Protests have sparked across Nigeria in an effort to convince the Presidency and National Assembly to end a rogue police unit called SARS ignoring the COVID19 pandemic for a human virus they believe affects them even more than any other virus.
Nigerians In Nigeria are being killed by this rogue SARS unit( Special Anti-Robbery Squad) which was founded in 1992 by a former police commissioner Simeon Danladi Midenda due to an increase in crime rate after the Police withdrew from the streets in fear over a clash with the Nigerian army. The unit was supposed to be an elite unit and was formed with only 15 officers operating in the shadows because of the clash with the army but it grew after the issues with the army were resolved. The major goal of the unit was to detain, investigate and prosecute people involved in crimes like armed robbery, kidnapping and other violent crimes. However, the squad grew in number and turned their attention to cultism and internet fraud in Nigerian universities successfully arresting people but also harassing and exploiting innocent youths.
Rather than focus on using properly gathered intel to solve crimes, the squad began to use physical attributes, things like dreadlocks, tattoos, ripped jeans, piercings, cars, and expensive phones as ways of identifying people to exploit.
Three years ago Nigeria’s police chief ordered an immediate re-organisation of the SARS after public outcry, but little, if anything has changed according to an Amnesty International investigation published in June.
Amnesty International documented over 82 cases between January 2017 and May 2020 which largely targeted men between the ages of 17 and 30.
Last year, some women who were arrested at different hotels and night clubs in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital alleged that some policemen at Utako Police Station, Abuja, used water sachets as ‘protection’ as they raped them. Some of the ladies also said some of the policemen raped them without any form of protection.
These are some of the incidences of police brutality, kidnapping, extortion and neglect across the country. Sources familiar say the SARS squad recruitment strategy has over the years focused more on brute strength than intelligence, absorbing people without proper screening, training or instilling proper values.
How did these set of protests begin?
Several civil groups and individuals have been using the hashtag #EndSARS, #StopPolicebrutality to call for the reform of the unit for a while but after a series of reports and cases involving the unit in the past month, there is now an increased clamour to scrap the unit all together while also implementing widespread reforms in the police force. This increased clamour has moved to the streets involving many twitter influencers, activists, celebrities and other concerned Nigerians. The hashtag has trended worldwide for days leading to support from entertainers, footballers, and people from the International community. An alleged media ban in local stations has also seen mainly coverage of the protests from western media and from Nigerians using social media.
Thousands of Nigerians at all levels have shared personal stories of their encounters with SARS. Responding to a thread by venture capitalist and Entrepreneur, Yele Bademosi about his experience, former Nigerian Minister of ICT recounted her son’s experience with the same rogue group.
Investors and visitors to Nigeria haven’t been left behind.
How has the government responded?
Over the last 3 years, the government has made announcements about reforming SARS but nothing concrete has happened. Most recently the government signed the Police reform bill into law but there are still questions about certain clauses and how the government plans to implement it. Last week, the Inspector General of Police banned the unit from carrying out any stop-and-search activities, checkpoints, mounting of roadblocks, traffic checks, etc, with immediate effect. However looking through past announcements, the IGP has made the same announcement in the last 3 years with almost no changes.
How are Nigerians in the UAE responding?
Nigerians in the UAE have responded with posts and hashtags on social media, sending money to support groups to help the protesters
How can the UAE help?
As individuals, support on social media by using the hashtag, share and retweet posts. Talk to your Nigerian friends and co-workers about their experiences. No support is too small.
The UAE is ranked the safest place in the world as 96.1 per cent of people feel safe to walk outside at night, according to a ranking done in 2019. Security is one of the biggest reasons why Nigerians love the UAE and there is so much the Nigerian government can learn from the UAE government in terms of leadership posture, policing and building a secure country.
The UAE government can intervene and ask the Nigerian government to listen to its people. Its been over 72 hours and no proper address by the Nigerian government on radio or television to calm the people down. Protests are already planned for the whole of next week and could potentially cripple part’s of Nigeria’s economy but the people don’t care as this is an issue that affects everyone. A peaceful and secure environment is critical to every society since it affects all aspects of economic and social development in a country.
Ifeanyi Abraham is a creative storyteller, life hacker and Digital Influencer.
He is a Public relations & Digital Marketing executive that helps companies, government agencies & NGOs leverage the power of marketing & communications.
He is the Founder of NigeriansinDubai.com, a knowledge sharing and transfer platform focused on harnessing the lessons, spirit and power of Dubai to the benefit of Nigerians. We tell the stories of Nigerians living, working and visiting Dubai.
He is also the Co-founder of The Beverage Room, a digital community for Beverage Lovers.