Thousands of innocent Nigerian lives have been taken by the very people that were charged with the responsibility of protecting us; this injustice has been perpetrated for years on end by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) which is a branch of the Nigerian Police Force. SARS was originally established to stop crimes such as armed robbery, kidnapping and car hijacking which were on the rise during that period. However, the most inconceivable thing has happened, SARS operatives have turned around to carry out these very crimes and become a danger to the Nigerian people.
There are uncountable cases of encounters Nigerians have had with SARS operatives. Young men seen driving cars are either asked to pay a ransom of thousands of naira for simply driving such cars or arrested on the spot for alleged cybercrime. Some are rounded up in police cars for simply walking on the road. Those that have tattoos, beards, long hair or dreads are major targets as they are assumed to look like criminals and unfortunately, the Nigerian culture has enabled this false profiling of innocent individuals. You might be wondering what happens to these innocent people when they land in the claws of SARS. Well, they end up in jail till they pay heavy bribes and those who cannot pay are left in prison for several years with no trial or killed in the most brutal ways.
Over the past few days, several stories of the gruesome SARS encounters of Nigerians – both old and young, have come to light. I will be sharing my own personal experience and a few of the many other SARS encounters that have come to light.
On the evening of October 15 2017, my brother was driving me, my sister and a friend back from our cousin’s birthday party at his house and as we were about to hit the express road, about 3 policemen flagged down our car. Out of worry that they will only try to extort us, my sister urged my brother not to stop the car, but he insisted on stopping to avoid breaking the law.
When we stopped, the policeman asked where we were coming from and we explained that we just left our auntie’s house and were heading back home. Without giving a reason for stopping us or asking for license and registration documents, they asked my brother to step out of the car. He refused as it was very risky to do so given the fact that policemen are known to harass, arrest and even kill innocent people for simply being on the road as I explained earlier. The policemen kept insisting my brother stepped out while he tried to reason with them and explain that he just wanted to take us home.
The moment I am about to describe has been imprinted in my brain since that very day. All of a sudden, one of the police officers pointed his gun at my sister who was sitting in the passenger seat and started shouting that he will shoot her. We all started shouting and screaming out of fear and my brother removed his seat belt to come down at that point but the rest of us convinced him to step on the gas and drive fast! That was how we escaped what could have been a tragedy.
Countless of Nigerians have had similar experiences, unfortunately. Many have not been as lucky as we were and have ended up dead. Several innocent and promising youth have been killed by these SARS operatives; Some are yet to be found after being arrested by SARS, leaving their families without any form of closure to date.
Richard Gora was a 21-year-old university student who was living with his grandfather in Kano. He bought a phone that was allegedly used to send threatening messages and was arrested by SARS for this. He explained that he knew nothing about the threats and only just acquired the phone, but these men beat and battered Richard till he was unconscious. Richard’s mother tried to get him taken to the hospital when she got to the police station and found out that he was unconscious, but they refused. Unfortunately, Richard died that night in police custody.
The heart wrenching experience of Godwin Sunday Udoh is one I cannot forget. He was driving his commercial tricycle called “Keke Maruwa” on his way back from a church program with his wife and four children when he was stopped by the police. Godwin and his wife came down from the tricycle and were asked by the policemen to drop some money for simply driving on the road. Godwin explained that he did not have any money because he was not servicing customers and he was on his way home from a church program with his family. The policemen pretended to be alright with his explanation and told Godwin and his wife they were free to go. As they walked back to join their children in the tricycle, the policemen shot twice. From Godwin’s recount, he thought he was the only one hit in the shoulder and jaw only to hear his children screaming that his wife was dying, she had been shot in the head. Godwin was hospitalized for a prolonged period after this day and was still being treated a year later. His children were traumatized by seeing their mother killed in cold blood and his first-born developed seizures after this event.
Women are not spared from the inhumane treatment of SARS. Nigerian women have been raped, beaten, wrongfully jailed and killed by these officers of the law. Ifeoma Abugu, a 20-year-old recent graduate was arrested by SARS and sexually assaulted by these officers. She passed away a day after being arrested. Lawal Halimat’s story is also a very sad one. Her brother was arrested by SARS officials and was killed at their police station in Ibadan. As soon as Halimat found out her brother was arrested, she went to the police station to bail him out not knowing he had already been killed. She was asked to pay ₦350,000 to have him released which she struggled to raise but paid.
Halimat then went to the station to pick up her brother only to be told that he was moved to Abuja where his case will be taken on. During this period, she was accosted by a SARS official who offered to help process the release of her brother if she slept with him. Halimat was already married at the time but was desperate to have her brother back so she agreed but was able to avoid going through with it. She was able to get a free cross-country bus ride to Abuja as she had no money left and on getting there, she was told to travel back to Ibadan as her brother was not there. They also let her know that when people in police custody are said to have been transferred to Abuja, it means they have been killed. Halimat had to travel back to Ibadan but refused to believe that her brother was dead at this point.
After much struggle, it came to light that her brother was in fact killed before she was asked to pay the ransom of ₦350,000 and his body was already in the morgue. Taking her brother’s body from the morgue was another uphill battle for Halimat as they refused to release his body until she was able to get support from lawyers who fought for her. After going through these horrific experiences, Halimat was eventually able to bury her brother and unfortunately, the emotional turmoil led to her mother’s death leaving her with no family other than her husband.
Many Nigerians have had encounters with SARS that have left them with physical disabilities for life, Kingsley Kalu is one of them. 2 months after his wedding day, Kingsley was shot in the leg by a SARS official that was having an argument with his colleague and decided to start spraying bullets. This led to the amputation of Kingsley’s leg and he made a petition to the National Assembly to seek retribution, but nothing was done till today.
Cases of extreme brutality and killings based on fake charges by Awkwuzu SARS in a state called Anambra have caused that facility to be tagged as the deadliest SARS facility in Nigeria. Extrajudicial tortures and killings were carried out in this facility and bodies of victims were either buried inside the compound of the SARS office or dumped in a river called the “Ezu River.” Evidence of this was found in January 2013 when 35 bodies were found floating in the river. Previous inmates who were able to escape being killed described the horrors of “Cell 5”, a congested and filthy cell which was reserved for inmates to be killed. They also described how they witnessed the violent killings of many men, some as young as 19 years old.
In November 2012, Chijioke Iloanya was arrested by SARS officials who stormed his friend’s child dedication ceremony in Awkwuzu, Anambra State. His sister, Obianuju Iloanya, narrated how her parents went to the station to have her brother released but the officer in charge, James Nwafor refused because they could not afford the bribe he asked for. Chijioke was killed in SARS custody and Nwafor went as far as telling Chijioke’s parents that he was killed and there is nothing they could do about it. The family, now reduced to three, was broken and Chijioke’s father, desperate for closure, went into the Ezu river known to be filled with the bodies of SARS victims and searched for his son among the several dead bodies floating in the river. Sadly, Chijioke’s body was not there and has not been found till today.
Over the past 14 days, millions of Nigerians, home and abroad, have been protesting against the brutality by SARS and the Nigerian (Police) Force. Too many lives have been lost or destroyed by these people and this led to the popular hashtag, EndSARS.
The most despicable things have been going on in Nigeria during this period. SARS officials and the police have attacked, beaten, imprisoned, and killed unarmed Nigerians all over the country who have been protesting peacefully. These events have drawn the attention of international bodies and news outlets which have aired the images and clips of young Nigerian protesters being shot at, dragged across the street, and beaten in broad day light. Isiaq Jimoh is one of many victims of police brutality during these ongoing protests. He was simply a bystander watching the protest in Ogbomosho and was shot dead by the police.
I hope reading this article has opened your eyes to all the evil going on in Nigeria and stirred up a desire to support the EndSARS movement in any way you can. The Nigerian government has refused to stop the killings and end the police unit among other demands such as the prosecution of SARS officials guilty of these crimes. Regardless of this, Nigerians have raised over ₦100 million towards this cause, hired private bodyguards to protect protesters, bailed protesters out of jail, paid medical bills of those wounded and most impressive of all, created a helpline. All this has been done by Nigerians for Nigerians without any support from our government. We have a long way to go but we will keep fighting till every single person that has suffered from police brutality gets justice and SARS is no more.
And the heroes whose names are not mentioned here.