By OKEZIE ADINDU and REGINA LONCAREVIC
Okezie Adindu is a Nigerian activist and creator of Unite4Action.
After a week of mass organizing across Nigeria, officials announced on Sunday, Oct. 11, their intentions to dissolve the Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS), a particular unit of the Nigerian Police Force known for corrupt policing and excessive use of (often lethal) force.
Protesters have continued to hit the streets following the announcement, unconvinced that state officials will follow through. Officials have promised police reform for years, and the rampant police brutality has only gotten more severe. If the mass mobilizations end now, many Nigerians don’t believe that officials would seriously address issues of police brutality. In fact, already there is word of creating a new police unit that would replace SARS.
SARS was founded in 1992 as a way to combat the rising rate of robbery in Lagos; however, these specialized units very quickly cropped up in every state of Nigeria. The unit originally focused only on robbery, but their role expanded to include kidnapping and cultism. As their rules of engagement became increasingly broad and ill-defined, the unit devolved into corruption, brutality, and unprofessionalism, paralleling the decaying structure of the Nigerian police force as a whole.
Allegations of extrajudicial killings, bribery, extortion, sexual assault, and harassment seem never-ending when it comes to the Nigerian police, especially SARS in particular.
Horrific history of police brutality and misconduct
In late 2009, a report by Amnesty International stated that hundreds of people are unlawfully killed by the Nigerian police every year. Many of these murders are the result of excessive force during arrest. Others are simply extrajudicial executions by police officers. Some officers have even killed people for failing to pay a bribe to officers—and this is only the most severe form of extortion.
In June (2020), Amnesty International reported that Nigerian authorities had failed to prosecute even one single SARS officer for misconduct. This is despite anti-torture legislation passed in 2017 and substantial evidence that SARS officers have continued to torture people taken into custody—sometimes to death. In February, BBC African Eye even uncovered footage of torture being used by multiple branches of the Nigerian police and armed forces. One particular form of torture seems to be widely used on detainees, both as punishment and during interrogation—the method has even been used on children detainees.
This has been going on for well over a decade, yet Nigerian officials fail to act, instead preferring to turn a blind eye to the brutality, extortion, and lack of professionalism. Perpetrators face no legal justice, and the families of victims very rarely receive any sort of reparations.
Protesters familiar with empty promises of police reform
In spite of the president’s assurances to reform the police, and the subsequent announcement that SARS would be dissolved given by the Inspector General of Police of Nigeria, protests have not slowed. Protesters are demanding the unconditional release of those arrested during this last week of protest.
Further, the Nigerian people have seen countless instances of governmental promises to reform the police that never come to fruition. In fact, just two days after the announcement that SARS would be “disbanded,” the Inspector General of Police then announced plans to replace SARS with a new policing unit, this time under the new name Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team.
It’s unlikely this new policing unit will address the issues seen in SARS. Consider that in 2018, the government set up a judicial commission of inquiry to investigate the activities of SARS and make recommendations for reform. The commission’s report has yet to even be made public—and this is almost two years after the panel submitted its findings to the government.
Of course, you hardly need an official report to notice misconduct within SARS. Viral videos capturing countless acts of brutality by SARS officers dominate the internet in Nigeria. Nigerian youths are especially likely to be victimized. SWAT will almost certainly continue this legacy of police brutality, and this is why the mass mobilizations in Nigeria are not about to subside any time soon.
Relationship to global movement for Black Lives Matter
“Our lives matter!” chant protesters in Port Harcourt. “End police brutality!”
The movement in Nigeria is, of course, part of a larger movement that’s been happening internationally. What began in the U.S. following the murder of George Floyd has spread to countries all over the world, demanding an end to police brutality and the racist targeting and murder of Black lives.
This indicates just how influential these kinds of mass mobilizations can be. Further, this trend has strong implications for the self-determination of oppressed peoples. Nigeria, once a British colony, officially attained independence back in 1960, but the impact of imperialism remains a strong influence on the country.
What has been achieved in a few days of relentless effort is an indication of the power of the masses working together as a united front. In Nigeria, people face political corruption, insecurity, and total government failure to provide basic needs like housing and medical care. This victory has shown the masses of Nigeria that their power lies in independent organizing against the oppressors.
As the class struggle in Nigeria deepens, workers will see the importance in organizing a revolutionary political party independent of the ruling class. After all, we have nothing to lose but our chains!