Adaora O., journalist
Lagos–A rallying cry emerges from the citizens of Nigeria as they march along the streets in protest of the Nigerian government and the police unit SARS that has been terrorizing citizens. This movement known on social media as #EndSARS has been gaining attention on social media and media from around the world. And it’s just getting started.
The Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) is a Nigerian Police Force unit created in 1992 to deal with crimes such as carjacking, robbery and kidnapping. Amnesty International, a human rights organization, ran a report on SARS in 2016 and accused them of murder, torture and rape. Eighty-two cases were documented between January 2017 and May 2020. Other troubling incidents include a man being arrested in 2017 after being accused of stealing a laptop. He was then held and tortured for a long period of time before he was brought to court. In Delta State, Nigeria, one video shows a SARS officer shooting a young man before driving off in his car. This particular video is responsible for sparking the current protests.
Most of the protests have been peaceful. Unfortunately, protesters have been attacked by gangs with clubs and knives. Security forces cracked down on the protests with violence. More than ten people have died, and dozens have been arrested and taken into custody. On October 20, the Nigerian military opened fire on thousands of people who were peacefully protesting. Hundreds were severely injured and from investigations from Amnesty International, CCTV cameras were taken down by government officials. Most of the protestors are young, between the ages 15-24.
These demonstrations have been the biggest in Nigeria in recent years, since the protests over fuel prices in 2012. The fight against police brutality has gone worldwide, with protests being held in cities such as Toronto, Manchester and New York. Celebrities such as Beyonce and Rihanna stand in solidarity with Nigerian protestors.
In response to the protests and accusations, the SARS unit was disbanded on October 11. The President Muhammad Buhari pledged for police reforms but protestors are not satisfied. This is the fourth time the president has promised to make changes in the police system, according to protestors and little has changed. To date, the President has not mentioned nor acknowledged the shootings at Lekki toll gate, Lagos Nigeria on October 20.
These are the five main demands from the protestors:
1. Immediate release of all wrongfully accused prisoners
2. Justice for late victims of police brutality and compensation for their families
3. Independent body to investigate and prosecute misconduct from the police
4. Psychological evaluation and retraining for SARS officers before they can be employed again
5. Increased salary for police officers so they are adequately compensated for protecting lives