On October 2oth 2020, Nigerian soldiers opened fire in Lagos against ‘End SARS’ demonstrators, resulting in the death of at least 12 protestors. Reports from Amnesty International have confirmed that soldiers were implementing an ‘excessive use of force’ on protesters, which has triggered an investigation by authorities. Following Tuesday’s massacre, the city fell into chaos as police stations were attacked and buildings were set on fire. Amnesty International has reported that at least 56 Nigerians have died since the beginning of the ‘End SARS’ protests which commenced on October 8th.
The Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS, is a special division of the Nigerian Police Force tasked with the responsibility of fighting robbery and kidnapping. However, since 2017, there have been 82 documented cases of police brutality and unlawful arrests committed by SARS, according to Amnesty International. The report, which was released in June of this year, states, “Detainees in SARS custody have been subjected to a variety of methods of torture including hanging, mock execution, beating, punching and kicking, burning with cigarettes, waterboarding, near-asphyxiation with plastic bags, forcing detainees to assume stressful bodily positions and sexual violence.”
On October 11th, the Inspector General of Police, Muhammed Adamu released a statement announcing the abolition of SARS. However, he also stated that all SARS officers were to be redeployed amongst other divisions of the police. Protests have continued, as young people demand justice for the victims, the release of arrested protesters and the prosecution of corrupt officers. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres released a statement on October 21st 2020 in which he called for “an end to reported police brutality and abuses”, condemning the violent escalation and “expresses his condolences to the bereaved families.” The statement also declares that “the Secretary-General encourages the authorities to swiftly explore avenues to de-escalate the situation”, and emphasizes the need for restraint and peace in the pursuit of justice.
President Muhammadu Buhari released a statement that did not specifically acknowledge the shooting, but did underline the importance of maintaining “understanding and calm”. Michelle Bachelet, the UN human rights chief, elaborated on the significance of gaining the public’s trust during this period of turmoil. “The immediate creation of another elite police SWAT team to replace the SARS – without first addressing some of the root causes of police violence and putting in place sufficient safeguards to prevent future violations – has eroded the public’s trust even further. This latest terrible event in Lagos is like wantonly adding fuel to a fire that was already starting to rage out of control,” she claimed in her statement released on October 21st.
Indeed, the Nigerian government’s best course of action is to foster trust within their people in order to succeed in maintaining the peace. There must be an in-depth investigation of the officers involved in cases of unlawful conduct to bring an end to the corruption in the police force. Simply shuffling these criminals around to other divisions will only make matters worse, as Nigerians are familiar with this trend. Reformed police divisions maintain their systemic failures as long as key corrupt players remain in the system.