Nigerians within the country and across the diaspora are calling for an end to police brutality in Africa’s most populous nation. Demonstrators across the country and posts on social media platforms specifically targeted the Special Anti-robbery Squad (SARS), a branch of the national police force that has become notorious for preying upon Nigerian citizens.
As Blavity previously reported, large-scale protests have continued despite a government announcement that it is disbanding the SARS unit. As anger over police brutality continues to spread across Nigeria and beyond, here are five things to know about the protests.
1. SARS has gained a reputation for corruption and brutality
SARS has become notorious for extracting bribes, robbery, kidnapping and murder. SARS forces operate in plain clothes without marks that identify them as government agents, adding to their clandestine nature and reputation for operating outside of the law. Amnesty International has documented 82 cases of police brutality committed by SARS since 2017.
As documented in the report, SARS often targeted young men "from low-income backgrounds and vulnerable groups." For instance, a 23-year-old man named Miracle, arrested for stealing a laptop, was detained for 40 days, during which time he was suspended by ropes and beaten with various objects, including having teeth broken with an exhaust pipe. Human Rights Watch has documented additional abuses by SARS, such as the case of a 16-year-old-boy arrested for robbery who was beaten and threatened with death unless his father paid a bribe to have the boy released. As the boy's father described the situation.
"My son told me they put a stick between his arms and legs and suspended him. If I didn’t pay they would’ve killed him. He is the only son I have. After I paid the money they released the boy to me," the father said. "No bail bond, no statement, nothing. I had to borrow money from my friends. I am still paying it back."
As the Washington Post reports, the current protests kicked off after a video emerged alleging to show SARS officers murdering a man. A similar video launched a previous round of protests against the police squad in 2017.
2. SARS is part of a larger problem with Nigerian police
The Nigerian Police Force, of which SARS is a part, has long been condemned for corruption, including bribery and extortion. A 2016 review of 127 countries ranked Nigerian police the worst in the world. Protestors are demanding reforms for the entire 300,000 person police force.
Nigeria's policing problem has several sources. Nigerian police serve as part of a national force, reporting to the Inspector General of Police (IGP). These nationally recruited offices often have few ties to the communities they police. In September, the government announced an initiative to recruit 10,000 constables who would be employed within the local communities from which they are recruited, part of a new community policing initiative. Additionally, Nigerian police are often poorly paid compared to police in other African countries; thus, many officers resort to theft, bribery and other illegal means to survive.
A five-point list of demands circulated on social media called for reforms including compensating victims of police brutality, setting up an independent body to investigate claims of police misconduct, and increasing police salaries to discourage police from resorting to robbery and other forms of injustice against citizens.
— Bop Daddy (@falzthebahdguy) October 11, 2020
3. Social media is playing a huge rule in the protests
Al Jazeera reports the #EndSARS hashtag first emerged in 2018 before being revived in recent days; the hashtag was featured in more than two million tweets on October 9, 2020 alone. Additional hashtags such as #EndPoliceBrutalityInNigeria and #EndSARSNow have also trended across social media, as has #NigerianLivesMatter, showing the direct inspiration that Nigerians are drawing from the American-based Black Lives Matter movement.
Nigeria has a long history of activism through social media. The #BringBackOurGirls movement emerged in 2014 in response to the kidnapping of hundreds of school girls by the Boko Haram rebel group. The hashtag campaign drew worldwide attention to the kidnapping and larger Boko Haram insurgency. First Lady Michelle Obama was among those who prominently displayed social media support for the campaign.
— First Lady- Archived (@FLOTUS44) May 7, 2014
Activist Aisha Yesufu, co-founder of Bring Back Our Girls, has also been heavily involved in the movement to dismantle the division.
The streets are beautiful! On the streets we are all equal and we stand shoulder to shoulder having each other's back and ensuring we never leave anyone behind!#EndSars
— Aisha Yesufu (@AishaYesufu) October 15, 2020
4. The End SARS campaign has gone international
As CNN reported, the End SARS campaign has drawn significant international support from Black celebrities including Kanye West, singer Trey Songz, outspoken Star Wars star John Boyega and professional soccer player Rio Ferdinand.
I stand with my Nigerian brothers and sisters to end police brutality, the government must answer to the peoples cries #EndPoliceBrutalityinNigeria
— ye (@kanyewest) October 12, 2020
After doing a little research I would like to speak out against what’s going on in Nigeria right now. Their pleas to #EndSarsNow IS VERY REAL. I have so much love for my Nigerian fans and it’s so hurtful to hear whats happening.
— Trey Songz (@TreySongz) October 10, 2020
The youth in Nigeria deserve good leadership and guidance. This situation is tied to many other issues. Please lend your attention to this pressing problem! #EndSARSImmediately
— John Boyega (@JohnBoyega) October 9, 2020
Another day of traumatic scenes in Nigeria ????
Sending My Love To Everyone Affected ????
— Rio Ferdinand (@rioferdy5) October 11, 2020
The U.S. Congressional Black Caucus has also thrown its support behind the End SARS campaign.
Black people across the world are taking a stand against unjust acts of police brutality. The @TheBlackCaucus stands in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in #Nigeria protesting police brutality. #BlackLivesMatter
— The Black Caucus (@TheBlackCaucus) October 12, 2020
5. The movement has not stopped with the disbanding of SARS
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari announced on October 12 that he was disbanding SARS.
The disbanding of SARS is only the first step in our commitment to extensive police reforms in order to ensure that the primary duty of the police and other law enforcement agencies remains the protection of lives and livelihood of our people. pic.twitter.com/XjQMSr3jlm
— Muhammadu Buhari (@MBuhari) October 12, 2020
As Blavity previously reported, Nyesom Ezenwo Wike, the governor of Rivers State banned protests after the president's announcement, arguing that the issue had been resolved. Nevertheless, as of Thursday, protests were expanding across the country, even as violent armed mobs attacked some protestors and state authorities have condemned "hoodlums and criminals" of hijacking the protests.
Protestors fear that the new Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) force that is replacing SARS is just a rebranding of the unit. #EndSWAT has already been added to #EndSARS on social media posts.
— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) October 14, 2020