December 26, 2020
America is not the only place in a fight against police brutality. Celebrities like Beyoncé, Rihanna, Naomi Campbell and Nicki Minaj have all spoken out to spread awareness of the tragedies happening in Nigeria by a group called SARS. While SARS is commonly known in the US as a type of respiratory condition, it has a different meaning to the people of Nigeria: the Special Anti-Robbery Squad. This is a Nigerian police force that no longer protects its citizens from crime but adds to the criminalization of innocent Nigerians.
SARS is not a new threat to the people of Nigeria. The organization was originally formed in 1992 and initially did well preventing robberies, but things steadily declined throughout the decades. According to flare.com, “Since at least 2014, the human rights organization, [Amnesty International] has logged widespread human rights allegations against SARS, including extrajudicial executions, torture, rape and extortion by officers, documenting 82 cases between January 2017 and May 2020.” The anger and violence that the Special Anti-Robbery Squad brings is not a random occurrence but a product of the decline in the standard of living in Nigeria. There has been an increase in poverty that not only affects the civilians but the workers of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad as well. According to brookings.edu, “The discontent among youth was already simmering given the economic crisis sparked by the fall in global oil demand (and compounded by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic), institutionalized corruption, and state profligacy that have drawn more Nigerians into poverty.” An increase in poverty means that there is likely to be an increase in minor criminal activity and disproportionate criminalization.
The policemen of SARS use their duty of “protecting civilians” as an opportunity to seek more money. According to Quartz Africa, “Young Nigerians, particularly anyone with signs of wealth but no obvious links to power, are regularly targeted and ‘arrested,’ and their only hope of release is paying an extortionate amount of cash.” This only adds to the country’s corruption.
Civilians have had enough of the violence and took it upon themselves to protest as an attempt to end the madness that the Special Anti-Robbery Squad started. Unfortunately, this attempt only added to the chaos. End SARS has been one of the biggest and longest running protests of this generation. Mobilizers and organizers have used the internet to their advantage by spreading awareness of these events, and the power of social media has helped in disputing misleading claims, providing food and water to protesters and raising money for organizations.
Although there has been a lot of help through social media, the horrible situation continues. According to BBC, “[since Oct 23rd, 2020] Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari says 69 people have been killed in protests against police brutality that have rocked the country.” The deaths are mainly those of civilians fighting for their rights, and people are being urged to stay at home both to prevent more killings and to decrease the risk of getting COVID-19.
Although Nigeria is doing better than many countries, citizens are still at risk of putting themselves in a compromising position. According to sciencemag.org, “Nigeria, the continent’s most populous nation, has reported only 33,000 cases and just under 750 deaths among its nearly 200 million citizens. (The number of daily reported cases more or less stabilized in June, after an increase since April.)” People are urged by the government to stay at home to prevent the dangers of COVID and protests, but even if they do, citizens don’t feel safe. The protesters choose to fight for their rights even if it means putting themselves in harm’s way. The protests are more than just a fight against police brutality; they are a challenge of the weak government and a demand for accountability.
These demands come from the countless problems within Nigeria’s government, including but not limited to: bribery, cronyism (the appointment of friends and associates to positions of authority, without proper regard to their qualifications), economics of corruption, electoral fraud, and nepotism. “Nigeria’s skyrocketing unemployment rate of 27% means there are more than 21.7 million unemployed Nigerians, a figure that exceeds the population of 35 of Africa’s 54 countries.”
Civilians have a right to protest without the fear of getting killed for fighting for basic human rights. Citizens want SARS abolished because they are not helping protect the country—they are only adding to more corruption. Nigerian citizens deserve to have economic prosperity, not to be killed by the very people who are meant to protect them.
If you or someone you know wants to contribute to End SARS but are not from Nigeria, you can donate to organizations like Feminist Coalition. This organization has been collecting donations via bitcoin. They include instructions on how to donate on their website and are transparent about where the funds go. “Diasporans Against SARS” has also been collecting donations via GoFundMe. Amnesty International, a human rights group, also wrote a detailed article about SARS and its history if you want more information. Education and spreading awareness can help Nigerians put an end to SARS.
Patiense Mckenzie is a senior studying English, focused on creative writing, with a minor in Spanish. Her passions are creative writing and poetry. Her career goal is to publish a book one day and to create a space for Detroit-local creatives to get paid for their art.