For the last two weeks in Lagos, protesters have been demanding the Nigerian government disband the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a rogue police unit known for robbing, torturing and brutalizing innocent young Nigerians.
On Tuesday, security forces opened fire on thousands of protesters at a peaceful demonstration against police brutality, reportedly killing a dozen people. From there, violence mounted in other cities across Nigeria, where national police deployed riot squads to continue targeting protesters.
Demonstrations have also broken out across the globe, in Canada, England, Germany and the United States. Last weekend, after a video of a Nigerian boy being beaten by the SARS emerged on Twitter, hundreds of protesters organized along Queen Street in Toronto and marched in solidarity with Nigerian citizens.
Under the now-trending hashtag #EndSARS, a growing list of global celebrities — Beyoncé, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, Trey Songz, John Boyega — have also begun to express their support for protesters. Some have announced their plans to make donations and help to provide emergency relief to those in need.
“Police brutality here in America often is an abuse of power driven by race. To be brutalized, extorted, and murdered by your own people is unimaginable. Prayers up and I’m researching ways I can help. #EndSARS,” Trey Songz tweeted Saturday.
SARS was set up by the Commissioner for Police in 1992 as a kind of elite police squad tasked with curbing a torrent of armed robberies in Nigeria. Since then, the unit has become known as “a moneymaking terror squad with no accountability,” raping, harassing, extorting, flogging and sometimes killing Nigerian citizens.
In 2017, a campaign emerged under the hashtag #EndSARS calling for the disbandment of the police squad after an Amnesty International report accused officers of unlawfully detaining young adults and extorting money from their families. The report also found a number of detention facilities across Nigeria, where victims were subjected to various methods of torture — “severe beating, hanging, starvation, shooting in the legs, mock executions and threats of execution” — and forced to “confess” to crimes they didn’t commit.
But within three years, the SARS had been “reformed, overhauled, decentralised and disbanded about three or four times ... without success.”
Protesters are now urgently demanding wider reforms of the police force.
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