#EndSARS

Over the past month in Nigeria, there have been protests calling for the Nigerian government to #ENDSARS and broader reform in Nigeria, so here’s a little explainer on the issues. 

SARS (Special Anti-Robbery Squad) was a police unit founded in 1984 by the military regime (led by current president Buhari) to deal with a stark rise in armed robberies in Nigeria. 

They have been viewed pretty unfavourably for a while, functioning as a ‘rogue unit’ and over-stepping their powers and purpose. They are particularly known to target young men from 18-30 and basically anyone who doesn’t fit the profile of what a Nigerian ‘should’ look like (tattoos, dyed hair, visibly queer etc.)

Amnesty International documents at least 82 cases of torture, ill-treatment and extra-judicial execution by SARS between January 2017 and May 2020.

Timeline of SARS Protests

The recent round of protests started in early October after the alleged killing of a young man by the SARS unit on the 3rd of October. This killing triggered the #ENDSARS hashtag where people shared stories of allegedly being brutalised by the unit, ranging from torture to extortion to sexual assault. This unrest spilled out into the streets where people have been protesting for weeks now. 

SARS was officially dissolved by Buhari on the 11th of October, but protests continued, with people demanding more substantial change to Nigerian policing and the broader issues that the country faces.

These protests hit a fever pitch on the night of the 20th of October, when people were protesting at the toll gate of Lekki (a wealthy suburb in Lagos). Video evidence appears to show soldiers barricading the protest site and firing at them – the CCTV had apparently also been turned off beforehand. Initially, Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu said “Nobody died in Lekki”, but soon backtracked on that under the weight of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, confirming that two people had died. The estimated number wounded goes into the dozens and Amnesty International reported that that 12 people had been killed, but the numbers could quite possibly be higher. 

In the wake of the alleged massacre, several groups involved in the protests like The Feminist Coalition have stopped taking donations and many activists are taking this as a moment to pause and strategise. 

Broader Nigeria

Crucially these protests aren’t just about this one police unit. Much like the Black Lives Matter protests that spread across the world earlier this year, they’re the product of a wider range of issues and frustrations. Nigeria has a very high rate of unemployment and under-employment, a massive wealth gap and deep-rooted issues of corruption. The protests have also had people raise other specific issues, like how the police in particular (but also society writ large) subject women and queer people to extensive and horrific violence. 

None of these important issues are going away any time soon and it doesn’t seem like the action in the street will disappear soon either. 

Header Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Oluwatayo Adewole

Oluwatayo Adewole Contributor

Hey there! I'm a wordy-type who's into all kinds of stuff, but especially: film, comics, theatre and trying to make the world a better place

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