Updated: Oct 18, 2021
On October 3, 2020, a Tweet from someone who goes by @AfricaOfficial 2 surfaced allegedly reporting that a young boy was shot dead by a Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) officer in Ughelli, Nigeria. The country’s
Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Festus Keyamo, reported that the boy involved was not dead and that SARS was not involved in the shooting because “the outfit involved in the case [was] called Operation Delta Safe and not SARS.” Though it is unclear whether or not the boy was killed in the shooting, the uncertainty did not stop nationwide protests from erupting just a few days later.
SARS was formed in 1992 by Simeon Danladi Midenda, a retired Commissioner of Police to combat armed robbers in Nigeria’s largest and most populated city, Lagos. He detailed the creation of SARS in an interview with the Nigerian news site, Vanguard. According to Midenda, SARS was created after a military officer was shot and killed by police at a checkpoint in Lagos in 1992. He says the police abandoned the streets to withdraw to their barracks and robbers took control of the city and “could not be challenged by any force.” In the interview, Midenda said, “My unit and I brought the armed robbers to their knees forcing them to flee.” After keeping Lagos robber free for nine days, he says he was asked to keep it up, leading to the creation of SARS. Midenda claims that SARS was special because officers were faceless and their operations had an “element of surprise” since forces didn’t carry guns or walkie-talkies.
In 2016, Amnesty International issued a report documenting a total of 82 cases of mistreatment by SARS officers. The report included accounts of cruel and unusual punishments carried out by SARS officers on people in their custody including hangings, starvation, shooting of the legs, and beatings. A year later, the hashtag #EndSARS began trending on Twitter garnering awareness of the issue. After the alleged shooting of a young boy by a SARS officer sparked nationwide protests, on Oct 11, 2020, protesters made five demands to the Nigerian government. The demands included justice for deceased victims of police brutality, an independent body to oversee investigations, prosecution of all reports of police brutality, and increased police salary so that they are fairly paid for protecting citizens.
On Oct 11, 2020, the same day that “A Nigerian Youth” signed their five demands, the Nigerian Police force announced the dissolution of SARS. Meanwhile the protests have not stopped. On Oct 20, a 24-hour curfew was imposed in Lagos, Nigeria and that same day, Amnesty international confirmed that at least 12 peaceful protesters were killed by Nigerian army and police.
Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, the executive director of the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre explained why the dissolution of SARS isn’t sufficient. He said that the disbandment of SARS “fell short of the expectations of Nigerians” because is the fourth time that the Nigerian government has announced the dissolution of SARS in six years. A protester named Chioma Agwuegbo told Al Jazeera that “You cannot announce that you have disbanded SARS, but on the streets of Abuja my brothers and sisters are getting tear-gassed. People are getting injured, women are getting beaten up. That’s not how you disband SARS.” According to Al Jazeera, the protesters are “seeking justice for victims of police brutality and an overhaul of the security apparatus.”
It is unclear whether SARS was effective at stopping robberies after 2002. The Nigerian government has made it clear that a new police force will take care of armed-robberies and other violent crimes.
Through Teen Lenses: What do you think about Nigeria disbanding SARS?
“I would say that the ‘disbanding’ of SARS is just a way to prevent the public from getting even angrier. While it may have worked in the past, it appears that the public understands what the government is trying to do and has continued protests. I support the public and their mission to end SARS, because from what I can tell it appears to be a quasi Gestapo. So I would tell them to keep up the good fight, but to make sure to take the proper security precautions to prevent yourself from being beaten by SARS along with the proper safety precautions for COVID-19 when doing the protests” Teja Koduru, 15, Sophomore at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Fairfax County, Virginia
“I am leaning towards agreeing with Nigeria disbanding SARS because it is straight up police corruption and abuse of power, and that does not belong in this world. I think they should either cancel or reform their police like the US is doing.” Danniel Cao, 15, Sophomore at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Great Falls, Virginia
“I think it makes sense that Nigeria is pushing to disband SARS, especially after the egregious actions that a lot of the officers have carried out; protests are happening accordingly as well. However, I think Nigeria will also need an organization to replace the police, whatever it may be.” Anonymous, 15, Sophomore at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, McLean, Virginia