Update (October 13, 2020): Nyesom Ezenwo Wike, the governor of Nigeria’s Rivers State, faced an avalanche of criticism on Tuesday when he announced on Twitter that he was banning all protests following an outpouring of support for demonstrations against the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, also known as SARS.
The Rivers State Government hereby wish to inform the general public that all forms of protests have been banned throughout the State.
— Gov N E Wike Information. (@GovWike) October 12, 2020
“The Rivers State Government hereby wish to inform the general public that all forms of protests have been banned throughout the State. Therefore, all proposed protests under #EndSars Campaign are hereby prohibited,” the governor said through Commissioner for Information Paulinus Nsirim.
“Government took this decision because the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, had already scrapped the Special Anti-Robbery Squad. Therefore, there is no need for any form of protest against a Unit of the Police Force that no longer exists,” he added.
Wike also asked all “parents and guardians” to make sure their children did not protest and ordered law enforcement to crack down on anyone seen protesting.
The posts were quickly slammed by people who questioned why such force was being used and promoted against peaceful protests.
— Wizkid (@wizkidayo) October 13, 2020
Don't be Devil's willing tool. Let the people exercise their right.
SARS has been banned on paper, but the Police still killing the people? How?
— Ifechidere (@Ifechideere) October 12, 2020
So you’re banning free speech. Just say it well.
— Yagazie Emezi (@YagazieEmezi) October 12, 2020
For weeks now, people have been taking to the streets over longstanding issues with SARS. The infamous police squad has been implicated in hundreds of crimes and is well known for their bribery demands and extrajudicial killings, according to Amnesty International.
After initially banning the squad from conducting any more raids or operations, the decision was made to fully disband the group, The New York Times reported.
“The disbanding of SARS is only the first step in our commitment to extensive police reforms. We will also ensure that all those responsible for misconduct are brought to justice,” President Muhammadu Buhari said during a press conference.
But that has not stopped protests, which have only grown in size as more people question what will be done to the officers who were in SARS.
Sensing that he had made more than a few people angry with his tweets, Wike took to Facebook to post words from a speech he gave to protesters after hours of criticism online. He painted himself as a champion of the people and said he was elected because of his opposition to the actions of police organizations like SARS.
Wike called for reform of the entire police force and noted that SARS officers may be deployed to other units. He then said he has long complained about the violence perpetrated by SARS officers and told the crowd that he himself has faced criticism for speaking out against the police.
"It is not only to end SARS. Already, there is a pronouncement to scrap it. But every Nigerian should support the total reform of the Police. SARS cannot and has never been our friend in Rivers state. They killed a lecturer at Ken Saro-Wiwa Polytechnic without a cause and people kept quiet,” Wike said.
"President Muhammadu Buhari said he will reform the Police. Let us be ready to hold him by his words. When we raised the alarm over the killings of Rivers people by SARS operatives, nobody listened to us as they said I was playing politics with it. No Governor saw the need to speak out against that evil,” he added.
His words did little to suppress the outrage at his decision to ban protests in his state. Nigerian citizens have spent the last week criticizing the government and the police for firing tear gas at protesters and trying to violently silence demonstrations, according to The Guardian.
“The government disbanded SARS in 2017, in 2018 and in 2019. We’re not buying it this time,” 25-year-old Boston University student Omobolanle Adams told The New York Times.
Original (October 9, 2020): Nigerians across the world are calling for an end to the Special Anti-Robbery Squad of the Nigerian Police Force, known locally as SARS, after years of accusations that members of the group carried out extrajudicial killings, robberies and general harassment of local populations.
According to Business Day Nigeria, the recent protests over SARS broke out after a video showed officers dragging a man out of a hotel and shooting him in the head on October 3. Video of the incident depicted officers shooting one of the men outside of the Wetland Hotel, Ughelli in Delta State. The circumstances surrounding the shooting remain unclear.
The video ricocheted across social media, enflaming tensions between Nigerian citizens and SARS that had already been simmering for years.
Amnesty International has written extensively about SARS and their lengthy history of violence. For years, politicians in the country have pledged to reform the squad and introduce new rules to reign in their impunity, but little has changed.
Multiple investigations of the unit have been started but rarely go anywhere. Last week, The Minister of Police Affairs announced a ban on routine patrols by SARS, according to Amnesty International.
Osai Ojigho, Director of Amnesty International Nigeria, called the announced investigations "yet another lame attempt to rein in this unit of the Nigerian police which is notorious for the widespread torture and other ill-treatment of Nigerians."
— A THREAD of SARS brutality in the last 3-4 years across Nigerian cities as documented in videos.. Giving credence to the #EndSARS protests. Retweet
— VyrãlTreñdz (@TheVyralTrendz) October 9, 2020
"We have seen from bitter experience that past investigations into violations were either never carried out or marred by irregularities. To date, the Nigerian authorities have yet to show a genuine commitment to ending the lawless activities of SARS," Ojigho said in a statement on Tuesday.
"The authorities have an obligation to protect Nigerians and bring to justice those who violate their human rights. Unless the authorities follow through with their promises to reform SARS and end the frequent extortion and ill-treatment of Nigerians, their empty words will be just that," Ojigho added.
The response to the video has grown substantially over the past week, with dozens of major Nigerian figures calling for an end to the unit and an investigation of everyone involved.
Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar tweeted out a statement condemning SARS.
The Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) unit of the @PoliceNG was set up to confront violent crimes such as armed robbery, kidnapping and other related crimes. However, the unit has today morphed into an oppressor of the Nigerian masses who strive every day for a better life.
— Atiku Abubakar (@atiku) October 3, 2020
He went on to tell Punch Nigeria that it was important for authorities to investigate SARS and ensure that the rogue elements are excised from the unit and sanity returned to its operations.
“I strongly condemn their cruel actions against our people, and I urge the government to rise to the occasion and nip this monstrosity in the bud with the seriousness it deserves. Reports of intimidation, harassment and outright extortion by officers of SARS have continued unabated,” Abubakar said.
Since the video gained traction online, #EndSARS has been trending, with thousands of Nigerians airing their longstanding criticisms of the unit.
British-Nigerian Actor John Boyega has been tweeting about it as well, calling for an end to SARS and demanding justice for those affected by their actions.
Three years ago Nigeria’s police chief re-organised SARS after public condemnation about the violence that came with their operations. That change has done nothing for Nigerians and today many are still in danger. #EndSarsProtests
— John Boyega (@JohnBoyega) October 9, 2020
In another tweet, he said, "The youth in Nigeria deserve good leadership and guidance. This situation is tied to many other issues. Please lend your attention to this pressing problem!"
Hundreds of people have taken to the streets in Nigeria to protest against SARS. But even these protests are being met with the very violence they're protesting.
There’s absolutely no reason for shooting teargas at unarmed protesters in Abuja. No reason. I have a problem with breathing, it’s escalated now because of the teargas shot at us. They are arresting us. #EndSARS
— R E Y ???? (@reykiya) October 9, 2020
— Shehu Abdullahi (@OfficialShehu) October 9, 2020
On Friday, reports began to emerge that some local news stations are shying away from covering the protests.
I just got this message as a reply to one of my tweets from someone who says he’s an intern at @TVCconnect
Apparently, media houses deliberately chose to suppress and ignore the whole #EndSARS agitations.
— #OurFavEndSARSDoc ???????????????????? (@DrOlufunmilayo) October 9, 2020
In response to the initial shooting and the resulting protests, police inspector-general, Muhammed Adamu released a statement pledging to stop SARS from carrying out any more patrols and stop unnecessary searches of private property.
“The IGP’s directives come against the backdrop of findings by the leadership of the Force that a few personnel of the Tactical Squads hide under these guise to perpetrate all forms of illegality, contrary to the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP), Code of Conduct and Rules of Engagement establishing the squads,” the statement said, according to Business Day Nigeria.
The statement only further enraged Nigerians because it was nearly identical to statements released in 2017.
Popular Nigerian musicians Davido and DJ Cuppy joined Boyega in making sure #EndSARS was trending in Nigeria, The United Kingdom and the United States.
In response to the government statements, thousands of Nigerians tweeted videos of themselves being extorted by SARS officers.
— GIDITRAFFIC (@Gidi_Traffic) December 4, 2017
Throughout the week, there have been massive protests in Lagos, Abuja, Ibadan and other cities, according to ITV.
On Friday, the police force of Nigeria tweeted out about violence perpetrated by protesters, further enraging those online and in the streets.
When protesters peacefully marched to the police headquarters in Abuja, they were tear gassed, according to the BBC.
Complaints against SARS have been aired for many years and detail a variety of abuses in which the unit has engaged.
A journalist with TRT World said he was attacked by SARS officers in June after trying to film their attack on another young man.
"They also threatened to put me in a prison cell with an inmate who would rape me. I was taken to their torture room where officers slapped and punched me on my head which caused me to temporarily lose hearing in one ear," journalist Kofi Bartels said.
"As a result of the torture. I sustained a little fracture in one of my knees which still hurts 'til this moment," he added.
TRT World reported that SARS is well known for extorting citizens and often work in plain clothes in Nigeria's 36 states. They typically put up roadblocks and checkpoints that allow them to stop anyone they want. Recently, citizens have complained about mask mandates being used for blatant attempts to steal money from people.
In his statement for Amnesty International Nigeria, director Ojigho said it was imperative that officers face consequences for their brazen crimes.
"Such abuses will only be prevented when SARS officers are held to account for their actions and face disciplinary or criminal punishment if they are found to be responsible for human rights violations," he said.