After years of rampant brutality by the notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) unit of the Nigerian police, what began years ago as an online agitation has morphed into a street protest that has quickly swept across Nigeria in the past two weeks.
Set up in 1984 to combat the rise in armed robbery, SARS has since become notorious for kidnapping, arbitrary arrests, extortion, torture of suspects, gruesome extra-judicial killings, and running detention facilities which some survivors have called an “abattoir.”
In what many see as a tipping point for the generation of young Nigerians – 80 per cent of Nigerians are below 40 – the past weeks have seen them embark on the anti-SARS protests, demanding of the government to scrap the unit and bring to book killer cops.
As the agitations spread into more states in the country, the federal government bowed to the pressure by disbanding the notorious police unit and replacing it with a new unit, the special weapons and tactics (SWAT) team.
Since the unit had before then been said to have been disbanded thrice but the officers had continued to operate, the young protesters refused to be pacified by the latest disbandment.
Here are some of the events over the years that led to what some have called the protest of the decade.
September 22, 2017: A Rivers high court convicted five SARS officers for killing two young men, Michael Akor and Michael Igwe in the state.
December 4, 2017: Former inspector-general of police, Ibrahim Idris, ordered the immediate reorganisation of the notorious SARS following growing outrage against the activities of the police unit, as well as an investigation into allegations of abuses by SARS officers.
December 23, 2017: Former IGP Ibrahim Idris ordered the banning of SARS officials from conducting stop and search operations on roads, “except when necessary.”
June 10, 2018: As abuses by SARS continued, Nigerians again began the call to #EndSARS.
August 14, 2018: Then serving as acting president, vice-president Yemi Osinbajo directed IGP Ibrahim Idris to review the operations of SARS after Nigerians again called for the disbandment of the unit on social media.
September 5, 2018: Again, former IGP Idris ordered the banning of SARS operatives from conducting stop and search operations on roads while speaking with police officers in Anambra.
January 21, 2019: New IGP Mohammed Adamu ordered the immediate disbandment of the Federal SARS, Special Investigation Panel and Special Tactical Squad.
April 1, 2019: 36-year-old Kolade Johnson died from bullet wounds sustained after some police officers opened fire during a raid at a viewing centre in a Lagos neighbourhood. Following the death, Nigerians again took to social media to say #EndSARS.
June 27, 2020: Amnesty International said the Nigerian government has failed to prosecute a single SARS officer in three years despite the evidence of rights violations reportedly perpetrated by the police unit.
October 3, 2020: A man who was arrested by the police in Ughelli, Delta State, allegedly fell off from a moving police vehicle and was feared dead, sparking protests in the state.
October 4, 2020: Nigeria’s Minister of State for Labour, Festus Keyamo, came out to say the victim of the alleged shooting by police officers in Ughelli, Delta State, was alive. Mr Keyamo tweeted that he was told this by the victim’s brother, Ochuko. He added that the police officers involved in the incident were not SARS officials.
The same day, vice-president Yemi Osinbajo vowed to bring culpable officers to book.
October 6, 2020: Protests continued in Delta and heated up on twitter before spilling over to Lagos.
October 9, 2020: The police in Delta said one of its officers, Etaga Stanley, was killed, and his weapon stolen in a clash with the police by the youth and commercial motorcyclists in the state.
October 10, 2020: A protester, Jimoh Isiaka, was shot in Ogbomosho, sparking widespread outrage across the country. The police added fuel to the fire when they forcefully dispersed protesters in Abuja.
Youth in Anambra joined the protest while international celebrities lent their voice to the #EndSARS movement. Meanwhile, the iconic #EndSARS protest picture of Aisha Yesufu became one of the mascots of the protest.
October 11, 2020: On the authority of President Muhammadu Buahri, IGP Mohammad Adamu announced the dissolution of SARS and move by the government to reform the police.
October 13, 2020: Rivers State governor Nyesom Wike walked back on his threat to clampdown on protesters, just as the protest in Abuja continued despite the city authorities issuing a directive against protests. Protesters also shut down major parts of Enugu, Owerri and Aba.
The police also set up a new Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team to replace the dissolved SARS.
Likewise, an international hacking group, Anonymous, infiltrated the Nigeria police website.
The #EndSARS protest got a huge boost as Twitter created a special emoji – a clenched fist showing solidarity with the #EndSARS movement in the Nigerian national green, white and green colours.
October 17, 2020: Two people died in Osun after hoodlums hijacked the protest in the state. Meanwhile, the Nigerian Army announced the first ever Nigerian cyber warfare exercise, Crocodile Smile VI, but said it was not targeting #EndSARS protesters.
Likewise, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo apologised to Nigerians for the slow implementation of the protesters’ demands.
The police also said it has either demoted, dismissed or reprimanded 37 former SARS officers, including Abayomi Shogunle, a former Lagos command publicist who once called #EndSARS a scam, and Dolapo Badmus. The force also said 24 other ex-SARS operatives will be prosecuted for various acts of misconduct.
October 18, 2020: As the protest took its toll on the country, the National Examination Council (NECO) shifted its examination for the year.
A passerby, Anthony Onome, died from wounds caused by hoodlums in Abuja. The Abuja police commissioner condemned the incident.
The police said it would begin training of the new SWAT team the next day, Monday, despite public outcry.
Protesters raised over N4 million in less than 24 hours for two physically-challenged protesters who joined the protest.
October 19, 2020: There was an attack by hoodlums on the Benin Correctional Centre to free some inmates in one of the cells. As a result, the state government swiftly imposed a statewide curfew starting from 4 p.m. Monday.
Also, anti-corruption agency, EFCC, said the security of its website was breached.
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