In the past few weeks, Nigerians have risen up in protest to demand an end to police brutality.
The protests have specifically targeted a section of the Nigerian police force known as the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), which many people accuse of being corrupt and brutal since its inception. On Oct. 3, a video showing a SARS officer killing a man and stealing his car spread across social media, prompting Nigerians to take to the streets demanding the abolition of SARS. The hashtag EndSARS trended internationally, and the protests — mostly led by young people — gained worldwide attention and support.
The Nigerian government has faced pressure to disband SARS for some time. In June, Amnesty International published a report that documented “at least 82 cases of torture, ill treatment and extra-judicial execution by SARS between January 2017 and May 2020.” The human rights organization stated that officers have used tactics such as “hanging, mock execution, beating, punching and kicking, burning with cigarettes, [and] waterboarding.” SARS is not the only faction of the Nigerian police force accused of wanton violence, but they are the most prominent.
SARS founder Fulani Kwajafa voiced his support for the government to disband the unit. In an interview with the BBC, Kwajafa remarked that the officers acted in the interest of “greed,” and SARS had become an agency of “brutality.”
On Oct. 11, President Muhammadu Buhari conceded to protesters and agreed to disband the group. The Inspector General of Police Muhammed Adamu moved to immediately dissolve the unit, and pledged to work with human rights groups to investigate the allegations of impropriety. Adamu’s statement drew some ire from protesters since officials are redeploying the former SARS officers into other units, which activists say is not enough to end police brutality.
Buhari’s announcement did not abate protests, however, and on Oct. 20, what had been so far largely peaceful demonstrations turned violent. At the Lekki toll gate in Lagos, police opened fire on a demonstration. While the total number of casualties is unknown, Amnesty International estimates it is at least 12. In response, protesters burned down a police station.
Adding to the chaos, a massive prison break occurred the previous day in the southern Edo state. Nearly 2,000 inmates, which an official claims are mostly “convicted criminals serving terms for various criminal offenses, awaiting execution, or standing trial for violent crimes,” are missing.
The president has since instituted curfews in various states in an attempt to curb the violence. Some officials are taking steps to meet the protesters’ demands. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, the governor of Lagos, began charging police officers with crimes related to brutality, issuing a list of over 20 police officers who will face charges. Sanwo-Olu stated he did this with the aim of “rebuilding Lagos and ending police brutality.”
(Sources: NY Times, Christian Science Monitor, BBC, Washington Post, Al Jazeera)