BY: CIARA WELLS & LAMA MOHAMMED
In early October, the hashtag #EndSARS began trending on Twitter and other social media platforms. The hashtag brought awareness to the current situation in Nigeria, Africa's most popular country, and the violence in the police state of the government. The hashtag was first used in 2018, and the current wave of protests began after a young man was murdered in Delta State after a stop-and-search operation on Oct. 3 by SARS officers.
SARS, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, in Nigeria was founded in 1992 to protect civilians from crimes associated with robbery. In the last two decades, SARS has morphed into a violent police unit and has been blamed by the public for unnecessary harassment and murders of Nigerian youth. Protests erupted and thousands took the streets after a video showed a SARS officer shooting a man in Delta State before driving off. The SARS have been accused of brutality, rape, and torture, and was announced to be dissolved on Oct. 11 by Inspector General Mohammed Adamu, but protesters have continued to demand broader fundamental reforms.
Among peaceful protests turned violent, Nigerian soldiers used live ammunition, allegedly killing 12. Amnesty International has also documented at least 82 cases of torture, ill-treatment, and extrajudicial killings between 2017 and May 2018. Even with the movement's global attention, SARS operatives have continuously been allowed to become a rogue unit that abuses the human rights of civilians while being backed by the law.
More recent videos of SARS officers have shown them flogging women for "indecent dressing" and shaving the heads of youth with "improper hairstyles." Even throughout the #EndSARS movements, the Nigerian Police have used excessive force on peaceful protestors, leading to injuries and deaths in cities across Nigeria, specifically in Abuja, Benin, Lagos, Osogbo, and Ogbomosho.
One young Nigerian woman found out through social media that her boyfriend had been killed by SARS officers. After seeing a picture of her murdered boyfriend, Okechukwu Obi-Enadhuze, on her Twitter timeline, the young woman, Dede tweeted a series of heartbreaking messages and a photo of them together captioned, "We had forever to go Oke." Celebrities like pop star BeyoncÃ© took to the Internet in support of the #EndSARS movement, to honor Oke's memory, and to share petitions and organizations where people could also show their support.
A message from BeyoncÃ©. pic.twitter.com/5Ng7JF2stf— BeyGOOD (@BeyGood) October 21, 2020
Nigerian authorities and the government have failed to hold officers associated with SARS accountable for their crimes against civilians. In 2017, the Inspector General of Police re-organized the SARS unit after the public condemnations about the violence that came with their operations. Unfortunately, nothing changed. Hence, protestors have continued to demand that President Buhari enact an executive order to disband SARS, address broader issues with the policing system, and to end all forms of police brutality. These demands were met with responses on Oct. 11 of this year, where it was announced that SARS had been disbanded and allegations of abuse would be investigated. However, protestors were still skeptical as the government has failed to disband SARS in the past. The protestors will continue their movement until all SARS and police brutality ends in Nigeria.
Even with President Buhari making promises, Oct. 20 was documented as the Lekki Toll Gate Massacre where the Governor of Lagos issued a 24-hour curfew starting at 4 PM in efforts to dissuade citizens from protesting. When peaceful protesting occurred at the Lekki Toll Gate, the Nigerian Army opened fire and began a massacre that was live-streamed on the Internet. Videos online showed Nigerians running and attempting to perform first aid on fallen victims. From this massacre, it was estimated that the death toll was well over 50, with hundreds of civilians injured and in need of medical attention.
Police brutality is a global issue rooted in white supremacy, and the #EndSARS movement is a fight for Nigeria's humanity â€” one that draws hauntingly similar connections to our fight for Black lives and their liberation in the United States. The #EndSARS movement has revealed just how much the hatred of Black bodies has globalized in ways that create corrupt systems that were initially meant to guard and protect all citizens, regardless of their racial identity. As international watchers, it is our responsibility to be proactive, sign petitions, post and reshare content with #EndSARS on our social media to keep it trending, as well as donate and support Nigerian grassroots movements. As Nigerian journalist Caleb Okereke said, "Until we fade this reality, Black people will continue to be killed with impunity for speaking up, resisting, dissenting, or existing," and we must stand in solidarity with the Nigerian community if we are to uplift every Black voice.