The Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) has been in existence in Nigeria since 1992. So why are they just now posing a problem that has attracted globally-backed protest movement to end it?
According to Ade Inaya who spoke to DNT, while the special police unit has largely done a good job controlling robberies and kidnapping, “they have recently gone too far in harassing innocent youth” especially southern youth.
Asked if he has evidence to back up his assertion Ade Inaya said there have been several instances where Hausa and Fulani youth have been stopped by the SARS and been let go despite possessing knives and in some cases machetes.
But young men from the southern tribes get into serious trouble even if they are in possession of any sharp object. SARS has been known to drag people out of their homes in southern Nigeria in broad daylight and beaten in front of their neighbors without being taken through the judicial process.
Meanwhile according to David, the presence of SARS is barely noticed in the northern parts of the country.
The protests against SARS started following the alleged killing of a young man by officers from the SARS unit at the beginning of October. Protesters called for the unit to be disbanded.
The police closed it down and announced a new unit – the Special Weapons and Tactics (Swat) team. But protesters rejected the announcement, as many see the changes as not enough to reform the police especially since it was formed barely two days after SARS’ disbandment.
The protests have attracted worldwide attention – most recently the CEO of Twitter, Jack Dorsey, urged his followers to donate Bitcoin to the organizers. Those working in Nigeria’s tech sector have been prominent among those complaining about the activities of SARS officers.
Nigeria’s has long dealt with issues of tribal differences which escalated into a civil war back in the late 1960s to 1970. The mostly less educated northerners comprising the Hausas and the Fulanis have the numbers over the southerners comprising mainly the Yorubas and the Ibos.
Yet governments in Nigeria since independence in 1960 have been dominated by those led by northerners. By extension, the military and the police as well as government officials have been disproportionately represented by northerners.