For the last month, Nigeria has been drawing huge international media attention due to an anti-police brutality movement called #EndSARS. It started out as a peaceful youth demonstration after a man was killed by a Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS) officer, and then evolved into the biggest series of national protests in a generation.
Hashtag #EndSARS first appeared on social media in 2017 when Nigerians started to share their experiences of violence and abuse committed by SARS. This police force unit has been accused of numerous cases of citizen harassment, kidnappings, unlawful arrests and tortures that became more frequent with the rise of middle-class youth in the country. The shooting of a civilian in Southern Nigeria on October 3rd, captured on video, triggered the #EndSARS revival and thousands of young people took to the streets.
Protesters expressed their anger towards not only police brutality but also perceived government corruption. The movement quickly spread across the country and became organized, using the internet to launch fundraising campaigns, establish a helpline and even start a radio station.
BU Nigerian student Ifeoluwa Ijaopo, who witnessed the protests, told Nerve: “Musicians were performing their songs for free in the streets, celebrities came out to join the protest. Children hawkers were giving their goods to hungry protesters and begging them not to relent. There was streaming of religious service for Christians on Sundays and Muslim prayers on Fridays, all with one voice saying ‘End bad governance in Nigeria!’ It was a wonderful time to be alive. There was so much hope in the air!”
On October 11th, in response to the protests, the Nigerian government promised to disband SARS. However many demonstrators felt that wasn’t enough. Demonstrations continued and the ‘five demands’ to the authorities were published.
On October 20th, Nigeria’s security forces attacked peaceful protesters at the Lekki toll gate in Lagos where at least 12 people were killed and hundreds injured, according to Amnesty International. After this incident, later called the “Lekki massacre”, #EndSARS participants have largely left the streets to re-strategize on how to achieve the movement’s goals.
Partners West Africa Executive Director, Kemi Okenyodo told the Africa Center for Strategic Studies that protesters across the country are now “organizing to monitor the panels of inquiries and support the victims” while President Buhari’s administration is freezing activists’ bank accounts and detaining them.
Nerve talked to 3 BU Nigerian students about their thoughts on the #EndSARS movement. This is what Ifeoluwa (MA Media and Communication), Wonton (MA Directing Film and Television), and Toluwabori (BA Media Production) told us:
How much do you know about what’s been happening in Nigeria for the past month? What do you think of the #EndSARS movement?
Ifeoluwa: I was fortunate to be in Nigeria when the protests started and ended. The #ENDSARS movement was birthed from the frustration faced by most Nigerian youth because of the police’s actions. SARS has been responsible for serious atrocities in Nigeria.
Wonton: I don’t know too much about it but my father grew up in Nigeria and he had to deal with very corrupt police and the government. There are extremely few people who are rich and everyone else is barely getting by. So, Nigerians were demanding to be policed by people who actually care.
Toluwabori: As I am not in Nigeria at the moment, I only know as much as what is said on different social media platforms and from my family and friends.
I think the #EndSARS movement is a good one which is against police brutality and the misuse of power in Nigeria against its citizens, especially the youth.
Can you relate to the protesters’ demands? Have you or your family/friends ever experienced violence or abuse from SARS, police, or any other Nigerian security forces?
Ifeoluwa: I have close friends that were victims of their harassment. To be their candidate you have to dress nice, have a nice laptop and drive a nice car. They operate by stopping cars on the road, go to the extent of checking mobile phones and messages received, and then begin to harass or assault the victim. This has caused the untimely death of several young and promising Nigerian citizens.
Wonton: I’ve personally not experienced any abuse from SARS, but my family is really used to bribing and all that culture that they’ve had contact with in the past. It’s pretty hard to get away from it. My aunt was telling me about her properties in Nigeria that were broken into and looted, and the police don’t really do anything unless you bribe them and give them a reason to fight for you.
Toluwabori: Yes, I have a couple of friends who have been stopped by SARS just because they have dyed their hair or because of the kind of phone they were carrying [an iPhone].
How do you think this situation will develop?
Ifeoluwa: The youth are not backing down. They are calling other citizens to start preparing for the next presidential election by collecting voter cards, which is the method in which election is accomplished in Nigeria. Other voting methods have also been suggested in order to achieve free and fair elections. Youths are also calling each other to run for political office.
Wonton: I think this situation will keep going until there is an end to SARS. The Nigerian government is already working on replacing SARS with a better form of policing. Nigerian people are finally finding their voice, maybe even taking inspiration from the BLM movement that changed the world.
Toluwabori: It is unknown how things will go, especially with how the government has been reacting to our peaceful protests, but I do hope the youths win.
If you were in Nigeria, would you go protesting?
Ifeoluwa: I was in Nigeria and I was going to protest. I had my customized T-Shirt and nose mask ready. We were to assemble on Wednesday, October 21st, but the massacre happened the day before. It is a dark day in our history and in the mind of every reasonable Nigerian young person. The flag was stained with the blood of the innocent. We keep the flag flying high, we keep hopes up and we continue to work towards the great Nigeria we want.
Wonton: I would definitely go to protests. In America, I protest all the time. I think it is one of the best things that we can do to protect our voice and our civil liberties these days.
Toluwabori: If I were in Nigeria, I would go for protests as my siblings back home did. As long as it is a peaceful protest, I would love to join in for our freedom and against police brutality.