“#ENDSARSNOW, #endpolicebrutality ” have become the daily rant of Nigerians for close to a week as the entire nation is scarred with another life-threatening turmoil called ‘SARS’ aside the COVID-19 pandemic.
Celebrities together with ordinary Nigerians have taken to the streets and on social media to make their voices heard in bringing to an end of the operations of SARS – Special Anti-Robbery Squad set up in 1992 by former police commissioner Simeon Danladi Midenda, after the shooting of Col. Rindam by Nigerian police officers at a checkpoint in Lagos. His death resulted in the hunt to kill police officers in Nigeria by armed army officials. This turn of events forced registered police officers to denounce their station, while others fled the country for their safety.
History records that, the absence of police officials in the country for some weeks caused a disturbing boost in the number of reported armed-robbery cases across all states, therefore SARS was formed to help curb the problem.
In contrast to the reason behind its establishment, shared experiences of Nigerian youth and popular figures have revealed the potholes of SARS operations causing much more harm than good. For over a decade and half now, fear has engulfed the mind of vibrant youths whenever they come in contact with a SARS personnel. They are stopped at various checkpoints and meted with unnecessary questioning, which when not answered, lead to the thorough beating and harassments of the innocent citizen regardless of age or gender.
“With all due respect, this isn’t the time to speak on reform. As a woman who’s been pushed to the ground/with a gun cocked in my face while 4 SARS men laughed & called me a prostitute, I’m tired of living in fear when I see checkpoints! #EndSarsNow #AbolishSars COMPLETELY,” tweeted Michelle Dede, a Nigerian actor, in response to President Buhari’s declaration on October 9 that he has met with the Inspector General of Police to help reform SARS.
The government’s drive to introduce a reformation policy to help change the narrative about SARS operations was not welcomed by the people. The general hashtag continued (which is still making headlines), “endpolicebrutality” along with street protests that counter the disguise the government is putting up in order to calm the angry citizens clamoring on the streets. Placards, designed t-shirts, nose masks and painted bodies all continuously read ‘end sars in real life’, ‘we need a change’, ‘Buhari has been a bad boy’ ‘#ENDPOLICEBRUTALITY’ amongst others.
As at Tuesday, October 12, ten protesters were reported dead, all shot with fire arms held by police officials at separate protesting cities. Unfortunate victims include Jimoh Isiaq, a 20-year-old who was killed in Ogbomosho, southwest Nigeria.
“The protest was largely peaceful before the police fired that shot from the evidence we had gathered. We know the shots were fired by policemen stationed in Owode police station. We know the names of the officers that fired the shots. We are not short of evidence to prove police brutality,” disclosed Hussein Afolabi, Isiaq’s family lawyer to CNN.
Within the environs of the same Ogbomosho city, three other undisclosed persons were shot dead and another victim identified as Ikechukwu Ilohamauzo also killed in Lagos state.
In a quest to restore calm and hope to the ordinary Nigerians fighting in protest for their rights and safety, the government’s decision passed on through the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu announced the dissolvement of SARS on October 11. In place of this, a new policing arrangement for tackling the offences of Armed-Robbery and other violent crimes called SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) has been instated to replace the axed SARS station.
Recruitment into SWAT will offer ex SARS officials to claim a badge after undergoing psychological and medical examinations to make sure they are fit. This according to Adamu will serve as a prelude to further training and reorientation before being redeployed into mainstream policing duties for the officials.
Despite the dissolvement and establishment of a new train to fight robbery in the country, agitated protesters continue to discredit the efforts made by the government, labelling it a repetition of the old story. “You didn’t compensate families of killed protesters. You didn’t release all jailed protesters nationwide. You didn’t arrest the killer SARS men. You didn’t do any of this. You took the werey SARS unit and disguise am as SWAT,” tweeted Dr Olufunmilayo, a Nigerian based in the UK.
Things are currently still on hold in Nigeria. Lesser attention is being paid to other activities that govern their daily lives during normal times. The fight for police brutality to be brought to an end continues.
Here is a link to a portal, one of many of them, that educates on how to help, donate and support the cause against police brutality in Nigeria.
The Feminist Coalition is a group of Nigerian feminists fighting against the injustice of SARS through peaceful protests, fundraising, and social media organization.