell, reports to no one but itself. They exercise and bend the law to their own benefit, putting the safety of Nigerians and other persons at risk in the country.
The nature of extorting and collecting bribes from Nigerians by SARS officials is also prevalent as a result of being both underpaid and underfunded by the government. The average Nigerian low-level police officer's salary is N600,000($1600) per year, a grossly low wage compared to South Africa at $17,000 (6,517,800 Naira) per year and the U.S at $68,000(26,071,200 Naira) per year (salaryexpert.com). This, psychologically, causes them to justify their harassment of young Nigerians with iPhones, gadgets, ‘fancy’ clothes, and so on without any conscience for their unlawful actions. Police stations, in addition, are barely equipped with the proper equipment, infrastructure, and technological resources to work as efficiently as possible.
Reformation of such a system is equivalent to changing the name of a perfume brand by one letter and calling it new. What we need is not a reform. There needs to be a radical change, a total elimination of the system. From there, the establishment of a fresh foundation, built from scratch, where truth and reconciliation commissions can be established to defend victims’, address impunity, and restore our moral foundations.
Young Nigerians were born into and inherited a broken system that has never favored them. For so long, the Nigerian dream has been to relocate to the West and find greener pastures whilst being patriotic during Independence Days, or coming back home for the infamous Detty December festivities. Nigeria, however, is beyond a meme and a mood. It is not something we should hold up only when it benefits us. Our national security is terrible. Our government is corrupt and our economy is failing. There is no investment in jobs for the youths, leaving thousands unemployed. Police brutality is rampant and is killing us.
If for anything, let this moment be the beginning of a change in the way we approach things as Nigerians and fight for our rights, than just saying ‘we move’ with our backs against the wall.
If interested in reading more and staying updated, check out:
https://endsars.com/ https://twitter.com/fkabudu https://twitter.com/ebelee_ https://twitter.com/EndSarsResponse https://femmemag.org/ https://anchor.fm/iswispodcast/episodes/ISWIS---The-ENDSARS-and-Nigerian-police-brutality-episode-ft-Falz-el052b