What is this hashtag across all social media platforms that has taken the world by storm? What is its purpose and goals? How did it all start? Has it made an impact or change? Will SARS really ‘end’ ? Rest assured that all your questions will be answered in this read!
Now what exactly is SARS and how did it all start?
SARS is an acronym for ‘Special Anti-Robbery Squad’ from Nigeria, in West Africa. It is a special unit in the police force that is accused of carrying out extra judicial killings and extortions. Sources say that it targets youth between the ages of 18 and 35. “As long as you look good, are well off, have a tattoo, wear earrings if a man, drive a posh car or have an iPhone or other expensive smartphone or gadget, you are a target.”, said one of the protesters during the protests in the capital city of Lagos.
The Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) was a branch of the Nigeria Police Force under the State Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department (SCIID). It was formed in 1992 and its main purpose at that time was to perform undercover operations against crimes associated with firearms, car snatching, armed robbery, kidnappings and the like. It is no news to say that seeing the situation now, that is clearly not what the special unit SARS has been doing over the past couple of years.
Different protests across the country and major cities in Nigeria were sparked by a video that went viral of the SARS policemen allegedly killing a young man in the city of Lagos in the weekend of 3-4 October 2020. The people said enough is enough. They decided it was time to speak out what they had been suffering and the tortures they had been facing from this special unit police force that had gone rogue.
Videos shared recently on social media appear to show officers extorting money and even shooting people. They have committed heinous and unjust crimes over the past years with no consequences such as human right abuses, illegal stop and search, illegal arrest and detention, extrajudicial killings, sexual harassment of women and brutalizing many young Nigerians.
According to Amnesty International‘s 2016 report, SARS is indicted and responsible for human abuse, cruelty, degrading treatment of Nigerians in their custody, and other widespread torture. Some of the human rights abuses by SARS include the shooting of their detainees in the leg, mock or threats of execution, hanging and severe beating.A 2020 publication by the organization indicates that between January 2017 and May 2020, they have documented 82 cases of abuses and extra judicial killings by SARS.
Nationwide protests did not go in vain. The hashtag of #EndSARS was put up and it trended on twitter and it did not take long to be shared across over different social media platforms attracting over 28 million tags and shares and hashtags! There were protests all over the world in support of the Nigerian people in countries and cities such as London-UK, Dublin and the United States of America (USA). Different well known national and international artists likewise showed support for the cause and others even participated in the protests such as Davido, WizKid, Runtown, John Boyega, Cardi B. Drake, Diddy, Kanye West, Marcus Rashford, Trey Songz, Kirk Franklin only to mention a few.
On Sunday, 11 October 2020, Nigeria’s Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu announced the “dissolution” of SARS. Many Nigerians within the movement criticized the announcement, however, pointing out that similar promises had been made in earlier years and that the government’s plan was to reassign SARS officers to other police departments rather than eliminate them from the force entirely. The protests nonetheless continue despite the “dissolution” as many do not believe the pronouncement to be true.
The hashtag and the call to end the radical unit did not begin now. There was also another trend that was to no avail in 2016 as well. The government says that the SARS is going to be replaced by a new tactical unit that will be known as Special Weapons and Tactics, or SWAT.
Now, is that what the people really want? The dissolution of SARS has been made but the major question is why does the government feel they need to replace it with something else? Will it be the same officers or new ones? Is it just another tactic by the government to have control over the citizens?
All these are questions still lingering in the minds of the people. Hence the continuance of protests across the country, but unfortunately once again some governors have banned the protests in their cities. As the topic states the major question that one should ponder on, ‘Has the hashtag #EndSARS really served its purpose? Will this special unit ever come to an end? Will the cries of the people be finally heard and respected by the government?’
Nigeria is in the hearts of the people and the world and everyone is here to see what happens next.