This past week, there has been an increase in stories coming out of Nigeria in regards to police brutality and overreach. The incident which occurred on Oct 20, 2020, is one of a string of incidents that have been happening for quite a few years. We are going to attempt to find the start of the trail and how this started.
Nigeria has had a rather bloody and tumultuous past, but we are going to start with the merger of both the southern and northern police forces into Nigeria’s first national police force, the Nigeria Police.
There would not be specialized anti-robbery units until 1984, and even then, they were localized to different states’ investigation departments. This didn’t stop the crime spree, and by the early 1990s, both Lagos and Southern Nigeria were a hotbed for robbers and bandits. In 1992, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) was officially formed. Its mission was to be the front-line against armed robbery, the dismantling of armed gangs, and other serious crimes and criminals. Simeon Danladi Midenda was its head. He was given 15 officers and two station wagons.
They were combat-ready and allowed to wear plain clothes without any official insignia. They did not open carry firearms and other weapons in public. They were to simply monitor radio communications and aid in the arrests of criminals and armed robbers.
By 2002, SARS had expanded its reach beyond its Lagos jurisdiction. It was now in all 36 states of the federation, the Federal Capital Territory Abuja, and was recognized as one of the units of the Nigerian Police Force Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department. Its mandate was now set to the arrest, investigation, and prosecution of violent criminals ranging from armed robbers to hired assassins.
It did not take long for their new-found power to go to their heads. They went from their mandate to deploying roadblocks to extort money from citizens. Though they were still wearing plain clothes, they were now armed in public. SARS had become known for an array of human rights abuses, detaining people without cause, “extrajudicial killings” (Aljazeera), and torturing people along with extorting them. They would detain young men who possessed laptops or smartphones for cybercrimes saying they were online fraudsters, only giving them their freedom when they paid extravagant bail fees.
Enter Amnesty International…
In 2016, Amnesty International brought this corruption to light with its own investigation. They documented their visit and found 130 people being detained in overcrowded cells. They discovered these people were being tortured in many ways, including being hung. They were also starved, beaten, shot, and psychologically tortured with mock executions. They recorded 82 cases of torture, ill-treatment of detainees, or unsanctioned killings. The victims were usually male and between the ages of 18-35. They were swept up in raids where people gathered to watch football matches or just drinking in a pub. It was discovered by another organization there was no database on complaints and discipline management within the Nigeria Police. CLEEN, a Nigerian non-profit, made the discovery.
They tried reform…
Recommendations to reform the Nigeria Police weren’t tried until 2006 and 2008 when presidential committees proposed them, but it’s not clear what happened to those proposals.The Nigerian Minister of Justice and the Attorney General of the Federation convened a National Committee on Torture in 2009 to hold the accusations of torture and unlawful killings under a critical light, but nothing came of it. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, in 2010, had allocated 71B Naira ($196M) for police reforms. Again, nothing was accomplished.
This concludes part one. Part two will bring you up to 2016 and the start of the protests.
Updated to include sources