Widespread protests over Nigeria's hated Special Anti-Robbery Squad (Sars) have magnified how the country's youth is finding its voice and demanding reforms.
Protests across Nigeria have intensified and the country’s president Muhammadu Buhari’s vowed to a weary public on Monday that he would crack down on rogue police officers accused of brutalising citizens.
Mr Buhari’s promise came a day after his government announced that it would dismantle Sars.
In a televised statement, president Buhari said that the disbanding of Sars is only the first step in the governments commitment to extensive police reforms.
“We will also ensure that all those responsible for misconduct are brought to justice.”
Police officers in Nigeria generally have a reputation for corruption, brutality and little regard for human rights, but people here have especially strong feelings against Sars, which has developed a notoriety for unduly profiling young people.
A report in June by Amnesty International said it documented at least 82 cases of torture, ill-treatment and extra-judicial execution by Sars between January 2017 and May 2020.Many of the victims were between 18 and 35, the human rights group said.
Nearly half of Nigeria’s population of 182 million population is below age 30, one of the world’s largest concentrations of young people.The majority of them have never experienced steady electricity in their lifetime, nor enjoyed free education in the country.
The Special Anti-Robbery Squad was created in 1992 and charged with tackling the problem of violent crime in Lagos. It operated as a faceless, 15-member team that travelled in two unmarked buses, its officers often wearing neither uniforms nor name tags.
The anonymity was considered a critical part of taking on the gangs that openly terrorised Lagos at the time. However, as the police unit grew, establishing itself throughout the country, as a result its expansion opened the door to abuse, making it difficult to identify and report rogue officers and giving them confidence to act with 'impunity', critics say.
The Sars unit has been accused of targeting young people who appear well-dressed, shaking them down for money, torturing, abusing and even killing those who resist.
"The Nigerian authorities have failed to prosecute a single officer despite anti-torture legislation passed in 2017 and evidence that its members continue to use torture and other ill-treatment to execute, punish and extract information from suspects," the group said.
Protesters say they won’t be satisfied until the president issues an executive order and until clear action is taken not just to disband Sars but to address broader problems with the police.
A number of Nigerian citizens say that Buhari’s response is too little, too late, and they predicted it would do little to placate the angry young Nigerians who have been blocking major routes in cities across the country to protest the police unit.
The protesters demands include psychological evaluations for reassigned Sars officers, and compensation for victims of police violence. They are also pushing for better pay for police officers to reduce the financial exploitation of citizens.
The protesters have also chased away traditional media reporters at protest venues, accusing them of censoring news about the #EndSARS campaign and giving a different narrative to those who are not online.
The #EndSARS hashtag on Twitter has garnered global attention and been embraced by top American musicians like Kanye West, Chance the Rapper and Cardi B.
West expressed solidarity with Nigerians who are protesting against police brutality
West tweeted saying, "I stand with my Nigerian brothers and sisters to end police brutality, the government must answer to the peoples cries #EndPoliceBrutalityinNigeria
Demonstrations in shows of solidarity have been held across the Nigerian diaspora including in cities such as Atlanta, Berlin and London. O Sunday, young protesters gathered in front of the Nigerian Consulate General in Midtown, New York to share their own stories of police brutality.