For the past two weeks, tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets of Nigeria to protest the Special Anti-Robbery Squads, a police unit long accused of unlawful arrests, torture, extrajudicial killings, and enforced disappearances. The unit was originally formed in 1992 by Police officer Simeon Danladi Midenda with the intention of combatting the rising crime rates in Lagos. These officers started as plain clothes operatives whose main job was to monitor radio communications and facilitate arrests of criminals and armed robbers.
For 10 years, SARS operated solely in Lagos, but by 2002, it had spread to all 36 states of the federation as well as the Federal Capital Territory (Abuja). Their power extended to include arrest, investigation, and prosecution of suspected armed robbers, murderers, kidnappers, hired assassins, and other suspected violent criminals. These goals quickly changed once they began to accumulate status as a functioning role within the Nigerian government. SARS started to carry out covert operations and create roadblocks, which allowed them to seize possessions on baseless claims, extorting money from the public. This corruption also extended to cybercrime. SARS indicted Nigerian citizens for cybercrimes based on their ownership of computers or mobile phones. After arresting them on baseless accusations, they demanded excessive amounts of bail. Today, for many Nigerians, SARS is synonymous with corruption and violence. To call attention to the rampant mistreatment of Nigerian citizens by SARS, people have been marching in the streets, demanding an end to the oppressive unit. Many protestors are also calling for widespread change in Nigeria, which has the largest number of people living in extreme poverty in the world and a massive youth unemployment rate. Recent protests are indicative of a worldwide call to action in which the masses demand systemic change, tiring of governmental corruption and oppression. Although Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has dissolved the SARS unit, protests continue to ensure reform in the nation.