The Special Anti-Robbery Squad, popularly known as SARS, is a unit of the Nigerian police force set up in 1992, tasked with fighting violent crimes such as robbery, motor vehicle theft, kidnapping etc. Over the years, the unit has become notorious, engaging in various extra-judicial killings and the general humiliation of Nigerian citizens.
The massive killings and violations faced by Nigerians led to the inception of the EndSARS protest. Nigerians took to Twitter to campaign using the hashtag #EndSARS, demanding the dissolution of the unit by the government, which did not yield the desired result.
On the 8th of October 2020, the protest took on a new dimension after a video showing a SARS officer shooting a man to death and driving off in his car in a town called Ughelli went viral. The protest began to garner momentum as thousands of Nigerians, activists and celebrities took to the streets demanding an end to the notorious police unit while advocating for the fulfilment of 5 major demands, including:
A) Immediate release of all arrested protesters.
B) Justice for all victims of police brutality and appropriate compensation for their families.
C) Setting up an independent body to oversee the investigation and prosecution of all reports of police misconduct.
D) Psychological evaluation and retraining of all disbanded SARS officers before they can be redeployed.
E) Increase police salary as they can be appropriately compensated for protecting the lives and properties of the citizens.
The protest carried on for some days and on the 11th of October, the Inspector General of Police at the time, Mohammed Adamu, announced the dissolution of the unit. Making the announcement, he said: “The Special Anti-Robbery Squad of the Nigerian police force otherwise known as SARS is hereby dissolved across all formations, the 36 states, police commands and the federal capital territory where they currently exist.”
Having none of it, Nigerians continued to protest as this was not the first time the Police had announced the dissolution of the SARS unit. The EndSARS protest continued to gain momentum nationally and recognition internationally as protests were held by Nigerians in other countries and foreign celebrities tweeted in support for the disbandment of the squad.
Uzor, a 20-year-old undergraduate of Nnamdi Azikiwe University, commented on the brutality of SARS saying: “They harass us just because of our hairstyles and big phones.”
The protest, which began as a peaceful one with protesters abiding by the law and cleaning the streets after each protest, devolved into one characterised by violence as hoodlums hijacked the protest attacking protesters and road users.
In a bid to protect themselves, the protesters hired bodyguards but this was all to no avail as some were left injured or dead. On the 20th of October 2020, protesters protesting at the Lekki toll gate were allegedly attacked by army officers in uniform leaving an undisclosed number of people dead and others injured. With all these and other forms of violence against the protesters, unidentified thugs sought retaliation and engaged in vandalisation, looting of goods, attacking policemen and SARS officers, breaking into warehouses and carting away with hidden palliatives etc. This continued until the president, Muhammadu Buhari addressed the citizens, stating that their 5 point agenda would be met. His speech, though unsatisfactory, put an end to the protest as a curfew was set in several states across thhe country.
With over 100 people killed, public properties destroyed, businesses looted from, foreign investors withdrawn and the economy in recession, it is safe to say that the EndSARS protest yielded many negative outcomes making it hard to believe that there are positive outcomes from the protest.
According to Miracle, a 19-year-old student: “There is no positive change except that the youths became vocal.” Ada, a 200 level student of Nnamdi Azikiwe University, while sharing her view on the protest said: “I don’t really think there is any positive outcome. Despite the tremendous efforts made by Nigerian youths, the protests didn’t yield many outcomes.”
In as much as it is easy to brood on the negative impacts of the protest, it is without a doubt that there are positive outcomes as well.
For instance, the unrest led to the dissolution of the SARS squad, which was the galvanising reason for the demonstration. Unlike the previous years, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad was disbanded on the 11th of October by the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, due to the agitation for its dissolution.
Secondly, it created awareness for people both home and abroad on the brutal and unconstitutional actions of SARS, making it known to those who were not aware of the situation. Babatunde Anjola, a student of UNILAG, did not know SARS harassed and exploited young men at an alarming rate until the EndSARS movement enlightened her.
Thirdly, it brought to the forefront of the government’s consciousness the plight of citizens in the hands of SARS, a unit that was created to protect them, and prompted the government to take necessary actions for the dissolution of the squad.It also created an avenue for young people to speak with one voice, making their demands known to the government in a way that had not previously been done. Sophia said: “I never imagined youths coming out en masse to protest, I was very surprised by the population of youths that came together to protest.”
In a bid to investigate cases of alleged violations of human rights by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, a judicial panel was set up by state governments as a result of the protest.
Additionally, the protest prompted the formation of the Nigerian Youth Democratic Party, organised and composed of young people in the country with its chairman, Barry Johnson. One of the goals of the party is to promote equal opportunity and participation for all young men and women above the age of 18. The party is seen to be currently making progress as on February 2nd, 2020, it submitted its letter of intent to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to participate in the 2023 election.
Finally, the protest created a platform for revolution as young people are now able to voice their demands as this can be seen on the June 12 #BuhariMustGo protest. The EndSARS protest s helped citizens realise and understand the power of speaking with a unified voice to a government set in place for them.
We can deduce from all these events that the EndSARS protest was not a complete failure that only claimed lives and properties but one which yielded positive results too. Citizens are now aware that they can do something about their situation and lay the foundation for a better government in the future.
This opinion story has been heavily edited by Campus Reporter. However, Campus Reporter does not bear any responsibility for the contents of this story, all views belong to the author.
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