If Mark Zuckerberg was Nigerian, SARS would have killed him or his dreams. That summarizes the situation that young people in tech in Nigeria have been facing for years as officers of SARS Police unit go about brutalizing and generally violating the rights of young men they find carrying a laptop or smartphone.
In Lagos and in many towns and cities across Western, Mid, Eastern and Southern Nigeria, all you have to do to get shot or whisked away by a special anti-robbery squad (SARS) of the police is be young and have a smartphone or laptop on you. In a country where young people are pulling themselves up by their boots to create tech-enabled solutions, SARS is a big problem to Nigeria’s vibrant tech space.
On a typical day, an unmarked car or bus pulls up and armed men clad in black t-shirts jump out and order young men in sight to get into the vehicle. Often times, those who dare to ask why and where are brutalized and sometimes shot (with many fatalities). Many are often dragged away kicking and screaming.
Chances are that if a young man goes missing, he has fallen into the hands of the men of the SARS Police unit and is currently locked up somewhere after being framed for armed robbery or after a summarily execution by same men.
The Impunity Of SARS Officers
The impunity of SARS officers knows no limits.
People are accosted at random by these often illiterate, uncouth men of the Nigeria Police. Smartphones and laptops are searched (illegally, of course), and even when no incriminating evidence is found, innocent people are offered their freedom if they will part with a substantial amount of cash, without which they are blackmailed with trumped up charges, and sometimes killed.
The refrain of SARS officers is, “I will waste (kill) you and nothing will happen”. And true to how things stand, oftentimes, nothing happens. SARS officers hardly ever face the law. The Police authorities often make excuses for their excesses.
In a country with a fast growing tech scene, the modus operandi of SARS is a nightmare for young people everywhere who are aspiring to make something out of technology.
When a SARS team whisks a person away, there is often no record of the arrest. The kidnapped youngsters are blackmailed and required to pay hefty sums of money to regain their freedom. Some victims are driven to an ATM to withdraw cash for the rogue officers. There are victims who have testified of being forced to make electronic transfers to private accounts by SARS officers. These are not made up stories. Here is a tweet with evidence presented:
This #EndSARS issue! The brazenness. These cops, these armed thugs actually make you withdraw cash from an ATM. The electronic transfers are to private accounts with the officers’ names in the memo. The evidence’s right there! These guys are simply hunting down young people! Wow! pic.twitter.com/KbwI272RH5
— Pa Ikhide (@ikhide) December 3, 2017
Amnesty International Report On The SARS Police Unit
In 2016, Amnesty conducted an investigation into the activities of SARS operatives in Nigeria and corroborated all of the above.
The 2016 report by Amnesty International paints a grim picture. Here are a few excerpts:
“Our research has uncovered a pattern of ruthless human rights violations where victims are arrested and tortured until they either make a ‘confession’ or pay officers a bribe to be released,” from our Sept. 2016 report on SARS @PoliceNG #EndSARS
— Amnesty Int. Nigeria (@AmnestyNigeria) December 3, 2017
“SARS officers are getting rich through their brutality. In Nigeria, it seems that torture is a lucrative business”.
SARS detainees are held in a variety of locations, including a grim detention centre in Abuja known as the ‘Abattoir’, where Amnesty International found 130 detainees living in overcrowded cells.
Some Video Evidence Of SARS Brutality
Here are a few videos recorded by brave souls. Usually, the average SARS officer gets even more violent should someone attempt to do any sort of recording of their activities.
When you see videos like this of d atrocity of Sars u can’t help but ask what kind of a country dis is@MBuhari@ProfOsinbajo@bukolasaraki@YakubDogara@PoliceNG@AmnestyNigeria@amnesty
No regard for human life and dignity.This pple must be stopped #EndSARS pic.twitter.com/gTthkpC02E
— Dutch Juices (@dutchjuices) December 3, 2017
— TRENDS OF NIGERIA (@TrendsOfNigeria) December 3, 2017
This year, the World Internal Security and Police Index ranked the Nigeria Police force as the worst in the world. The average Nigerian will concur. SARS is the worst manifestation of sordid state of affairs of the Nigeria Police in general.
The Crime of Being Young And Techy In Nigeria
There is nowhere in the world where it is a crime to be young or to own a laptop or smartphone. It certainly is not a crime in Nigeria. But the criminal officers of SARS regularly act with brazen impunity to make life hellish for young Nigerians.
If Mark Zuckerberg Was Nigerian
Someone aptly summarised the situation this way:
If Mark Zuckerberg was Nigerian, Sars would have killed him or his dreams.
— Odumosu (@MinkailAdesoji) December 2, 2017
You only have to be young and living in Nigeria to know how close home this rings.
PS: You can read the full Amnesty report on SARS HERE.