#EndSARS movement pushes Nigerian president to disband controversial police unit
— 2 minute read — By Ed Bazeley
The Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) unit of the Nigerian police force has come under global online scrutiny this year after revelations about assaults, harassments and murders of innocent civilians.
On 20th October, armed forces opened fire on “End SARS” protestors at the Lekki toll gate in Lagos, an incident which has since been dubbed the Lekki Massacre. Nigerian artist DJ switch witnessed the event and alleges that at least 15 people were shot dead. Governor of Lagos Babajide Sanwo-Olu has not yet confirmed the number of fatalities, but expressed his commiserations via Twitter. Mr Sanwo-Olu has spoken of the need for solidarity and attended several hospitals to visit those injured in the massacre.
The controversial anti-robbery unit was founded in 1992, apparently in response to an incident where an army colonel was killed by three policemen. When the entire police force effectively went into hiding, it saw a need to create a “specialist” unit to combat rising crime. Since its creation, SARS has been suspected of torturing and blackmailing citizens, killing suspected criminals outside of the law and even conducting its own armed robberies.
Since 2002, the force has been present in all 36 states of Nigeria. It was given a mandate to arrest suspected criminals including armed robbers and murderers, but has now become a danger to citizens itself.
The retaliatory social media movement, now comprising an international community of Twitter and Instagram users, has re-emerged after being established by Nigerian civilians in 2017. Using the hashtag “EndSARS” as a vehicle, it seeks to raise awareness of the unit’s barbaric actions.
The online movement has reached wide audiences, in part thanks to the efforts of Nigerian celebrities, such as Manchester United footballer Odion Ighalo, who posted a video to Twitter after the club’s victory over French side PSG looking and sounding genuinely distressed. “Nigerian government… you guys are a shame to the world. For killing your own citizens, sending military to the street to kill unharmful protesters because they are protesting for their rights.”
President Muhammadu Buhari, who belongs to the centre-left All Progressives Congress party, says that 69 people have been killed in protests this year. Shortly after EndSARS protests began, he agreed to abolish the police unit, before seemingly creating a direct replacement by the name of SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics). The hashtag “EndSWAT” soon started circulating social media, with Nigerians and the international community still dissatisfied.