It was meant to be a few hours of peaceful demonstration to call attention to the indignities daily visited, especially, on young people across the country by the now (in)famous Special Armed Robbery Squad (SARS).
SARS was one of 14 agencies set up by a then Commissioner of Police Simeon Danladi Midenda in 1992, following the death of a military officer in the hands of policemen. It was also to address the issues of national security, ranging from counter terrorism, armed robbery, protection of national assets and so on by the police force.
Violence and fear aimed at youth
However, over time, SARS fell into disrepute having become a source of fear and an agent of terror to citizens. They became popularly known among Nigerians as, ‘kill and go,’ an illustration of the high handedness and impunity that had come to characterize the squad. Its members were seen as enforcers for the high and mighty in society. Violence and fear had become their weapons of enforcing their will. It is against this backdrop that an otherwise peaceful gathering of young people, suddenly turned violent. How else can you explain the idea of soldiers opening fire and killing young people who were on their knees or sitting on the floor, hands raised, singing the national anthem and waiving their national flags?
SARS had become associated with extra judicial killings and not a few Nigerians had suffered various forms of bodily and psychological injuries, some of them forever maimed. Citizens have also suffered prolonged detentions without trial and with inhuman treatment. Young people were often stopped randomly, their phones and other gadgets searched for incriminating evidence of any imagined involvement in crime, even when no crime had been committed or reported. Often in the course of extortion, they would lead their victims to the bank and compel them to buy their freedom by making cash withdrawals.
SARS targets young people largely because they are seen as the candidates for trouble, that is, crime. Crimes such as armed robbery and online fraud are often associated with the youth. Although other groups occasionally suffer from their hands, a majority of SARS victims are the youth who are often busier on the streets. The youth also are more likely to stand up to them in a way and manner that the older generation cannot.
A trained lawyer, turned entertainer, Folarin Falana, popularly known as Falz, was one of the ‘leaders’ of the protest. He said, “We thought maybe 50 to 100 people would come out,” other youths. He confessed that, to their utter shock, the dam broke and in a matter of hours and then days, young people trooped out across cities in Nigeria under the hashtag, EndSARS. With no clear leadership, young people simply self organized on the spot as they themselves watched Nigerians from different walks of life come to join them. The rest, for now, is history but there are many questions and lessons to be drawn from the nearly two-week series of events which later saw the country descend into chaos.
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