SARS: Why are tens of thousands of Nigerians protesting?

Tens of thousands of Nigerians have been taking to the streets for more than two weeks to protest against police brutality.

Young people mobilising through social media began staging demonstrations calling for the abolition of the federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), which has long been accused of unlawful arrests, torture and extrajudicial killings.

The hashtag #EndSARS has been trending not just in Nigeria but across the world for several days.

What is SARS?

SARS was a special police unit set up in 1984 as Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, battled rising levels of crime and kidnappings.

Initially, it was successful in reducing cases of violent crime but more recently the unit had been “turned into banditry”, according to Fulani Kwajafa, the man who set up SARS.

In June 2020, Amnesty International released a report that documented at least 82 cases of torture, ill-treatment and extrajudicial execution by SARS between January 2017 and May 2020.

What triggered the protests?

The protests were sparked by a viral video allegedly showing SARS officers killing a young man in the southern Delta state. Authorities denied the video was real.

The man who filmed the video was arrested, provoking even more anger.

How did the government respond?

With no signs of protesters backing down, President Muhammadu Buhari stepped in and disbanded the unit.

“The disbanding of SARS is only the first step in our commitment to extensive police reform in order to ensure that the primary duty of the police and other law enforcement agencies remains the protection of lives and livelihood of our people,” Buhari said.

Last week, Muhammed Adamu, inspector general of police, said all SARS officers would be redeployed to other police commands, formations and units.

That drew condemnation from protesters who pledged to keep up their campaign demanding accountability and justice for the victims of police brutality.

In recent days, the protests have turned violent with shots fired at demonstrators.

On Tuesday, Amnesty said there was “credible but disturbing evidence” that security forces in Lagos, the country’s commercial capital, had shot at protesters, killing them.

Have the protests spread across the world?

The #EndSARS protests have taken place in several cities across the world including, London, Berlin, New York and Toronto.

Several celebrities like Kanye West, John Boyega, Diddy and Rihanna and Manchester United footballer Odion Ighalo have voiced their support for the protesters online.

On Tuesday, former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on President Buhari and the Nigerian army “to stop killing” protesters.

I’m calling on @mbuhari and the @hqnigerianarmy to stop killing young #EndSARS protesters. #StopNigeriaGovernment

— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) October 20, 2020

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