Months after the death of George Floyd in the USA, the world has yet again been startled by another death resulting from police brutality in Nigeria.
Within a few days, hundreds and thousands of Nigerians have taken to the streets of Nigeria and the virtual streets of Twitter protesting against, what is described as, the inhumane actions of Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a unit under the Nigerian Police Force (NPF), attracting international outbursts. The protests and public outrage follow the viral video of a man shot by a SARS officer after he and another man were dragged out of a hotel compound into the street in southern Delta state.
The viral video, which the NPF has denied SARS’ involvement in, did not only trigger a deluge of stories being shared by victims and relatives of victims of the abuses from SARS, but also anger, forcing Nigerians in Nigeria and other parts of the world to protest demanding an end to SARS.
Though the causative factor for the death of the young man from the viral video may differ from that of George Floyd’s, the perpetrators have the same reason for wielding this much power—they can get away with murder.
How did Nigeria get here?
This is not the first time the horrific actions of SARS have been brought to light.
Following its creation in 1992, SARS stayed true to the purpose of its creation—to combat crime including, armed robbery and kidnapping, until reports of harassment started surfacing in the early 2000s, reports said. In 2009, SARS officers infiltrated Nigerian universities, and though they made several successful arrests, they harassed several innocent young men and women, in an attempt to reduce internet fraud and cultism in the country.
Several other reports were made between 2010 and 2015. From the murder of a 15-year-old-school boy who was mistaken for a kidnapper according to SARS, to the arrest of the three motorbike riders who were detained for over one week while being “beaten every night with the butt of a gun and iron belt”.
The year 2016 saw the first of the #EndSARS hashtag. Nigerian realtor and human rights activist, Segun Awosanya started the hashtag on Twitter after ill-reports of SARS resurfaced again. Although it got international attention, no real changes were made. Later that year, Amnesty International (AI) followed in the trail of widespread complaints by citizens and published a report accusing SARS officers of subjecting its detainees to torture in the form of hangings, beatings, shootings, mock executions, extortions, and in the worst-case scenarios, death.
Despite AI’s actions and several statements made by government officials, killings, extortion, beatings, and jailing of people who are not forthcoming with the demands of SARS officers, still saw the light of 2020.
We can spend all day recounting the stories of many Nigerians, however, our findings and reports stated above have a common denominator—none of the SARS officials who have committed crimes were punished and held accountable for their actions.
Reports say the NPF deploys SARS officers accused of ruthlessly beating, killing and stealing from civilians are redeployed to another state or local government. An environment where lawlessness is overlooked is an environment where lawlessness thrives. The NPF’s failure to deal drastically with SARS officers who go against the law has given these officers the notion that they can get away with anything—including murder.
“We’ve been here before”
On Sunday, 4th October 2020, Nigeria’s Inspector of Police, Mohammed Adamu, said SARS was banned from carrying out certain activities, which was poorly received by Nigerians who demanded SARS be completely dissolved as the history banning and promises of reformation have yielded poor results.
In 2018, the Acting President of Nigeria Yemi Osinbajo ordered the “overhaul” of the SARS following reports of human rights violations. The acting president ordered the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Ibrahim Kpotun Idris, to reform SARS and carry out an independent investigation. After the order, the IGP announced that the unit would be renamed to Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (FSARS), with a new head of the unit appointed and also ensure the provision of human rights desk officers to check reports of human rights violation.
Responding to the recent protests and outrage, the Nigerian government on Sunday said it has dissolved SARS with “immediate effect”. SARS officers would be redeployed to other units, and a “new policing arrangement” to replace it would be announced.
This, too, was not received well by the general public.
While many said redeploying former SARS officers into other units means their plight would continue from a different unit now, others have said guilty SARS officers would escape the justice system. Amnesty International’s director in Nigeria, Osai Ojigho, said. “The announcement falls short of demands for accountability and justice for abuses committed by the unit and police in general. The police authorities must state strongly the concrete steps they will take to ensure all officers alleged to have committed human rights violations are investigated and brought to justice.”
‘I deserve to live’
Several videos posted on social media show policemen shooting, using teargas and water cannon at demonstrators, many of whom reported injuries. On Friday protesters who marched to the police headquarters in Abuja were met with tear gas, as others were beaten up according to eyewitnesses.
One protester, Jimoh Isiaka, was shot dead by police in the south-western state of Oyo. Videos of his burial and his parents’ reaction to his death were posted on Twitter, fuelling more anger from protestors.
Many Nigerians have reacted to Jimoh’s death and the videos of policemen and SARS still beating, and using water cannons and tear gas on protestors, saying they are not only demanding an end to SARS but a total reformation of the NPF. That way, they said, more deaths and unwarranted arrests and abuse would come to an end.
According to protestors, Nigerians are demanding:
- Immediate release of all arrested protestors.
- Justice for all deceased victims of police brutality and appropriate compensation for their families.
- Setting an independent body to oversee the investigation and prosecution of all reports of police conduction (within ten days).
- In line with the new Police Act, Psychological evaluation and retraining (to be confirmed by the new body) of all disbanded SARS officers before they can be redeployed.
- Increase Police salary so they are adequately compensated for protecting the lives and property of citizens.
While protesting for the right to live, the battle against police brutality in Nigeria continues.