Background of the Study
#EndSARS started as a call for the disbandment of Nigeria’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a unit of the Nigerian Police Force that has earned notoriety for its brutality and human rights violations. The hashtag was first used in 2018 to raise awareness of allegations of violence and exploitation by SARS officials (End Swat, 2020). The government announced structural changes to SARS, but the alleged human rights violations and exploitation continued. In October 2020, reports of an unprovoked shooting of a boy in the streets of Delta State by SARS operatives were shared on social media (Jacob Olatunji, 2019). Although the Nigerian Police denied the shooting in this particular case, it was not enough to quell public anger as more videos of police shootings were shared across social media platforms. Celebrities and activists rallied for support on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook and, in a matter of days, protesters lined the streets of Lagos and Abuja demanding an end to SARS. Pressured by the publicity that the protests had generated, the Nigerian government swiftly announced the disbandment of SARS.
This move, however, was not enough to appease the protesters in light of similar pronouncements made previously by the government. For instance, in December 2017, the Inspector General of Police (IGP) announced that SARS had been banned from conducting stop and search operations following several reports of harassment. This ban was publicly re-announced by the IGP in 2018 and 2020, reflecting the ineffectiveness of previous orders. Similarly, in 2018, Nigeria’s acting president announced an overhaul of SARS, stating that the National Human Rights Commission would investigate cases of abuse. This statement was followed shortly by the announcement of a centralised FSARS (Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad) which would come under the supervision of the Inspector General of Police as opposed to the previous version which was under state Commissioners of Police. Mere weeks later, the IGP announced the disbandment of FSARS, stating that the unit would go back to being decentralized and under the command of state commissioners (Samson Folarin, 2019). In light of past practices and disappointments, protestors added to their list of demands, calling for compensation of victims of SARS brutality, retraining of police officers, and trials of indicted SARS officials.