In the past month, a social movement against police brutality in Nigeria called #EndSARS began trending on social media globally.
SARS (Special Anti-Robbery Squad) is a unit of the Nigerian Police Force with a lengthy record of abuses such as kidnapping, murder, theft, rape, torture, and many more. Officers of the force have also been alleged to target Nigerian youth specifically.
Protests against SARS began in 2017 as a Twitter campaign that urged the Nigerian government to eliminate the force due to its police brutality and human rights violations. Recently, there has been a resurgence of the movement in October 2020 with mass demonstrations occurring all over the world and social media campaigns aiding awareness online.
SARS began as a police force in 1992 and specialized in undercover operations against crimes such as armed robbery and kidnapping. Over time, however, the police force became the very problem they were established to fight against. From January 2017 to May of this year, there have been over 82 cases of torture, ill-treatment, and extra-judicial execution of Nigerian citizens by SARS.
On October 3, 2020, a video started trending on social media which displayed a SARS police officer shooting a young Nigerian man. The video caused public outcry on Twitter with the #EndSARS hashtag trending. Later that week, nationwide protests started after weeks of anger with videos and pictures demonstrating police brutality and extortion in Nigeria.
Nigerian youth along with many activists and celebrities are driving the protests in various cities. In response, the Nigerian state has continued an order of violent repression against mass demonstrations. Nigeria Police Force disrupted protests in cities, throwing teargas, shooting unarmed peaceful protesters, and arresting demonstrators. The brutality is not unlike the American government’s controversial reaction to Black Lives Matter protests this summer. Many Nigerian protesters have already died due to police brutality taking place in the protests.
However, the government and law enforcement’s extreme response does not stop the protests. Young people in different areas of Nigeria are emphasizing their calls for reforms and accountability in police operations. They demand justice for those who died from police brutality in Nigeria and the reform of SARS through psychological evaluation and retraining of the force’s officers.
International protests have been led in other countries including England, the US, and Canada, attracting mainstream media attention. Celebrities such as Cardi B, Kanye West, and Drake have shown support for the movement. Google recently made a statement supporting the #EndSARS protests and further condemned police brutality.