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OPINION By Abbiba Ivy Princewill: The Returning Fear And The Need To #EndSARS

by on October 12, 2020
 

But, I always wondered about what would have happened to them if they had gone to the Police station? Would my brother and his friends have become one of the many victims of SARS?

2years ago was the first time I became aware of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a unit of the Nigerian Police force, set up to eradicate armed robbery.

My favorite cousin, an oil worker, had come to visit. During his visit, he mentioned in passing that he “no longer carried his ATM card out with him.” I asked to know why? 

His reply, “So SARS does not force me to an ATM point to withdraw my entire savings and hand it over to them.”

My second experience of SARS was when my younger brother, a then Engineering Student at Imperial College, had come home to Port Harcourt to visit. 

A few days into his visit, he went out for drinks with two of his childhood friends. One, a Ph.D. Law, student, in England the other is an Engineer.

At a Junction, not too far away from my home, an unmarked vehicle suddenly parked in front of their car. Another unmarked vehicle parked right behind them, barricading them.  

Immediately, three  SARS officers in plainclothes jumped out of the vehicles with guns. They demanded my brother and his friends step out of their car and join them in their unmarked car. 

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In the car, they interrogated them and were about to take them to the Police station. 

When one of the SARS officials recognized one of his friends, as the son of an influential politician.  He had often provided security for, and so let them go.

But, I always wondered about what would have happened to them if they had gone to the Police station? Would my brother and his friends have become one of the many victims of SARS?

Because most Nigerians, in a similar situation as my brother and his friends, have ended up dead, severely tortured, or have had to pay significant amounts of money to regain their freedom.  Only because they had a smartphone, a laptop, or drove a nice car.

Sadly, this is the reality that young Nigerians face in the hands of SARS. A unit set up to prevent violent crime has now become the greatest danger to the lives of young Nigerians. 

In a report published in June,  Amnesty International said it had recorded 82 cases of brutality by SARS, including “hanging, mock execution, beating, punching and kicking, burning with cigarettes, and waterboarding.” 

In response to this brutality,  Nigerians have flooded social media and the streets of Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Kaduna, and other cities to demand the government end SARS.

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The protests have attracted worldwide attention, and the hashtag #END SARS was the number 1 trend in many western countries. The government in a bid to quell the protest has banned SARS from conducting stop-and-search operations in plain clothes. They also outlawed checkpoints SARS officials often set up to accost young men with laptops and smartphones. 

Despite these piecemeal reforms, the young people of Nigeria protested on Friday evening in front of Alausa. The statehouse, in Lagos, to demand an END to SARS.

The protests continued the next day and spread to the major cities of Abuja, Oyo, Port Harcourt, Abeokuta, Bayelsa, Kaduna, etc. The demonstrations have been peaceful, but a protester, Jimoh Isiaq, was shot dead by the Police in Ogbomosho, Oyo state, and teargas and live bullets were used against protesters in Abuja, in front of the Police Headquarters.

This protest marks a turning point for the young generation of Nigerians who have been quiet for too long. They have watched the leadership of Nigeria steal their futures, their dreams, and their dignity. 

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But, are now saying enough, you will not steal our lives too. 

The young people of Nigeria do not want history to repeat itself. They watched their parents whisper under their breaths when they complained about the government. They listened to their parents’ advice to avoid wearing flashy clothes, getting tattoos, and walking around with iPhones. In order not to attract the ire of SARS, who will label them as Cybercriminals. 

Also, they have seen the fear in their parents’ eyes when they say, Mum and Dad, “we are going out to protest, to end SARS.” 

Still, they chose to put their bodies on the line to end the scourge of SARS. They refuse to give in to the returning fear, and in the face of tear gas, rubber, and live bullets, the hot sun and unforgiving mosquitoes. They continue to scream at the top of their lungs, END SARS NOW.

The question is, are the leaders of Nigeria willing to listen and end SARS, or is it going to be like every other time? 

The global spotlight is on us, and the world is watching. 

#ENDSARSNOW. 

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