Inspector General of Police Mohammed Adamu’s on October 11 announced that the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) would be disbanded. This was the fifth time in as many years that this unit had been “reformed” or “disbanded” and it is abundantly clear that the government is not serious about tackling police violence.
The scepticism of protestors proved justified, as on October 13 Adamu announced the creation of a new unit – Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) – to replace SARS.
The frustrations expressed in the streets of Nigerian cities, from Lagos to Port Harcourt to Abuja, are about far more than the crimes of a police unit. Nigerian youth are rediscovering their power, picking up the mantle of the cultural and political resistance that in the past helped snatch the country back from the jaws of military dictatorship. Young people are still turning out daily in huge numbers to shut down the operations of major toll gates such as the Lekki-Ikoyi bridge in Lagos and roundabouts such as the Berger Junction in the Federal Capital Territory.
Protesters are raising funds to distribute supplies such as food, water and raincoats to the front lines, with an efficiency that has shamed the government’s failed attempts to distribute supplies at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, despite a budget of 36.3 billion naira ($95.2m)
Nigerian youth are rediscovering a power that few suspected they had.
This culture of violence and wanton disregard for human rights within the unit did not emerge on its own. Rather, it reflects the moral bankruptcy of the system the Nigerian ruling elite have maintained in the country, as they have sought to enrich themselves illegally. SARS was just one of many police units used to protect the criminally rich from the consequences of the extreme poverty that surrounds them.
Between 1960 and 2005, around $20 trillion was stolen from the national treasury.
According to Oxfam, while the five wealthiest Nigerians have a combined net worth of $29.9bn, 112 million Nigerians continue to live in poverty.