Edere edemede a nye Odogwu’m na Naija ka Nigeria nwere onwe ya ma nwee ọganiihu.ọganiihu.
A Brief Introduction
Well educated and young Nigerians have taken to the streets in protest of SARS (Special Anti-Robbery Squad), a special forces unit within the Nigerian police department. In a global movement that began in The United States in early Spring in response to a cluster of police killings of unarmed African Americans in this country, Nigerian citizens have added their country to a long list of countries across the world whose citizens are calling for an overhaul of their justice system and a reexamination of the state of policing in African communities. The #endSARS protests are a united call to reform policing practices within Nigeria, but many Nigerians also view these protests as evidence that more change and reform is on the horizon for Nigeria’s entire body of politicking. The fight for equal justice under law in communities of color looks different across the Western world and is especially nuanced in a more homogenous society. Nigerians hope that international attention to their plight will both end crimes by SARS as well as shed light on an autocratic Nigerian government masquerading as a functioning democracy.
This popular larger movement within Nigeria is not a new one. These protests, which comprise the largest civil unrest in Nigeria in a generation, are not only a referendum on SARS but expose a dissatisfied Nigerian electorate eager to upend half a century of political corruption and self-dealing.
Nigeria is a DINO (Democracy in name only). The current president of Nigeria, President Mohammadu Buhari first came to power as a military general in 1983, after a military coup. Buhari left office after three years but won the election in 2015. There are few legitimate instances of military rulers who go on to become democratically elected presidents. Corruption is synonymous with Nigerian politics and Buhari’s congress and military leaders function as the oligarchy of an autocratic government. Nigeria’s political class openly and unapologetically enriches itself on the blood, sweat, and tears of an oil-rich Nigeria where 60% of citizens live below the poverty line. Mohammadu Buhari’s unwillingness to acknowledge the police killings of eleven Nigerians killed during peaceful protests last week was an unforgivable abdication of the office of the presidency of Nigeria. Currently, there are no processes within the Nigerian government that would allow for an independent counsel to investigate police killings or government corruption, and the two go hand in hand. His administration has no plans to strengthen Nigeria’s democratic institutions because there are no democratic institutions within the Nigerian government. Buhari and his collective of henchmen are willing to spill the blood of Nigerians in order to stay in power. By international standards, Buhari’s administration meets the criteria for crimes against humanity within Nigeria.
An Overview of SARS Protests
October 2020 has been the bloodiest month on record in Nigeria’s national fight to reform the SARS unit of the Nigerian police department. If successful, the protests that erupted across the country some two weeks ago will go down in Nigerian history as one of the most significant catalysts for true and lasting social progress in Nigeria in a generation. While the hashtag #endSARS has catapulted the movement to the forefront of the world’s current focus on police reform and Black communities, the push to reform SARS is one that has been a long-fought within Nigeria. This new phase of global accountability for the gross civil rights abuses perpetrated against Nigerian citizens by SARS is being widely shared and reposted across social media platforms across the world.
The first time these human rights abuses were cataloged and platformed by an independent and international third party, was with a study published by Amnesty International on patterns of documented and widespread abuses by SARS. Amnesty International’s research, which began in 2016, encompasses offenses and civil rights abuses by SARS from January 2017-February 2019. The report documents case after case of crimes against Nigerian citizens by the SARS unit, whose crimes violate Nigerian citizens ‘constitutional rights. While the report documents over a dozen cases of SARS abuses, it documents zero instances of SARS officers facing criminal prosecutions for their crimes that range from murder to torture, even where evidence is overwhelming.
For example, the report documents the cases of a SARS officer in Awkuzu who was transferred to another unit after alleged offenses. The report documents another SARS police officer who was ordered to repay a bribe extorted from a Nigerian citizen for their freedom, then the officer was allowed to retire in December 2018. The report evidences a Buhari-led Nigerian government, plagued by corruption and complicity in human rights abuses against its people.
History of SARS
Founded in 1992 in response to the murder of a high-ranking military official and rampant guerilla attacks on civil society, The Special Anit-Robbery Squad began as a local solution to a crime surge in Nigeria in the early 1990s. Although SARS only operated in Lagos for its first ten years, it is now infamous across Nigeria for its extrajudicial killings, harassment, and extortion. SARS officers have become the guerilla attackers their police unit was formed to protect citizens against. What has made SARS a larger threat to Democratic principles in Nigeria and the social, political, and economic progress of Nigerians, is that SARS is a government funded police force that is not independent of the state.
Because SARS is an arm of the Nigerian government, the government is incentivized to minimize and ignore SARS crimes. President Buhari is a president of a Democratic Nigeria who is sponsoring state-sanctioned terrorists acting against the Nigerian people who voted him into office. Although SARS was officially dissolved on October 11, 2020, it’s not the first time the unit has been rebranded.
After almost thirty years as SARS, a new unit under the acronym SWAT, has already evoked an outcry from the same Nigerians throughout the diaspora who are weary of ornamental changes to SARS that lack the measurable reforms that Nigerian citizens hope will root out the underlying government corruption that has allowed these criminal police units to exist and operate with impunity. The hashtag #endSWAT is now trending across social media platforms in response to the establishment of this unit, that many understand is new, but unimproved.
Economic Hardship in Police Force
Nigeria’s government is not a government for the people, by the people. The government does not function for the betterment of Nigerian society and the public sector is rife with corruption. According to an article published by Al Jazeera just two days ago, based on an internal pay scale from 2018, Senators in Nigeria’s upper legislative chamber earned more in one month, than a Nigerian police officer earns in one year. Nigerian police forces earned just 582,000 Naira annually, the equivalent of $1600.00 US dollars per year. Nigeria’s Senators earn 750,000 Naira per month, the equivalent of $2100.00 US Dollars per month. Senators also enjoy a 13.5 Million Naira ($37,000 USD) annual allowance. (Al Jazeera, 2020) Under this model, Nigeria’s state-run and funded police officers often live in abject poverty.
Nigeria is in dire need of politicians who want to go to Abuja to advance the agenda of the Nigerian people, to replace the ones who enrich themselves on Nigeria’s spoils without the check of honest branches of government. Understanding this economic disparage between police and the communities they are sanctioned by the Nigerian government to patrol, is a vital component of understanding the foundation of the issue of how a police unit that was founded to protect citizens, turned into an organized crime unit of the Nigerian police department. SARS units routinely profile Nigerian youths carrying status symbols of wealth like laptop computers, cell phones, or those who drive nice cars or own businesses, detaining them until they or someone in their family or social network can pay to have them released. Without the business of organized extortion, SARS officers have little to no access to economic opportunity. Reforming Nigerian police by investment in police training, police salaries and community engagement in the areas of security depends on Mohammadu Buhari’s federal government’s willingness to acknowledge economic disparities facing its police forces.
Political Solutions to Colonialism’s Legacy
Nigeria is a young and diverse country that has not always existed as we know it today. Geographically, the North and South regions that make Nigeria have only been unified since the British combined them just over a century ago. To further complicate the unification of Nigeria, it is not the same place in any two geographic locations. Each member states’ economy relies on demonstrably different natural resources, whether in the Niger Delta Basin region where oil dominates the economy or in the Southeast region where agriculture fuels the economy.
While the Nigerian government adopted a new constitution in 1999, the country’s economy is in dire need of more legislatively driven reconstruction that equalizes each region’s political influence. Policy reform in the areas of economic, political, and social or public works infrastructure requires different processes in each of Nigeria’s member states, but a unified Nigeria is the only way to solidify a Nigerian society rooted in Democratic principles. Sixty years since Nigeria gained its independence from The United Kingdom in 1960, Nigeria needs a system that works for the citizens of this conglomerate of very different peoples and places that make Nigeria the mammoth she is. If Nigeria is to remain one Democratic African country that offers its citizens economic opportunity, civil rights guarantees, and freedom from state-sponsored abuses, Nigeria has to reform its entire approach to governance, by first rooting out the corruption that has protected SARS since 1992. Until then, Nigeria cannot call itself a functioning democracy.
Through his corruption and inaction, Mohammadu Buhari has set the stage to make Nigeria a focus in the global mission to live in free and democratic societies across the globe. While the United States has taken a backseat in this international mission since the election of 2016, African Americans, Nigerian Americans, and members of the African diaspora throughout the West have not forgotten Nigeria or Africa. The year of return will ultimately look more like the generation of return when history is written. This year marked the beginning of a new civil and human rights movement for Black peoples throughout the world. Just like Africans fought for their civil rights in the West, nations throughout Africa fought to overthrow the illegitimate rule of colonizers in a wave of revolutions across the continent of Africa in the 1960s. A new era of Pan Africanism is upon us. In this same lockstep with Africans in the diaspora, Nigeria will cleanse herself of the sins and gluttony of elders who are now out of time. It has already been written.
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Featured photo: Getty Images
Shanique Perez is the Mom of two elementary-school-aged sons. She is a college student with a Journalism and Public Relations concentration. She has been writing, editing, and proofreading for over six years. Her previous career in recruiting and client retention has sharpened her outreach and public speaking skills. She has written resumes and cover letters for clients. Shanique was born in New York City and the self-identified Afro-Latina American is of African American, Puerto Rican, and Panamanian descent. Shanique Perez grew up in Southeast, Washington, D.C, and attended The Madeira School in McLean, Virginia where her innate ability to communicate through writing evolved into a tool for political, social, and economic activism. She lived in Houston, Texas for six years before relocating back to D.C. after Hurricane Harvey in August of 2017.