When we decided to make our documentary Voices Uprising about the endsars protest in Nigeria in 2020, it was clear that it would go beyond police brutality. We were interested in discovering the issues that created an environment where the police brutalise citizens. Amnesty International has documented several incidences of SARS over the past years. A day after the incident of October 20th, 2020, the organisation published an article on the matter. We were lucky to interview Osai Ojigho, the then country director of Amnesty, to gain further insights not only into the plights of the victims but also into the status quo for the police.
Incidence: On the 20th of October at Lekki toll gate, Lagos state, Nigeria, several protesters were shot at by persons wearing military uniforms.
Joadre: What is SARS?
Osai: The SARS is a Special Anti-Robbery Squad. However, SARs is just one of a few others specialised units. There is anti-kidnapping, there is anti-cultism, and several other units also.
Joadre: Why and when were they set up?
Osai: They were set up in the early 1990s to address Lagos state’s rising armed robbery cases specifically. Over the years, several units of SARS were also opened across several police stations across the country. So it means that people found value in the specialised skills and experience that SARS officers bring to the art of policing in the country. However, along the line, because of their notoriety, it also meant they sometimes got away with stepping outside of the procedures. It was almost like the end justifies the means regarding SARS.
Backstory: SARS Was Founded Around The Abacha Military Regime.
We must remember that SARS, set up around 1992, came just about the Abacha military regime, known for violence. Also, the Structural Adjustment Program has already begun to affect the common masses. More about the connection will be published in a subsequent article. For some, the presence of the police unit in their areas brought about a sense of safety as armed robbers felt threatened to carry out their robberies. But what happens when the leadership fails to hold its officers to account? What happens when police officers are underpaid and find the need to justify their actions?
Joadre: What were the accusation brought against SARS over the years?
Osai: In recent years, we have seen cases of extrajudicial killings. Moving to disappearances. People will note that their family members have been taken yet cannot be accounted for. Nobody can hold SARS to account when everybody saw that the person was arrested and booked, yet there is no record to show that he was ever in any of your detention centres (SARS).
Osai Ojigho is a Nigerian human rights expert, lawyer and gender equality advocate. In 2017, she was appointed Director of Amnesty International’s national office in Nigeria. She served on the Global Advisory Council of the Institute for African Women in Law and sits on the board of Alliances for Africa.
A protest Amidst The Covid Pandemic
Many say that October 20th, 2020, was a runoff of previous protests and attempts to cob the challenging situation in the country. On the 3rd of October, a young man was shot by the SARS unit at Ugheli. And that was what escalated the issues. Lets us remember that Nigeria, like many other countries in the world, was faced with the challenge of the Covid pandemic. But unlike many other countries in the west, Nigeria did not have measures to cater to the citizens. Palatives were found hoarded that were meant to serve the public.
Joadre: What was the situation in the country before the protest?
Osai: When you now look at the situation in 2020, We are all experiencing the covid 19 pandemic. There was a lockdown. People are coming out of the lockdown phase. Nigeria is faced with celebrating 60 years of independence. I think that was what triggered it.
The Civic Aspect Of Nigeria Must Be Allowed To Critic.
According to Osai, the country director of Amnesty International, the hope, the dreams, and the possibilities seen during the Endsars protest of what Nigeria can become is something to hold dear to her heart. Many diasporas felt a positive change was coming and found it an opportunity to either return home or support this change. She encourages us to be brave, to speak our truth and share criticism. As for the government, Osai insists that if the government wants investment to come to Nigeria, then the civic, governance and security aspects in the country must work for everyone. The country needs to empower its citizens and empower civil society organisations. More conversations with Osai Ojigho can be found in our documentary Voices Uprising.
Find more information – The Genesis of the protest >
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