With protests and sporadic violence gripping Lagos, Nigeria, in the wake of the EndSARS movement, a team of local police specially trained by the Diplomatic Security Service Office of Antiterrorism Assistance (ATA) Special Program for Embassy Augmentation and Response (SPEAR) provided continuous security to U.S. diplomatic sites and personnel.
Tested in a dynamic high-threat environment, the Lagos SPEAR team provided the U.S. Consulate’s Regional Security Office (RSO) with an effective, flexible force whose unique capabilities were instrumental in keeping consulate personnel safe and mitigated the need for external reinforcements.
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 on October 11, but protests and the associated government response continued, and in several instances 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 specialized make-up of the SPEAR team – trained local police – were effective escort that allowed mission-critical travel between U.S. government properties and the consulate to maintain site security and sensitive communications. 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, program manager for ATA’s Special Program for Embassy Augmentation Response (SPEAR). “They have the authorities to move around, and they have the authorities to make arrests.”
Host-nation authorities’ familiarity with local conditions, customs, and laws makes them highly effective at de-escalating potential security situations between consulate personnel, the local population, or other security services. The Lagos SPEAR team includes 47 members from the Nigerian Mobile Police, or MOPOL, plus an American mentor. The Lagos team is unique in that it includes a maritime component. Lagos, with an estimated population of 14 million, is notable for heavy traffic congestion, but the city also includes coastal islands and numerous waterways. Therefore, the SPEAR team’s two boats often provide the most effective urban transportation for team members to perform their duties.
In response to rapidly worsening protests due to alleged police and military actions, authorities imposed an around-the-clock curfew in Lagos, the most populous city in Africa. The situation escalated to the point that the U.S. mission issued several alerts related to the demonstrations; by October 22, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo released a statement condemning the “use of excessive force by military forces who fired on unarmed demonstrators in Lagos, causing death and injury. …We call on the security services to show maximum restraint and respect fundamental rights and for demonstrators to remain peaceful.”
As the events escalated in October, U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) officials monitoring the situation contacted the State Department to determine if DoD needed to deploy the U.S. DoD missions can include providing emergency military security for U.S. diplomatic facilities and personnel when needed. However, U.S. Embassy Abuja and Consulate General Lagos officials determined that in the current scenario, the SPEAR team was providing adequate security without the need for a costly deployment of U.S. military or additional Diplomatic Security personnel.
Throughout the unrest, the ATA-trained SPEAR team remained on duty protecting U.S. consulate general personnel and property. Members of the consulate community expressed to the RSO their appreciation for the professionalism of the team and the peace of mind they felt when they saw them guarding their residential compounds during violent incidents in the area.
DSS developed SPEAR teams in 2014. SPEAR, managed by DSS’ ATA’s Special Programs Division, enhances 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 at U.S. diplomatic facilities. Due to their training and proximity, these quick response forces can respond within minutes to emergencies and threats at U.S. missions. SPEAR members receive specific training to provide them the skills they need to become an effective part of the U.S. Mission security program. They also receive equipment loans and training to assist with their mission.
To learn more about ATA and SPEAR visit: https://www.state.gov/antiterrorism-assistance-ata-program-special-program-for-embassy-augmentation-response-spear/.