Words by Daisy Holbrook
Over the past weeks, social media sites have been inundated with posts calling for the end of ‘SARS’, with #ENDSARS receiving thousands of tweets daily. Details of protests, police brutality and killings in Nigeria have been circulating online and gaining international attention. Detailed below is information on what’s happening and the events that led to this movement.
What is SARS?
The Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) was created in 1992 to counter an increase in violent crimes such as kidnapping and armed robbery. Since then, it has received a multitude of complaints of human rights violations including illegal arrests, beatings, mental and physical torture, sexual assault and extrajudicial killings.
Between 2015 and 2016, Amnesty International stated that they received ‘58 reports, petitions and complaints about torture and other ill-treatment of detainees in SARS custody’. Authorities pledged to reform SARS multiple times over the years following this and anti-torture legislation was passed in 2017, despite this, between 2017 and 2019, a further 82 cases of brutality were documented.
Despite evidence of torture continuing after the implementation of the legislation, Nigerian officials failed to persecute any officers.
When did the protests begin?
Peaceful protests began in 2017 and were sparked by the unlawful killing of a young man at the hands of SARS officers. Citizens and celebrities alike took to the streets to raise awareness of the violence happening in their communities. In turn, a social media outcry was born as Nigeria’s youth took to different platforms to share details of their own terrifying experiences with SARS. An online petition for the demobilisation of SARS was set up, along with the hashtag #ENDSARS, and both proceeded to circulate the internet.
Why is #ENDSARS trending now in 2020?
On 4 October, a video emerged online that showed two SARS officers dragging two men from a hotel before shooting one of them in the street.
This act reignited outrage amongst citizens, causing protests to break out across major cities in West Africa.
Activists once again began to divulge details of their own experiences on social media platforms, quickly gaining international attention. Shortly after, influencers and celebrities began to notice the posts and used their platforms to circulate the information, photos and videos. Within a matter of days #ENDSARS had gone viral, and on a global scale.
How did the government respond?
As the movement gained traction and became more widespread, thousands of people began to take to the streets in peaceful protest. However, they became increasingly dangerous, with the government alleging that attacks on police officers and properties were unfolding. Protestors uploaded footage to social media of unprovoked officers using tear gas and attacking peaceful protestors. Shortly after, Jimoh Isiaka was allegedly killed by police during protests; causing anger and tension to swell.
Due to the amounting pressure from its citizens, the government announced they were disbanding the SARS unit, and replacing it with another unit – SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics Team). The Inspector General of Police also promised ‘extensive reforms’.
However, these decisions have been met with distrust and scepticism by citizens who do not feel confident in these promises, as the government has assured such reforms four times since 2015. Thus, the protests and unrest continued culminating in the government’s deployment of riot police and a 24-hour curfew being implemented in the state of Lagos.
On the evening of 20 October, news of the alleged shooting of peaceful protesters by the Nigerian Military at the Lekki Toll Gate began to surface on social media via the hashtag #LekkiMassacre.
The Washington Post relayed witness testimonies that protestors were peacefully singing the national anthem when Nigerian forces approached and open-fired without warning.
It was later confirmed that 12 people lost their lives in this brutal attack and hundreds were injured, with the BBC later reporting that a total of 69 people have died in the protests as of 23 October.
News of this violence and bloodshed has furthered the international outcry for change, with the UN and EU both calling for an end to the police brutality.
What’s next for Nigeria?
New waves of protests have been reported as the violence and outrage continue on. It is unclear what will unfold and whether there is any end in sight, but organisations across the world are coming together to aid and support those affected by SARS as they try to put an end to the brutality.