#EndSARS- The Nigerian Story of Agonizing Brutality and Revolution

It is not unfamiliar with Africans to have to demand what rightfully belongs to us. This is a trend that dates far back to when we’ve first had to demand our humanness back from the crooners of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. And this #EndSARS? It’s a Nigerian revolution that in reality, affects every Black person and every person of African descent.
Like Martin Luther King Jr. once said,

“Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.”

Martin Luther King Jr.

#EndSARS is a decentralized social movement that engages physical and online mass protests to agitate against police brutality and other vices in Nigeria. Even though the movement initially started with moving the motion for the disbandment of an infamous section on the Nigeria Police Force– The Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), there’s now more to it.

The Origin of SARS

The Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) was a Nigeria Police Force unit under the Force Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department, headed by the Deputy Inspector General of Police Anthony Ogbizi. It was founded in late 1992 by former Police Commissioner Simeon Danladi Midenda and was intended to deal with crimes associated with robbery, motor vehicle theft, kidnapping, cattle rustling, and crimes involving firearms.

According to Danladi Midenda in an interview with Vanguardngr.com, SARS was formed after Col. Rindam of the Nigerian Army was killed by police officers at a checkpoint in Lagos in September 1992, later leading to the arrest of three officers. 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 police 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.

Due to the existence of three already established anti-robbery squads that were operational at that time, Midenda needed to distinguish his squad from the already existing teams. Midenda named his team Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). After months of dialogue, the Nigerian Army and the Nigeria Police Force came to an understanding and official police duties began again in Lagos. The SARS unit was officially commissioned in Lagos following a ceasefire by the army after settlement.

SARS was one of the 14 units in the Force Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department, which was established to detain, investigate and prosecute people involved in crimes like armed robbery, kidnapping, and other forms of crime. However, this department of the Nigerian Police Force turned out to be a menace to the society, perpetrating crimes against the people they swore to protect.

How The Agitations Were Launched

They have been accused of several human rights violations, illegal “stop and searches”, illegal arrests and detentions, extrajudicial killings, sexual harassment of women and brutalising of young male Nigerians. They profile young Nigerians as criminals, based on their fashion choices and even their usage of iPhones! The human rights abuses were documented in trending videos on social media. This caused an uproar among the Nigerian people as they took to the internet space–especially Twitter– to express their long-overdue grievances against the actions of the government, with the hashtag, #EndSARS.

In 2017, when the #EndSARS campaign started, Segun Awosanya was one of the activists who fronted it online, along with other notable citizens and organizations.

The hashtag began trending, with hundreds of people sharing stories of abuse, and assault.

Responses From The Government.

That December, the Inspector General of the Nigeria Police Force succumbed to the pressure, announcing plans to reorganize the team, prosecute cases of human rights abuses and spearhead a better training program for recruits. That same December, President Buhari signed into law the Anti-Torture Act, which criminalized torture. But Bakare, of Amnesty International, says that not a single police officer has been charged under that act. “Absolutely it has not had any impact,” he says.

In 2018, Nigerian vice president Yemi Osinbajo demanded that Inspector General of Police Ibrahim Idris restructure SARS once again, ban stop-and-search raids, and require officers to wear uniforms with full identification. A federal human-rights desk was also created to address violations. Following the announcement, police spokesperson Moshood Jimoh told The Nation that the police had “fully complied with the directives for the overhaul and reformation of SARS.” But between January 2017 and May 2020, at least 82 cases of torture, ill-treatment and extrajudicial executions by SARS officers have been documented by Amnesty International. There have been several irrefutable cases of harassments and murders and since the #EndSARS movement started in 2017, there have been no palpable responses and actions from the Nigerian government to bring about real change.

The 2020 Protests

On the 3rd of October, 2020, a video showing a SARS police officer shooting a young Nigerian Male at Ughelli, Delta State trended on the Internet. It was alleged that the police officers took away the young man’s vehicle – a Lexus SUV and this kicked off another wave of the #EndSARS campaign. The online protests escalated and patriotic Nigerians took to the streets, on Thursday 8th October 2020, in well organised forms to express their agitations.

Nationwide #EndSARS protests ensued with videos and pictures showing police brutality, harassment and extortion to back the claims of the peaceful protesters. The protests were led predominantly by young Nigerians in different cities alongside many activists and celebrities.

The Nigeria Police Force disrupted the peaceful protests in some cities, throwing teargas, using water cannons and shooting at unarmed peaceful protesters as seen in Abuja and Osun.

 This led to the death of Jimoh Isiaq in Ogbomoso, Oyo State. The protesters made a list of five demands to be met by the Federal Government of Nigeria. it was tagged the #5of5. The demands were 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 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 the psychological evaluation and retraining of SARS operatives before they are deployed to any other police unit. Lastly, they asked for adequate increase in the salaries for officers of the Nigerian police. Such fair, altruistic and reasonable demands!

On the 11th of October, The Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu announced the proscription and “dissolution” of SARS but the Nigerian people refused to be “fooled”, as similar announcements have been made in earlier years. They sought real action. Barely 48 hours later, the Public Relations Officer of the Nigeria Police Force, Frank Mba, announced the setting up of a Special Weapon and Tactics Team (SWAT) to replace SARS. The new outfit, which was expected to take off within the next 7 days, will undergo psychological and medical evaluation to determine their fitness. Apparently, they were just going to retain the same “criminals” under a different name. What would a 7 day evaluation do to change a lifelong corrupt heart?

Events escalated, patriotism rekindled, voices found and candlelight nights held in honour of those who have died as a result of police brutality– the fallen heroes.

The Lekki Genocide

After this, the turnout of things reached a climax. On the 20th of October 2020, following the wild attacks against protesters by hoodlums who seemed to be working for the government, Babajide Sanwo-olu, the governor of Lagos State declared a 24hour curfew which was to be effective from 4pm West African Time. On that night, all the lights were switched off at the tollgate, leaving the protesters to have to make do with the little lights that their phones could provide. Soon enough, the Nigerian Army was at the scene and even though the peaceful protesters were flying the Nigerian flag with the hope that it would shield them from the angry guns of the soldiers, they were treated with the bullets of the ones who should fight for them. Nothing hurts like betrayal and losing loved ones to a cause that was intended to help them preserve their lives.

After this tragic occurrence, the Nigerian Army denied opening fire at the protesters. The government denied that anyone died at the scene. The millitary forces kept throwing words at each other and blaming the protesters. Lawsuits were filed against the many of the key advocates of the cause. Bank accounts of Nigerians were frozen because they spoke up for their rights and the Central Bank of Nigeria fails to give any justification for the freezing order. And till date, nobody knows who gave the order for shootings. this is how things are run in Nigeria! On the 18th of November 2020, CNN publishes their findings on the Lekki shootings and evidences of how the Nigerian Army is actually responsible for the shootings at the lekki tollgate. Watch below:

Nigerians now face the dilemma of a “dictatorship government with a democratic face” Will they have to wait for their 2023 elections before things change? And even if they have to wait till then, will things really change? A revolution is what we smell. It lurks around the corner.

CREDITS

Cover image by the incredible Iyebiye Adeitan, in honour of Aisha Yesufu, one of the fore-fronters of the #EndSARS campaign– a woman who perpetually finds the strength and resolve to do what women in Africa are generally not “expected” to do. All other images were gotten from social media spaces and therefore do not carry apparent signatures. Contact us at info@themuseafrica.com to claim credits for images that are yours.

Sources: Wikipedia, Vanguard, Time and physical eye-witnessings.

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