The “Soro Soke” generation won’t give up

The notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) in Nigeria has enjoyed impunity for the continued use of torture and other ill-treatment to execute, punish and extract information from suspects. More and more victims of the SARS have made the news these past years sparking each time a lot of indignation on social media and sometimes protests.

In recent years, the Nigerian authorities made promises to take care of the issue and disband SARS. However, the members of SARS continued to extort, rape, torture, and kill.

On 4 October 2020, a video went viral showing SARS officers dragging two men from a hotel and shooting one of them outside. A few days later, protests erupted across Nigeria. On 11 October, SARS is disbanded. But it was the 5th time since 2015 that the Nigerian authorities pledged to reform the police and disband SARS. Protests continued demanding more than empty promises.

On 20 October, the Nigerian army violently repressed a peaceful protest at the Lekki toll gate, shooting at the protesters and killing at least 12 people. Since that day, the Nigerian authorities have tried to cover up the events of the Lekki Toll Gate Shooting. They froze protests leaders’ bank accounts and fined news agencies who diffused videos of the shooting.

But the “Soro Soke” (“Speak up” in Yoruba) generation won’t give up the fight for justice. They demand answers.

IT’S TIME TO END IMPUNITY FOR POLICE VIOLENCE IN NIGERIA.

VICTIMS OF SARS AND THE VIOLENT REPRESSION OF THE RECENT PROTESTS DESERVE JUSTICE.

During the powerful #EndSARS protest, at least 56 people were killed by excessive use of force used by the army and police. Take action now to demand justice for those who died standing against police violence in Nigeria.

On 20 October, between 6:45 pm and 9:00 pm, the Nigerian army and police reportedly killed at least 12 peaceful protesters and left several injured in Lekki and Alausa in the cosmopolitan city of Lagos. The security forces, without warning, opened fire on thousands of people who were peacefully calling for good governance and an end to police violence as part of the #EndSARS movement.

On that day alone, 38 people allegedly died across Nigeria.

Since 8 October, protesters have consistently been met with excessive use of force. They have been fired at with live ammunition, beaten, and arrested. Water cannons and tear gas have also been used to disperse crowds.

Those considered as financial backers or leaders of the #EndSARS movement by authorities have been targeted. Some had their bank accounts frozen or their passports seized to keep them in the country.

Three of the country’s prominent news agencies have been fined for broadcasting social media footage of the #EndSARS protests and security forces shooting protesters.

The #EndSARS protests have forced Nigerian authorities to disband the Special Anti-Robbery Squad – SARS. States across the country have now set up judicial panels to investigate SARS abuses. But the #EndSARS movement was met with the same police brutality and violence it was set to fight against. It’s time to demand accountability and finally end impunity for police violence in Nigeria.

Take action now and demand justice.

Send an email to President Muhammadu Buhari and Attorney General Abubakar Malami to demand justice for victims of #EndSARS protests’ violent repression.

Join our members and supporters and put an end to impunity for police violence in Nigeria.

THE LEKKI TOLL GATE SHOOTING: BETWEEN DENIALS AND HALF-TRUTHS

On 20 October, a peaceful protest at Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos was violently repressed by the Nigerian army with live bullets. At least 12 people died. Amnesty International investigated what happened that day and shared a timeline of the events. Testimonies of eyewitnesses and families and analysis of hours of footage and images tell the shocking truth of that day. 

Throughout the day on 20 October, peaceful protests took place at Lekki Toll Gate. People were seen dancing, having their hair styled, and speeches were made from a podium in front of the Lekki Toll Gate.

At 6:29 pm, vehicles leave Bonny Camp to head east along Ozumba Mbadiwe Avenue – which changes its name to the Lekki-Epe Expressway – in the direction of the Lekki Toll Gate.

At around 6:45 pm, the Nigerian security forces started to shoot in the air, and at protesters. People were falling injured or dead. The shooting reportedly continued past midnight. 

Local hospitals reportedly received wounded protesters from Lekki Toll Gate brought to them by civilians. Dr. Ayo Aranmolate told CNN, that their hospital receives around 15 people injured that night with gunshot wounds and cuts.

What happened at Lekki Toll Gate has all the traits of the Nigerian authorities’ pattern of a cover-up whenever their defense and security forces committed unlawful killings.

The Nigerian authorities still have many questions to answer: who ordered the use of lethal force on peaceful protesters? Why were CCTV cameras on the scene dismantled in advance? And who ordered electricity being turned off minutes before the military opened fire on protesters?

The initial denials of the involvement of soldiers in the shooting were followed by the shameful denial of the loss of lives as a result of the military’s attack against the protests.

Many people are still missing since the day of the incident, and credible evidence shows that the military prevented ambulances from reaching the severely injured in the aftermath.

Amnesty International calls on the Nigerian authorities to bring to justice those behind the shooting and to protect those who are exercising their right to freedom of assembly. The organization is still investigating the shooting and the reported removal of bodies of those shot by the military in an attempt to remove evidence.


What you need to know about the Lekki Toll Gate shooting

© Amnesty International
© Amnesty International
© Amnesty International
© Amnesty International
© Amnesty International
© Amnesty International

SARS, a history of unlawful killings, torture and extorsion

The SARS unit was created in 1992 to tackle armed robbery in Lagos. Members of the squad were operating undercover against violent crimes in plain clothes and plain vehicles. They did not carry arms in public and were mostly tasked to facilitate successful arrests of criminals and armed robbers.

In 2002, SARS spread from Lagos to other states. Its mandate was to arrest, investigate, and prosecute suspected armed robbers, murderers, kidnappers, hired assassins, and other violent criminals. The unit quickly began to set up roadblocks and to extort money. The SARS officers started to carry weapons in public and overtime were implicated in extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary arrests, and unlawful detention.

In 2006 and 2008, the presidential committees proposed reform of Nigerian police, as reports of abuses were growing in number.

In 2009, one report from Amnesty International titled “Killing at will: Extrajudicial executions and other unlawful killings by the police in Nigeria” recommended police reform arguing that hundreds were dying every year at the hand of police.

Disappearances by police became frequent. Many families were looking for their loved ones in police stations and detention centers. In 2010, Amnesty International called for an investigation into the disappearance of six men from police custody in Port Harcourt.

In 2013, 35 bodies were found in a river in Anambra State. They were missing people allegedly killed by SARS.

In 2015, Nigerian authorities promised to reform SARS and the police after years of reports of human rights abuses and violations. But, the changes were not enough.

In a report in 2016 titled “You have signed your death warrant”, researchers from Amnesty International documented multiple new cases of abuse. They recounted their visit to one SARS detention center in Abuja called the “Abbatoir” where 130 detainees were living in overcrowded cells. Detainees were regularly tortured with different methods including hanging, starvations, beatings, shootings, and mock executions.

In 2017, a social media campaign with the hashtag #EndSARS was launched. Hundreds of Nigerians used the hashtag to document abuses by SARS officers and demand the end of impunity for those human rights violations. An anti-torture law was adopted which established torture as a criminal act and provided penalties for cruel and inhumane treatment. At the end of that year, broad reforms of SARS were again proposed to tackle the issue of excessive use of force. However, members of the unit were still enjoying impunity.

In 2018, then acting president, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, ordered the reform of SARS amidst a growing outcry over the abuses of the unit, but its members were never held accountable for their unlawful activities. A Presidential Commission of inquiry was formed to investigate the unit activities and findings were submitted to the government. The public was kept in the dark about those findings.

At the beginning of the year 2019, the newly appointed Inspector General of Nigeria Police ordered the disbandment of the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (FSARS) and other special squads acknowledging years of outcry from Nigerians over human rights violations committed by SARS officers. But previous attempts were ineffective and as expected by many, this new attempt failed too.

In mid-2020, Amnesty issued a new report on the infamous unit titled “Time to end impunity” and started an online petition to call for the end of impunity for police violence by SARS. In October 2020, after days of protests demanding the end of SARS, the Nigerian authorities announced its disbandment and its replacement by a new SWAT unit. This time, protesters were not buying it. After years of empty promises by the authorities to reform the police, they knew better.