Development Digest: #EndSARS - More Than A Hashtag
“End SARS, End SARS Now”.
These were the words loudly chanted by Nigerian youths across the country as they Marched peacefully on the streets of Lagos and other major cities including Abuja, the nation's capital.
The movement started on Twitter with millions of tweets by young Nigerians narrating personal stories of their horrific encounters with SARS, and it gained traction in no time.
The Special Anti-Robbery Squad notoriously known as SARS was created in 1992 with the core mandate of tackling the problem of violent crime, banditry and kidnapping across the country.
Unfortunately, since its inception they have done nothing but intimidate, abuse, extort, harass, and even murder innocent Nigerians. To worsen matters, the anonymity of the unit has made it even harder for the perpetrators of these crimes to be identified and held accountable for their unjust actions.
SARS usually targets people between the ages of 17 and 30. But frankly, anyone could be a victim, from bus drivers to startup founders to even the kids of the elites - no one is safe.
Imagine living in a country where your ripped jeans could cost you your life. Crazy right? Well, welcome to the life of Nigerian youths.
Young men with dreadlocks, tattoos, piercings, flashy cars or expensive gadgets are often accused of being fraudsters and targeted by SARS. Young women are harassed and labelled prostitutes.
This is not the first time that Nigerians have called for the disbandment of SARS to end the severe human rights violations carried out by the squad. While previous cries have been ignored, the youths have had enough and they are adamant about seeing visible change this time.
Fool me four times, shame on me
In an attempt to calm the youths and end the protests the Nigerian government announced that it had dismantled SARS for the fourth time. Not long after, they announced the creation of a new group called Special Weapon and Tactics (SWAT).
Nigerian youths were not impressed with this hurried decision and insisted that their demands go beyond a mere change of nomenclature. What they want has been articulated in a five-point demand which includes - the immediate release of all arrested protesters, justice and compensation for the victims of police brutality, the investigation and arraignment of the officers responsible for these heinous crimes, psychological evaluation and retraining of SARS operatives and the adequate remuneration of the police force.
Until the Nigerian government shows genuine commitment in addressing the many valid concerns that have been expressed about how the police operate, these protests which appear to be properly structured and incredibly organised will continue.
Overall, the current #EndSARS protest should be a wake-up call for Nigerian leaders to focus more on policies which address the valid concerns of its teeming youth population, many of whom are very well educated but either unemployed or underemployed.
Thanks for reading,