The Special Anti-Robbery Squad was founded in 1992 by former police commissioner Simeon Danladi Midenda. The major reason SARS was formed was when Col. Rindam, a Nigerian Army Colonel was killed by police officers at a checkpoint in Lagos. When the information reached the army, soldiers were dispatched into the streets of Lagos in search of any police officer. The Nigerian police withdrew from checkpoints, security areas and other points of interest for criminals, some police officers were said to have resigned while others fled for their lives. Due to the absence of police for two weeks crime rate increased and SARS was formed with only 15 officers operating in the shadows without knowledge of the army while monitoring police radio chatters. Due to the existence of already established three anti-robbery squad which was operational at that time, Midenda needed to distinguish his squad from the already existing teams. Midenda named his team Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
After months of dialogue the Nigerian Army and the Nigeria Police Force came to an understanding and official police duties began again in Lagos. The SARS unit was officially commissioned in Lagos following a ceasefire by the army after settlement.
SARS is one of the 14 units in the Force Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department which was established to detain, investigate and prosecute people involved in crimes like armed robbery, kidnapping and other forms of crimes.
In 2009, after several years of operations the squad grew in number and strength. Due to the surge of internet fraudsters and cultism in universities, SARS operatives infiltrated Nigerian universities, made several successful arrest but in the process harassed innocent youths. According to a publication by Pulse.ng a Nigerian news website, “What SARS became was a national scourge that a witch-hunt machinery against Nigerian youth with dreadlocks, piercings, cars, expensive phones and risque means of expression.
In May 2010, Amnesty International disclosed that it would be suing the Nigerian Police over human rights abuse stating that the Special Anti-Robbery Squad in Borokiri, Port Harcourt arrested three bike riders and detained them for over one week while being “beaten every night with the butt of a gun and iron belt.”
On 20 May 2010, a Federal High Court in Enugu State, ordered the then IGP Ogbonna Okechukwu Onovo to produce a Special Anti-Robbery Squad officer who had gunned down a 15 years-old boy in high school. According to the SARS officer, the teen was mistaken for a kidnapper.
On 27 July 2010, an extensive editorial report was published by Sahara Reporters on how SARS among other police unit profit 9.35Billion Naira ($60million) from roadblocks and extortion within 18 months.
On 3 June 2011, the Nigeria Police Forced discovered an attempt by a SARS operative Musa Agbu to bomb the force headquarters because the IGP Hafiz Ringim scuttled his ambition.[clarification needed)
Following several reports of human rights violation by members of the public to the office of the Inspector General of Police, on 7 August 2015, the then IGP Solomon Arase announced that it would be splitting the SARS unit into two units, operational unit and the investigation unit to curtail case of human rights violation.
In September 2016, a report on Nigeria Police brutality with the heading “Meet SARS, the Police Unit with license to kill”. The report highlighted the brutality and ignorance of the rules of engagement in the Special Anti-Robbery Squad.