SARS & Police Brutality in Nigeria
Recently in Nigeria, there has been an outcry from citizens for the government to end SARS, the Nigerian Police Force’s Special Anti-Robbery Unit who have been accused of harassing, extorting, detaining and unlawfully arresting citizens across the nation. In June 2018, Vice President Yemi Osinbanjo relayed to Nigerians that following a mandate by Nigeria’s President, Muhammadu Buhari to restructure the unit, the police force would be reviewed. However, it was consequently renamed to FSARS with the added F now representing Federal. However, many are sceptical that the restructuring of the department has had any effect as reports of officers harassing members of the public goes on.
‘SARS men hit me with a gun, passed my pants around’ says anonymous woman. ’SARS officer tortured me for allegedly sleeping with his wife’ states Ese Idehen, a Nigerian businessman. ‘A fellow SARS official killed my police brother’ claims Ayuk Yohanna, ‘SARS officers beat me mercilessly in my kids’ presence’ asserts journalist James Oparaekocha. Unfortunately, these are only a few of the list of accusations made against SARS officials by victims of harassment by the group to Nigerian newspaper, The Punch. Within their accounts, readers hear of forced trips to the ATM by victims accompanied by SARS officials, theft, beating, detention and public humiliation.
The Nigerian social media campaign #ENDSARS arose in late 2017 to enable Nigerians who had been abused by members to share their stories and call for the Buhari administration to address the police brutality cases. This did warrant a response from the Inspector General of Police Ibrahim Idris demanding for "instant investigation into all the allegations, complaints and infractions levelled against the personnel of the Special Anti Robbery Squad across the country”. As the #ENDSARScampaign gained prominence, The Nigerian Police Force created the #ReformSARS social media movement in reposition to call for better training of officers to respect human rights and effectively engage with members of the public.
Currently, the SARS unit has transitioned to FSARS. With the creation of this new body, the Nigerian police aims to create new systems to record details of arrests to prevent the illegal detainment of citizens, eliminate indiscriminate searches and have been ordered to cease attending to any civil or commercial cases.
Nevertheless, some have critiqued the approach of reformation and ending SARS although sharing similar sentiments about the need for action towards police brutality in Nigeria. They have argued that although police brutality cases may have heightened as a result of SARS, the events described by victims is not an uncommon experience from any unit of the Nigerian police force due to endemic corruption. It is necessary that instead of ending the unit, the entire system of policing in the country needs to be reviewed and reformed.