It is with heavy pain and burden in my heart I write this article. I didn’t plan to write about the #EndSARS movement currently trending in Nigeria and internationally, but I couldn’t help crying when I saw videos on social media on how the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) were killing, molesting, and extorting helpless Nigerians in the name of elimination crime.
It is pertinent to give a brief introduction about the origin of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). The Special Anti-Robbery Squad was a Nigerian Police Force unit created in late 1992 to deal with crimes associated with robbery, motor- vehicle theft, kidnapping, cattle rustling, and firearms. It was part of the Force Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department (FCIID), which was headed by Deputy Inspector General of Police Anthony Ogbizi.
According to sources familiar with the major reason SARS was formed was when Col. Rindam of the Nigerian Army was killed by police officers at a checkpoint in Lagos in September 1992. When the information reached the army, soldiers were dispatched into the streets of Lagos in search of any police officer. The Nigerian police withdrew from checkpoints, security areas, and other points of interest for criminals. Some police officers were said to have resigned while others fled for their lives. Due to the absence of Policemen for two weeks, the crime rate increased, and SARS was formed with only 15 officers operating in the shadows without knowledge of the army while monitoring police radio chatters.
However, SARS has not lived up to expectations according to Nigerians. Instead of protecting and fighting crimes, they have resorted to going after peace-loving Nigerians who they perceive as fraudsters when they see the citizen with an expensive phone, car, or living a flashy lifestyle, they immediately believe he or she is a fraudster.
This menace has continued for years and the citizens were crying helplessly to the government of the day for help and to those who cared to listen, but it’s unfortunate to note that their cries fell on deaf ears. As you may know, when people are pushed to the wall, they are bound to react. You cannot beat a child and expect the child him not to cry. That’s the state of the Nigerian youths.
Let’s be clear on this, Nigerians are clamoring for the reform of the Nigerian Police Force. The #endsars movement is a call to end police oppression and brutality in Nigeria. Looking at the internet, you’ll see Nigerians have shared both painful and heartbreaking stories and video evidence of how members of SARS engaged in kidnapping, murder, theft, rape, torture, unlawful arrest high-handedness, humiliation, unlawful detention, extrajudicial killings, and extortion.
On Saturday 3 October 2020, a video started trending on social media showing a SARS police officer shot a young Nigerian in 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 caused a public outcry on social media, especially on Twitter, with the #ENDSARS hashtag attending.
According to Martin Luther King Jnr. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Nigerians felt enough is enough and started to react against the system.
This made the Nigerian youths to request five-point agenda from the Federal Government of Nigeria on October 11, 2020. The demands which were signed by ‘A Nigerian Youth’ ask for the immediate release of all arrested during the protests as well as justice and compensation for all who died through police brutality in Nigeria. They also demanded that an independent body be set up within 10 days to investigate and prosecute all reports of police misconduct.
The protestors also asked for psychological evaluation and retraining of SARS operatives before they are deployed to any other police unit. Lastly, they asked for adequate remuneration for Nigerian police. The Inspector-General of Police M.A Adamu said that a new unit, the Special Weapons, and Tactics (SWAT) would replace the SARS, but Nigerians reacted negatively saying no, it’s just a change of name, the culprits are still there. It’s sad to note Nigerians were more scared of SARS who was supposed to protect them from criminals.
In December 2017, Segun Awosanya took up an online advocacy campaign to demand the end of SARS brutality in the country. The campaign started as a social media campaign originally started from a hashtag created by a Twitter @Letter_to_jack (tagged #EndSARS) to demand Nigeria’s government to scrap and end the deployment of SARS. The public responded well to the hashtag with people all over Nigeria posting their experiences with SARS. The campaign was reported on by international media. By mid-December, the campaign took to streets with protests occurring in Abuja, and today, the movement has grown beyond the founders.
Nigerians and lovers of Nigeria globally, have taken advantage of the #endsars movment to demand good governance and accountability. Many Nigerian youths who are tired of the system, they see no plan or hope from the government. Many of them have no jobs and are tired of poor governance. They, therefore, resort to using the #endsars movement to request for a total overhaul of the system and reconstruct Nigeria especially as it relates to hiking in petrol, hike in Power Holding Corporation of Nigeran, provision of infrastructural facilities, reform in Independence National Electoral Commission, education, healthcare, security, tax, immigration. In fact, all we are asking is accountability.
As a journalist in Washington Post, Karen Attiah put it “ A country that allows state security agents to kill and abuse people with impunity is not a mature democracy.
It’s interesting to note that, Nigerians have never been united like this before. Their unity, love, purpose, and energy is so endearing. They have no clear leader. According to Professor P.L.O Lumubake, Director of Kenya School of Law “The day Nigerian wakes up, Africa will never remain the same again”. Truly, Nigerians have woken up from their slumber to possess their possession.
It’s sad to note that despite the peaceful protest by Nigerians, the police force and soldiers have been seen to shoot the protesters and, in some States killed some protesters. Despite losing lives, Nigerian youths still forge ahead with the slogan, we move! They have truly shown their leaders, they are accountable to them, they are literally saying enough is enough, we say no to corruption and bad leadership, they have shown our leaders that they can no longer be neglected, treated as a second class citizens, and as such, they have forced the government of the day to dialogue with them.
There have been cases of sponsored thugs who tried to disrupt the peaceful protest, but protesters were able to unite and fight back. They sent a strong message “we know our rights and can’t’ be taken for granted”.
In conclusion, I call all lovers of peace, good governance, and youths to join the #endsars movement because “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
Henry Ukazu writes from New York. He works with the New York City Department of Correction as the Legal Coordinator. He’s the author of the acclaimed book Design Your Destiny – Actualizing Your Birthright To Success and President of Global Empowerment & Mentoring Initiative. He can be reached via [email protected]