Fighting Police Corruption in Nigeria: Learning from SARS’ Alleged Dissolution

In 1992, the Nigerian police force created the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) to combat violent crimes such as armed robbery, kidnapping, murder, and hired assassination. In each state, SARS operates under the criminal investigations department of the state’s police command. Alas, SARS developed a reputation for corruptly extorting money from the targets of its investigations. To offer one example, a local software engineer alleged that heavily-armed SARS officers stopped him and ordered that he withdraw one million Naira (approx. $2,607.56 USD) for his release. Such allegations are not unusual, as demonstrated by an online Twitter campaign, labeled #EndSARS, in which numerous Nigerians recounted their personal experiences with SARS. These allegations were serious enough that the Inspector General of Police (IGP) recently released an order to dissolve SARS altogether.

One might reasonably suppose that this dissolution order will result in the elimination of SARS and the corrupt practices that pervaded its department. However, such conclusion would be incorrect, or at least premature, for a couple of reasons. First, the dissolution may turn out to be little more than a publicity gambit that does not have lasting effect. This most recent order is actually the fourth IGP order in four years that has sought to restrict, reorganize, or ban SARS’ operations. In the previous three directives the restrictions were not implemented, and the current order may not be either. Second, even if SARS is dissolved, the root causes of the corruption that pervaded its units are not unique to SARS. If left unaddressed, those same underlying causes can be expected to give rise to similar sorts of extortive corruption in other police units.

So, what factors contributed to the widespread corrupt practices within SARS? Part of the problem may be general systematic inadequacies—factors that contribute to corruption throughout the Nigerian government—but we can also identify three specific factors that made SARS particularly prone to extortive corruption. Continue reading