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Nigeria’s #EndSARS anti-government protest

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In October, Nigeria saw protests against police brutality which have now taken the shape of an expanded into popular resistance against the politicians, the government, and corruption settled in the country for years. These protests began online with a simple hashtag “#EndSARS” and soon spilled out onto the streets of Nigeria. The movement is now identified with the associated hashtag from which the movement originated.

What is the SARS unit?

Nigeria’s SARS unit is a Special Anti-Robbery Squad that was created in 1984 and according to a New York Times report, it was birthed as a step to protect the country from rising cases of violent crimes. Statistics of crimes including robberies and kidnappings increasingly dropped in the first few years of its operations. However, it took only a little while for SARS to gain high amounts of power and become an entity that acted with impunity and without any accountability.

The New York Times acknowledges that an Amnesty International report issued in June 2020 talked about various incidents in which SARS officers had been involved. It is highly shocking to note that at least 82 cases of ill-treatment, torture, and extrajudicial executions (the victims were mostly men between the age group of 18 to 25 and belonged to low-income backgrounds) were reported just between January 2017 and May 2020.

What led to the start of #EndSARS start?

The start of the protests is traced back to a video on October 3 showing an unprovoked killing of a man by SARS officers in Ughelli, a town in Nigeria. The video was shared across all social media platforms and got viral in a very short span of time. Driving mass criticism of SARS officers, the Nigerian government officials alleged that the video was fake. The person who filmed it was arrested by the officials.

The government’s denials only served to further anger the public. Especially the arrest of the Nigerian citizen who had filmed the video. A popular youth-driven initiative initiated the use of this hashtag across social media platforms. All this ultimately led to demonstrations in cities and towns as they demanded the Nigerian government to dismantle the SARS police unit.

As part of the #EndSARS movement, Nigeria’s social media users began offering healthcare, legal aid, food, shelter, and other essential services to countrymen vastly impacted by the government crackdown. Following this, on October 20, a peaceful demonstration in the affluent Lekki district of the capital Lagos was suppressed by the military. To maintain the suppression, curfews were also imposed. After injecting violence into peaceful demonstrations, military personnel shot at Protesters in Lekki increasing anger and hostility towards the Nigerian government. The unrest has resulted in the killings of dozens of protesters and police as over 200 buildings in the country were torched.

What were the demands raised by the protestors?

Initially, the intensity of the vast spread protests made the Nigerian government promised to investigate reports of the lack of accountability and impunity enjoyed by the SARS unit while it also pledged to disband this unit following reports of corruption. 

Accountability from the government was also another demand in their list after the will to end the practice of corruption and bribery. Along with the issues raised, the protestors also criticized the government’s mishandling of the novel coronavirus pandemic. The protests facilitated and allowed talks and deliberations about problems plaguing the country’s ordinary citizens.

How did the government respond to the protests and demands raised by the natives?

A report by the New York Times states that the government said it would redeploy members of the SARS unit to other units in the police system and that the protesters are unsatisfied with this solution. The protestors feel that this does not actually solve the root problem and demand more stringent and workable solutions to the issue such as the firing of the most violent, corrupt, and brutal officers of the SARS unit to clean up the system.

The government has also been accused of targeting critics and protesters. Demonstrations have been banned in the capital Lagos. Moreover, in several parts of the country, especially the north, protesters used the government placed restrictions on social media platforms to spur the movement and highlight instances of police brutality.

The protestors have dismissed the promises of Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria’s President. According to Reuters, President Buhari, the country’s police minister said “will do what it takes to prevent a repeat of demonstrations against police brutality last month.”

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