Celebrities like Kanye West, Beyonce and Rihanna have all publicly responded to the nationwide protests occurring in Nigeria in recent weeks using the #EndSARS hashtag, but in case SARS and the protest movement to abolish it is unfamiliar to you, Trevor Noah broke it down in simple terms on last night’s episode of The Daily Show With Trevor Noah.
“As Nigerians struggled with high crime in the ’90s, the government decided that the best solution would be to create a special police unit who could do whatever they wanted to stop crime, but as you might expect, things didn’t go as planned,” Noah explained in the “If You Don’t Know Now You Know” segment.
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SARS, which stands for Strategic Anti-Robbery Squad, was set up to curb crimes like armed robbery. But over time, they used increasingly more violent tactics and, as Noah explains, “the good guys who were supposed to stop the bad guys eventually became worse than the bad guys.”
One of the biggest problems, Noah continues, is that any Nigerian, though primarily young adults who dress well, drove expensive cars, or even those who simply carried iPhones, would be targeted by these police who would arrest them and accuse them of criminal behavior under the assumption that they had to be stealing in order to possess nice things. (“Criminals don’t use iPhones,” Noah explains, “They use flip phones, everybody knows this. You need a phone that you might have to toss down a sewer while the cops are after you.”)
In recent weeks, the country’s citizens have begun to hold protests against SARS, which has only ramped up the brutality against peaceful protesters. Ultimately, the protests did lead to the disbanding of SARS, but they have replaced it with something called SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) that employs the same officers that were a part of SARS.
Now that the government has at least acknowledged some of the problem, the protests have turned toward social change as well within the country, with citizens calling for more anti-corruption crackdowns in the government and social and structural changes nationwide.
It’s worth watching the whole segment above for the brief civics lesson, but also for Noah’s dueling Texan and Nigerian accents.