SARS: Nigeria's call for law and order in law and order
Following growing international pressure, a long-accused Nigerian Police unit was disbanded on the 11th of October and its officers spread among the rest of the force. So, who is this infamous group and why has their unit been dismantled?
The Nigerian ‘Special Anti-Robbery Squad’, more commonly known by its acronym SARS, has been a controversial arm of the law in the country since its conception in the early 90s. This unit has aroused anger though its methods and apparent blatant disregard for the very laws its supposed to uphold. The #EndSARS campaign was pioneered in 2017 by Nigerian Human Rights activists and successfully caught the attention of the world.
An Amnesty International report titled Time to End Impunity, has been largely responsible for shining a light on the illicit acts carried out my members of this unit. The document reveals that between January 2017 and May 2020, SARS was responsible for at least 82 cases of torture, ill treatment and extra-judicial execution. In 2017 the Nigerian Government introduced new legislation criminalising torture, but no officers serving under this command have been prosecuted besides repeated allegations.
Founded in 1992 by, now retired, Police Commisioner Simeon Danladi Midenda, SARS was a unit created to fight violent crimes such as robbery and kidnapping. The story, according to Midenda, is that following the killing of Colonel Rindam in 92 by members of the Nigerian Police, a military-led hunt for members of the Police spurred a full retreat to the crime fighter’s barracks. This was the state of affairs for two weeks, until the army were forced to end their crusade, and during this hiatus from law enforcement “robbers” took control of the streets of Lagos, the nation’s capital.
At this time Midenda ran an anti-robbery squad in the region of Benin and after successfully expelling these bandits from the area his leadership caught the attention of the powers that be. He was summoned to Lagos, given a small team of plain clothed officers and told to start a new unit to end the robber’s reign in the city. So, SARS began.
The International Dimension
Part of the reason the #EndSARS campaign was successful in dismantling the police squad was their ability to capture the attention of the international community. In the lead up to the government disbanding, there were protests in cities around the world calling for the end of SARS, with both Nigerian and global influencers involved in the social media movement. The likes of John Boyega, Marcus Rashford and Twitter's Jack Dorsey have all spoken out in support of the campaign.
Many protestors believe this move does not go far enough and want to bring a complete end to Police brutality in Nigeria, with demonstrations continuing after the government announcement. Many of these peaceful protests have been met with violence, with some demonstrators being killed and many injured by groups wielding weapons.
Whether or not this movement can bring about complete Police reform in the country is yet to be seen, but most agree the dismantling of SARS is a step in the right direction.