On the 3rd of October 2020, men of the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (F-SARS) shot and killed a young man in Ughelli, Delta State. Since then, there has been a spate of reprisal attacks against men of the Nigerian police unit, as seen in videos released on Twitter. The shooting and its aftermath brought to the fore an avalanche of stories on the citizenry’s experiences with the dreaded armed unit. We spoke to eight people who had experienced some form of police brutality and harassment. The responses varied from harrowing to distressing.
Emma, 23, Male
It was a Sunday. We hadn’t had electricity for a while so a friend and I went to a nearby petrol station to charge our phones. We weren’t even overdressed or looking flashy, not like that’s even a crime. On our way back home, my friend and I were talking when we noticed that a commercial bus had stopped abruptly in front of us. We didn’t pay it any mind until a plain-clothed police officer jumped down from the vehicle and cocked his gun at us. He beckoned to my friend and me to approach him, even though there were other pedestrians around us.
We obeyed him and he immediately ordered us to board the bus. My friend and I exchanged knowing looks and wore our face masks because we had discussed it before and agreed that should we encounter SARS, we’d not give them any undue reason to detain us. In the bus were three other plain-clothed police officers wearing police fez caps and nose masks. Their leader asked for our names and our parent’s occupation. I answered that my mother worked as a teacher in a police primary school. When they saw that we were not shaken, they began to raise their voices and accused us of being fraudsters.
After shouting and yelling and searching yielded nothing, they asked us to take them to any house we knew had yahoo boys because they could not waste fuel from the State CID without making any catch. We said we didn’t know any and they let us go. Since then, I’ve been afraid to leave the house.
Nosa, 27, Male
On the 7th of September 2020, my younger brother and I had just alighted from a GIGM bus at Ojodu Berger, coming from Benin. I was trying to book a ride to the airport with my phone because I was due to fly out of Nigeria that day. Next thing we knew, SARS officers came out of nowhere, seizing my phone and asking to see my ID. The next second, we had been bundled into a small danfo, along with my luggage. There were five other young men crammed into the small bus and we were being driven to a station.
One of the officers overheard me calling my dad with my small phone and heard me speaking Bini language. He said that I was even his brother and he would collect 50k from me so that I don’t miss my flight. I asked what my offence was and I was slapped at the back of my head. I had to start negotiating and they finally agreed to to collect 20k from me and dropped us off at the gate of the Ojodu Berger police station. They drove inside with the other boys while I continued my journey.
It was a painful experience because I always read about this happening to other people but had never experienced it. I was happy I was leaving the country but I thought of how my family and friends would continue to experience such things. Something has to be done about this issue, else people will start to arm and fight for themselves.
Akanni, 25, Male
It was last year, after the Nativeland concert. I was in my friend’s car and we were going to drop off another friend at home on the island. Right after we dropped them and turned to leave the street, a bus with six men wearing black rushed towards the car and blocked us. We thought we were being kidnapped so we were understandably frightened. They started harassing all three of us, asking for ID. My friend (a lawyer), his girlfriend and I (a publicist) were in the vehicle. I had left my phone and wallet at home because I had expected Native to be rowdy. They forced my friend’s girlfriend and I into the bus, leaving my lawyer friend outside, pleading for our release. They let her out but not me.
My friend’s dad advised us to follow them to their station, saying he was coming to pick us at the station. I was worried because I didn’t have my phone with me. At the station, they began another round of harassment, hitting my face with the butt of a gun and forcing me to strip to my shorts. I told them I was a publicist and they insisted that I was lying, saying there was no such job. Fortunately for me, a mother came to the station to pick up her son. I begged to use her phone to call my parents to alert them to my whereabouts. Eventually, we were forced into a cell.
Aroun 3.30 am, the police men came to get me and were apologising profusely. Apparently, my mom had shown up with my cousin whose husband was a high-ranking police officer. My dad’s friend also arrived and wanted to sue, but I just wanted to leave the place and forget the whole experience. I still get PTSD from that ordeal till date.
Kunle, 26, Male
I was 23 and it was during my youth service. I had gone to upgrade my NYSC account and on my way out of the bank, the SARS officers accosted me, seized my phone and put me in a car. They searched my phone but didn’t find anything except funny memes. They asked why I was hoarding “funny oyinbo pictures” and started slapping me before I could say anything. One of them used the butt of his gun to hit my face till it burst open, a scar I still have on my face till date. They stopped when they saw me crying.
They then asked if I recognised any of them or the area and I said no. They said I was lucky I gave the right answers or else, they’d have replaced me with some robbers they apprehended the previous day and nobody would be able to save me. They beat me some more and dropped me by the roadside.
Nneka, 21, Female
Earlier this year, some task force officials were clearing out the market in Obalende. I was buying foodstuff there because I was expecting a guest. Naturally, I was dressed casually. I decided to go to Lagos Island market because the market was being cleared out. I was a little self-conscious about my dressing so I lifted my phone to see my reflection, to know if I needed to go home and change or not.
Immediately, I was surrounded by operatives. They snatched my phone from me and started pushing me into a Black Maria can, all the while laughing because I was terrified and threatening to slap me. They kept saying “you get luck say you be woman” and “na oyinbo be this o, you know see the way wey she dey talk?” while cocking their guns at my face and legs. Later on, their superior called me to the side and asked me to bail my phone with N5,000. I gave them the money, went back home, sat on the floor and just cried. Till today, I haven’t been able to wear that shirt. It hangs in my backyard to this very minute.
Femi, 31, Male
I never had a bad experience with SARS in my 19 years in the North, until I came to Ibadan. We were accosted at about 11pm and they claimed they had been stalking us since 10am. They assumed we had money because we were driving a new car. They asked us to pay N300k or else they’d stick their guns in our anuses and shoot us. This was the period where they were killing boys daily and dumping their bodies at railway tracks.
They forced us into their bus and tried to get us to drink McDowell’s, to get us drunk. They later said they’d follow us home and kill us in our house. Eventually, they collected us 3k from us when we were halfway to our house and let us go.
Desmond, 17, Male
Myself and two other friends were heading to the shopping complex in Area 1, Abuja, when we came cross three plain-clothed officers sitting in a parked car. They called out to us and one of them said he needed to collect an app with Xender on his phone. It was then we realised they were SARS officials. Because I am a musician with nothing to hide, I gave them my phone. When they found Windscribe, a VPN app which I use for Spotify, on my phone, they accused me of being a yahoo boy and they refused to listen to my explanation.
The officer in the back seat came down from the car to threaten us with a gun. They slapped my friend when he told them he wasn’t with his phone, accusing him of lying. They concluded that we were yahoo boys and while two of them were driving away with my phone, one of them flung me against a fence, kicking us both. When they saw tears in my eyes, they hissed and said “These ones no be yahoo boys.” They then threw my phone out of the moving car, cracking my screen in the process.
Somi, 18, Male
My friend had gone to buy groceries when a police vehicle stopped abruptly in front of him. He was accosted because he used an iPhone and when they asked him questions, he stuttered because he was under stress. He also has a mental health issue. They searched his phone and found chat messages between him and his boyfriend which he had forgotten to delete. They accused him of being a sex worker, beat him till he had cuts and wounds and evenrually released him after he paid 70k.
Isaiah, 28, Male
My first run in with them was in 2016. My family owns a school in Kwara. Salaries needed to be paid, so I went back to town because the money was in my account. I rushed to the bank to withdraw the money, not knowing that the SARS officers had been stalking me. When I alighted from the bike, they parked behind me and told me to enter their van or else they’d shoot me. I entered and they started questioning me, accusing me of being a fraudster and insisting I gave me them money. They searched my phone but found nothing and people pleaded on my behalf because they knew I was from the area.
On another occassion, I was going to Ilorin from Lagos. At a checkpoint, they searched my bag and one of them stole my international passport. When I got home and discovered my passport was missing, I reported to their station. Two days later, I found the officer who searched me and he told me that my passport had “dropped”. On another occasion, they slapped me just for looking nice. I told them I was blogger and they said “Oh, so you think you know your rights?” A few weeks ago, they accused me of dating a white woman because they saw pictures of my lightskinned girlfriend on my phone. They also tried to download Google Hangouts on my phone, something I never had just so they could frame me as a fraudster. It’s harassment, day after day. They have to End SARS. We don’t want them anymore.