Although many of us are preoccupied with the Coronavirus pandemic and everything else happening in the U.S., there are many events taking place around the world that also deserve our attention. If you’ve spent anytime on social media recently, you’ve probably come across tweets and Instagram posts highlighting the #EndSARS movement.
Young Nigerians are calling on the public to take notice of the brutality they are facing at home. They post tweets describing terror and violence at the hands of a brutal and powerful police force. But for non-Nigerians, the call to action can be confusing. What is SARS? Why is the movement calling to end it suddenly everywhere? And why are Nigerians calling for an end to it in the first place?
So what exactly is SARS?
SARS (which stands for the Special Anti-Robbery Squad) is a section of the Nigerian police department that was created in 1992 to tackle robbery, kidnappings and other violent crime, but has widely been criticized for human rights abuses including torture, extortion and extrajudicial killings. Nigerians claim plain clothes officers frequently and arbitrarily target young men with tattoos, dreadlocks and expensive cars.
Between January 2017 and May 2020, Amnesty International recorded at least 82 cases of “torture, ill treatment and extra-judicial execution” at the hands of SARS agents.
“This one we know falls solely on us. It’s our fight,” Afro-Fusion singer Omah Lay told Teen Vogue. “The police hardly harass the elderly, but once they sight a young man and you maybe have dreads, piercings, or tattoos, you are automatically a ‘yahoo boy.’ They’d stop at nothing.”
Young Nigerians are leading the movement against the force and its well-documented cases of brutality.
Since the beginning of October, Nigerians have taken to the streets with young people in particular mobilizing in major cities around the world. The #EndSARS hashtag dates back to at least 2017, when people began using it online to share their experiences of violence and assault at the hands of SARS.
This most recent protest was launched by a viral video which allegedly showed SARS officers killing a young man in one of the country’s southern states. While authorities have denied that the video is real, according to Al Jazeera, the man who filmed it has been arrested, leading to more outrage from citizens.
The government’s response has largely been with more violence.
Unfortunately, the government initially met the anti-SARS protests with violence. On October 20th, Nigerian soldiers killed at least 10 protestors who were blocking a highway in Nigeria’s capital, Lagos. That same night, Amnesty International reported that the military and the police force killed 38 Nigerians altogether and many more were injured. It was soon dubbed the Lekki Massacre and served as a snapchat of the brutality that protestors faced in the past month. The incident further inflamed young Nigerians.
After worldwide protests, the Inspector General of Police Mohammed Adamu announced in a statement that the SARS unit will be dissolved. But the police reassigned the same officers who were previously in SARS to other departments within law enforcement, thus avoiding the overall issue of excessive force. A new unit ironically named Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT) was created to replace SARS and will reportedly carry out SARS’s duties.
Protesters also point out that this isn’t the first time the government has promised to abolish the SARS force. Therefore, protesters are asking for additional guarantees against a possible relaunch of the forces.
Protesters have a list of demands to ensure a brighter future for all Nigerians.
Many Nigerians (who are already distrustful of the government) were skeptical of the government’s announcement it was ending the SARS unit. In response, young Nigerians released their “Five Demands” which they believe will adequately address the wrongdoings of SARS.
The demands include asking for the release of arrested protestors, compensation for the victims of police brutality, re-training of former SARS officers before they’re redeployed, and adequate compensation for officers (presumably so they’re not so tempted to demand bribes). As for whether the Nigerian government will heed the demands of Nigeria’s youth, that remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, the movement has grown into the largest demonstration ever inside Nigeria and is inspiring people around the world.
To date, the #EndSARS movement is the largest organization that has been carried out in Nigeria. In the past few weeks, thousands of young Nigerians took to the streets with some staging sit-ins and even sleeping in the streets overnight. Protestors blocked major roads leading to airports and interstate highways, which forced a statement from the Lagos State Government.
Young Nigerian artists are using their influence to mobilize and advocate against SARS, and even those who are hurt are advocating for the release of arrested protesters.
“Nigerian youth have been fearless and driven,” alternative artist Lady Donli tells Teen Vogue about the mass mobilization of young people. “Everyone is fed up and we’re all beginning to understand that the future can and should be ours. I’m just so in awe of how organized and efficient everything has been. It just shows me that I am part of the generation right now, generation talk and do.”
Feyikemi Abudu, host of I Said What I Said podcast, was organizing, fundraising, and fighting for the release of detained protesters. Feyikemi raised more than 10 million naira (about $25,000) to fund protests and has been at the forefront since day one. “Young Nigerians are taking their power back for the first time ever,” Feyikemi said in his podcast.. “We are using modern technological tools and crowdfunding to provide funds for health care, food, water first-responders, and to put public pressure on government individuals. We will not back down because this country is ours just as much as it belongs to others.”