What's Going on with SARS in Nigeria?

Op-ed

On Tuesday 20th October, the Nigerian army and police were responsible for the deaths of 12 peaceful protesters at 2 locations in Lagos- Alausa and Lekki. They opened fire on the unarmed #endSARS demonstrators after they had turned off the streetlights and cut phone networks in the area. For 2 weeks they had been camped there, gathering at Lekki Toll Gate in large masses, as promoted on social media which has also been raising awareness regarding the political crisis in Nigeria.

Many around the world have joined the nation's public in this wide-ranging movement, challenging their government and the corruption within their police force.

Why are people protesting?

The protests commenced back in early October 2020, calling to ban the police unit, SARS, notorious for its long history of violent accusations and maltreatment of the population. The uproar was initiated after a video surfaced, revealing a SARS officer shooting a man in Delta State, before driving away, unaware of the disorder this would spark throughout the country

What is SARS?

SARS- Special Anti-Robbery Squad- is a special branch of the Nigerian Police Force, formed in 1992 as a means of combating the surge in armed robberies and crime, serving to protect the Nigerian public. Recently, Nigerians professed their belief that the unit has strayed from its original purpose and has begun acting unlawfully of its own accord, accused of unwarranted arrest and abuse of power.

Amnesty International and numerous other human-rights groups have condemned SARS for alleged rape, extortion, and extrajudicial killings, showing solidarity for the Nigerian people to help bring them to justice. The group has also criticized the Nigerian government and their inability to prosecute any officer from the SARS squad.

“Nigerians are outraged by the impunity with which SARS perpetrates horrific human rights violations” Osai Ojigho, Director of Amnesty International Nigeria

#endSARS

From Black Lives Matter to public outcry in Hong Kong, young people are renowned for their sturdy defense of universal equality and rights, striving for justice for those who are oppressed. This idea undoubtedly extends to the #endSARS, the country's youth-led movement, advocating the eradication of the entire controversial police unit.

Nigeria is Africa's most populous country, with an average age of 18 and continuously one of the fastest-growing populations in the world. It is hardly surprising their youth have risen to face the challenges of misconduct and brutality in their homeland.

The hashtag dates back to 2017 when it was used to share terrible experiences with the SARS unit on accounts of violence and assault. The public has accused the officers of profiling youths based on their choice of attire, arresting them without warrants, simply according to their own bias.

Some have claimed triumph after Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari announced the termination of SARS on the 11th of October, but the hashtag has yet to lose its vigor, many likening Buhari's claims to similar empty promises made in recent years.

WWPBD?- What Would President Buhari Do?

In a televised debate last week, President Muhammadu Buhari agreed to disband SARS but has made no major changes since this statement. Formation of the new SWAT unit has begun, whose officers shall undergo the necessary training on conduct and use of force to better equip them for their task.

However, protesters fear that Buhari shall not entirely disband the SARS unit, but rather have them reassigned to SWAT and other departments without facing the demands for accountability from the public. Several military officials and ministers have issued statements regarding the protests, concerned that demonstrations may propel the country towards anarchy if the movement is not satiated and requests are not met.

Police Chief Mohammed Adamu has stated his support for Nigerians in their right to a peaceful protest, ordering the cease of force against them after he acknowledged the validity of their argument. Protesters are still demanding an independent body to intervene and launch investigations into police brutality in the country, as well as the retraining of SARS officers if they are redeployed to other branches.

Wide World, One Goal

Unsurprisingly, social media has played a phenomenal role in the spread of information across the globe. Multiple celebrities have voiced their support for protesters on Twitter and Instagram, with big names in the music industry like Rihanna and Chance The Rapper sharing messages of moral support amidst the turmoil and unrest in Nigeria, following the events that took place at Lekki.

On Tuesday, in the wake of the killings at Lekki, US presidential candidate Joe Biden implored Nigerian authorities to end the 'violent crackdown on protesters' along with former Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton tweeting at Buhari to put an end to the deaths of young protesters.

Hundreds of thousands from across the world have signed petitions to create change in Nigeria, as well as the constant use of the #endSARS hashtag to raise awareness and condemn the Nigerian Police Force and government. Peaceful protests have sparked from Ontario, Canada to Manchester in England, proving that countries are eager to illustrate a sense of international community and organization.

BEYond dissatisfaction

Beyoncé is among many of the celebrities who have expressed their support for the #endSARS movement, however not without seemingly sparking some backlash at her attempts to speak out about the violence in Nigeria.

A statement was issued through the singer's charity 'BeyGood' on Twitter stating she was “heartbroken to see the senseless brutality taking place in Nigeria...we are collaborating with coalitions to provide emergency healthcare, food, and shelter.”

This was not well-received by protesters in Nigeria, who were displeased regarding Beyoncé's assumptions on the country's poverty rather than commenting on the government and police, especially as Nigeria takes 1st place as the continent's most prosperous nation. The statement was viewed as controversial, coming 2 weeks after protests had already begun, with Twitter users questioning why Beyoncé chose to speak out significantly later than other A-list Celebrities.

If Nothing Changes, Nothing will Change

After #endSARS went viral, this not only allowed people a glimpse into the corruption of the Nigerian police but simultaneously created a platform for the youth to condemn their government, the legal system, and their representatives for feeding them false promises and allowed them to hold authoritative figures to account.

The prospect of putting an end to SARS and further substantial police reform has instigated a wave of confidence and fulfillment amongst the youth of Nigeria, fueled by monumental global support. From 20th-century feminism to the Fall of the Berlin Wall, history has proven that when communities amalgamate upon a common goal, it is a rarity for government to withstand this degree of pressure. As of late, there is an increasing emergence of youth-led protests around the world, communicating the idea that young generations are not prepared to sit absent-mindedly and listen to unlikely pledges, but rather work towards fulfilling them of their own volition.

A Little Goes a Long Way

— However minuscule one signature may appear, it is responsible for the accumulation of large numbers on petitions which get people and governments talking about international affairs. This UK petition intends to implement sanctions against the Nigerian government and officials.

— The Amnesty International website allows you to directly email Nigerian President Buhari and the attorney general Abubakar Malami.

— Neither a requirement, nor does it authenticate your solidarity, but for those who wish to financially help out the #endSARS movement, there are many charities one may donate to, including this GoFundMe set up by the Nigerian diaspora that has raised almost $100,000.

— In a world of constant global headlines and unending stories, educating oneself on global political matters ensures that the stories of the oppressed are heard, bringing them one step closer to justice.

1) 'Everything You Need to Know About Nigeria'

2) Human Rights Watch- Nigeria

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Reem Hassan

If one is to be anything, then why not be great? If not that, then at least achieve something that embodies a distinct amount of greatness.


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