“If I disappear tonight, they’re not going to be able to have the wedding,” Temi Afolabi recounted to a Washington Post reporter after receiving harassment from a radical Nigerian police squad.
Afolabi and thousands of other Nigerians took to the streets and social media to stand up against police brutality. With waves of youth-led protests denouncing police brutality happening in Nigeria the past few weeks, the country decided to finally disband SARS. A radical arm of the Nigerian Police Force, on October 11.
Let’s take a look at what SARS is, their impact on Nigerian communities, and how young Nigerians paved the way towards a path of much-needed justice.
What is SARS?
Founded in 1992, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) became a part of Nigeria’s Police Force. The SARS squad’s mission was to fight against crimes associated with armed robbery, kidnapping, and crimes involving the use of firearms.
As a complement to the traditional Nigerian police, SARS assisted mainly through undercover operations. Initially, the SARS squad had a better reputation than the traditional police which is known for rampant corruption and bribery.
However, SARS activities became more nefarious rather than helpful over time.
How harmful was SARS to Nigerian citizens?
Back to Afolabi’s story, a SARS squad stopped him at a checkpoint earlier this year and raided his vehicle. The police then ordered him into a convoy of unmarked cars. He didn’t know where he and the squad were going.
Afolabi, a 29-year-old Nigerian lawyer, was only out preparing for his cousin’s wedding the next day. The convoy finally stopped, and Afolabi ended up under a traffic light with his car keys in his pocket until the police left.
Like Afolabi, many Nigerians experienced the following human rights violations:
- Illegal “stop and searches.”
- Illegal arrests
- Extrajudicial killings and other egregious acts of injustice
From January 2017 to May 2020, Nigeria documented 82 cases of abuses and extrajudicial killings by SARS. Most of the victims were male between 18-35 years old, from low-income backgrounds and vulnerable groups.
To make matters worse. These young people often experienced profiling based on their fashion choices and ownership of exotic vehicles and iPhones. With over 28 million tweets this year condemning SARS, how and when did Nigeria’s movement for social justice begin?
How a movement sparked in Nigeria to end police brutality?
It all started back in 2017. Nigerian activists and youth took to the streets and social media to protest against police brutality using the hashtag #EndSARS. Soon after, over 10,000 people signed a petition.
But, years passed with no real change or dismantling of SARS. Until a revival happened on October 3, 2020, a trending video on social media showed a SARS police shooting a young Nigerian man in Delta State in Nigeria.
There were even allegations that the police also stole his car (a Lexus SUV).
A single tweet by Chinyelugo, a young Nigerian man with just 800 followers, received more than 10,000 retweets about this incident. He included the trending video shortly after.
Soon after the start of the initial protests, young Nigerian organizers attempted to shame brands and journalists on Twitter by tagging them and asking them why they weren’t covering the protests. The swarm of tweets “was very effective… within a day it was trending.” Mayeni Jones, a BBC correspondent, said.
Dr. Dipo Awojide, a senior lecturer, was among the first people to petition celebrities to tweet about the #EndSARS movement. Popular Nigerian music artists Davido and Wizkid joined in solidarity with the movement by tweeting after much petitioning from fans.
By the end of the day, on October 9, 2020, #EndSARS was trending worldwide. On the ground in Nigeria, protests continued to happen in the streets to ban SARS.
In response to the outcry, Nigeria’s General of Police announced the “dissolution” of SARS a couple of weeks into the protests.
Where do we go from here?
Well, SARS is a small part of a bigger problem in Nigeria… bad policing. Many Nigerians and their supporters would like to see radical police reform instead of cookie-cutter solutions. Find more of the background story and timeline of events concerning #EndSARS here.