By Vincent Crawley
Thousands of Nigerians began protesting in early October 2020 after a video was widely shared on social media showing police officers with Lagos’ Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) allegedly killing a man. The Nigerian government disbanded the SARS unit, Oct. 11. However, protests and the associated government response continued, and in several instances, this led to violence, property destruction, and deaths. Local government curfews and roadblocks made it difficult—even dangerous—for diplomatic personnel to travel within Lagos State, the most populous urban area in Africa.
When protests in Lagos escalated last October, a team of Nigerian police specially trained by the Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) provided continuous security to U.S. diplomatic sites and personnel, keeping consulate personnel safe and mitigating the need for reinforcements from outside the country.
Throughout the unrest, the Consulate General Lago’s regional security officer relied on a local police unit specifically trained under the Special Program for Embassy Augmentation and Response (SPEAR) to protect U.S. diplomats and facilities.
SPEAR teams, administered by the DSS Office of Antiterrorism Assistance, enhance the security of U.S. diplomatic posts in high-threat, high-risk environments by training specially chosen law enforcement officers of host nations to better respond to emergencies. The Lagos SPEAR team includes 47 members from the Nigerian mobile police plus an American mentor. The Lagos team is unique in that it includes a maritime component, with team members using boats to navigate around the coastal city’s notorious traffic congestion.
As protests and government responses continued, Department of Defense (DoD) officials monitoring the situation contacted the Department of State to determine if DoD deployments were necessary. However, Embassy Abuja and Consulate General Lagos officials determined the SPEAR team was providing adequate security without the need for a costly deployment of American troops or additional DSS personnel. Additionally, lacking local knowledge or contacts, U.S.-based security augmentation forces would have been unable to operate in this environment.
“That’s one of the benefits of using local police as part of SPEAR,” said Jaime Arizaga, the SPEAR program manager. “They have the authorities to move around, and they have the authorities to make arrests.”
Vincent Crawley is a strategic planning coordinator with the Antiterrorism Assistance Program.