According to accounts, Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) teams of the Nigerian Police Force, a unit created to combat the challenge of armed robbery and kidnapping in the country mount roadblocks armed with plain clothes and without any form of identification. They shred ID cards, routinely seize mobile phones and laptops, and ‘threaten’ to kill if they are not settled. If there is any resistance, the result is a ‘conjured’ criminal case for the unlucky individual. It is needless to recount more dehumanisation stories of several Nigerians in the hands of SARS. In November, angered by the impunity of members of SARS, Nigerians began the #ENDSARS movement on twitter as a means to force the government to address the excesses of this unit.
Tweet after tweet, more people joined the thread in what has become the most successful online campaign against any government institution or parastatal in Nigeria. Raising their voices to join the campaign, several musicians and entertainers aligned with the people calling on the Federal Government to scrap the ‘terror squad’ for its flagrant abuse of power. As the chants grew louder, the Inspector General of Police, Idris Ibrahim ordered the immediate restructuring of SARS and investigation into the allegations brought against this Police Unit. Maybe, the IGP thought this announcement would appease Nigerians and the clamor would peddle down or eventually fizzle out, he was wrong. High profile Nigerians including Former Vice-President and Presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar replied ‘… we can’t complain about the enslavement of our young people in Libya, yet abuse their freedoms at home.’ to a tweet from respected clergyman Sam Adeyemi who made it clear that until “deep issues foundational to Nigeria’s development are addressed, protests like this will not go away.”
On Dec 11, protesters took the ‘war’ from social media to the streets in major cities across the Federation demanding #ENDSARS. In a disgusting retaliatory move, the Police allegedly rented a #SUPPORTSARS crowd as a parallel to #ENDSARS. In the words of the IGP, ‘SARS should be reformed not scrapped’ Again, this caused backlash and gingered momentum for #ENDSARS. The argument is simple: how is SARS going to be reformed? If the same people are left in the Police Unit and it is only restructured hierarchically or merely rebranded; how has the menace of their terror reduced?
In 2016, the World Internal Security and Police Index Report ranked the Nigerian Police the worst of the 127 national forces on its index. The Nigerian Police rejected the report, declaring itself, as at least, the best in Africa. This #ENDSARS campaign has perhaps opened their eyes to their perception in the general society. The failure of the Police and any of their elite paramilitary units is merely analogous to the failure of several components of our society, the greatest is; a huge hangover from the days of the ‘khaki boys’ and any Nigerian in any paramilitary uniform automatically promotes himself to the status of a god.
Justification along lines of #ENDSARS or #REFORMSARS is not the principal goal of this article. Of course, the eventual result of this campaign is important, perhaps, the most important thing about this campaign is the revelation of the new kind of power that Nigerian youths wield. A weapon more potent than the bullets in a riffle but subtle in its approach, a weapon with the power to bring to its knees any government failing in its principal mandate. Through social media and in deed largely twitter, a budding issue became a national headline. Initially when the campaign started, critics opined that social media could cause no change. Today, this weapon has unsettled many high profile Police officers, who are locked in serious rounds of meetings on what course of action is best. As 2019 approaches, the real task at hand is galvanising mass participation in politics and installing a regime capable of transforming the fortunes of the country. Are we up to the task?