By Iman Kagimu
Edited by Emma Davis
~ Op-Ed ~
In 2018, Abdul Abdulkareem and his friends were heading home in Idi-Araba when officers suddenly arrested them and shoved them into their van, without any mention of their “offense”. During the ride, the officers would stop and pick up more people to throw into the van. They were taken to Area D police station, stripped of all their belongings, and put in a jail cell. Abdul and his friends were released the following morning after paying the officers 20,000 Naira (equivalent to 52 US dollars). This isn’t the only story of this vein to come out of Nigeria. They all have one thing in common: SARS.
Over the past month, Nigeria has not only faced the implications of coronavirus, but protests to end police brutality. Thousands of Nigerians have been protesting and demonstrating for weeks against the police agency, Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS). The police force was created in 1992 to stop the rise of robberies, kidnappings, and other violent crimes in Nigeria. At the time, it seemed to be an amazing effort by the government. However, people are now calling for the agency to be dismantled. In section 34 (1) of the Nigerian constitution it is stated that, “Every individual is entitled to respect for the dignity of his person, and accordingly, no person shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment”. Sadly, this proclamation seems to be ignored. SARS officers harass and extort anyone they deem suspicious. The supposed “criminals” are taken to detention facilities all across Nigeria and are tormented and coerced into confessing crimes they never committed.
This year, Amnesty International documented 82 cases of torture and unjust executions by SARS officers between January 2017 and May 2020. The victims were all poor, young men between the ages of 18 to 25. The government stood by SARS, ignoring their actions. In 2017, the hashtag “#EndSARS” began to trend worldwide on Twitter and Instagram as people documented their stories about the abuse and assault they received from the hands of SARS officers.
Protests recently erupted on October 3, when a video came out and showed the death of a man by the hands of SARS officers in Ughelli, Nigeria. The man was innocent and didn’t provoke anyone. The video surfaced across the internet, but officials stated that it was fake. Protests fired in Lagos, Nigeria,the largest city. When the Nigerians peacefully protested, they were met by the police with teargas and water cannons. On October 12, President Muhammadu Buhari agreed to end the SARS unit, however, it was later revealed that the SARS officers would be integrated into Nigeria’s police system, leaving the people unsatisfied with the government’s actions. The protests continued. On October 20, the state governor of Lagos, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, initiated a 24 hour curfew and allowed the Nigerian military into the city to break up the protest. However, the military opened fire on thousands and shot and killed 12 protestors. The shooting has led to a judicial inquiry from the protests and complaints of the people against SARS.
The Nigerians are tired of being ruled over and not getting their basic human rights. The fight is not yet over for them, it’s just beginning.