“It’s upsetting me and my homegirls” – The #ENDSARS protests in Nigeria and why we need to talk about it.

  • Gabriella Nkom

In my new blog installment, "It's upsetting me and my homegirls", I discuss the #ENDSARS protests in Nigeria, and why it must be discussed.

On the 1st of October, Nigerians around the world celebrated the country’s 60th anniversary of independence from British colonial rule. I watched many people post a combination of “Happy Independence Day” posts, celebrating all things Nigerian – the food, the music, the art: everything that makes Nigeria as a whole, the best. Two weeks later, there was a burst of posts under the hashtag “EndSARS”. Attached were images of police officers abusing Nigerian youth, people protesting and a call to action from Nigerians globally. On Twitter, Nigerian-British actor John Boyega posted a series of tweets in support of the protests.
"Three years ago Nigeria’s police chief re-organised SARS after public condemnation about the violence that came with their operations. That change has done nothing for Nigerians and today many are still in danger. #EndSarsProtests"
So what is SARS? An acronym short for “Special Anti-Robbery Squad” – a unit of the Nigerian police force, created as a means to prevent the pervasive threat of “armed robbers”. It seems over the years, the unit has dropped the “anti”. Young Nigerians have given testimony of members of the SARS department engaging in kidnapping, murder, theft, rape, extortion, and ironically enough, robbery, amongst a barrage of other things. One young man shouts his frustrations on camera, recounting experiences that he has had with police officers:

“If you use iPhone now, they will say you are a thief. They will say you are a criminal. “Who is your father?”, “What is it that your father is doing?” Na poor people not have iPhone?”
Many of these unlawful and ridiculous charges are placed under the guise of weening out criminals and “Yahoo boys”. Some of these groups “have become wealthy, flaunting lifestyles similar to their role-models – rich and corrupt politicians” (BizNews). The supposed crack-down on these groups has created a false narrative, which many in the SARS unit have used to target the Nigerian youth, carrying out their own crimes as an act of false “justice”.

Countless testimonies have littered social media: police officers holding people at gunpoint and forcing them to cash out at an ATM, falsely accusing and arresting people of engaging in fraud for simply owning a laptop or phone, and finally, the unprovoked beating, abuse and shooting of the youth. An Amnesty International report documented “at least 82 cases of torture, ill treatment and extra-judicial execution by SARS between January 2017 and May 2020”. These sorts of staggering statistics, points to the pervasive issue of this unit, and why the widespread protests are vital.

The hashtag #ENDSARS was created to bring attention to the above, calling to completely disband the unit. Nigerian Millennials and Gen-Zers have taken to the streets across Nigeria, with Lagos and Abuja amassing a large turnout. The police responded quickly with violence, videos across Twitter revealing Lagos police officers responding with gunshots. Nigerian newspaper Vanguardreported that protests in Abuja were hijacked by “armed thugs”. One Twitter user even stated that a police officer who was mistakenly shot by his comrade, responded by shooting at protestors:
"Bullets rain in Surulere after Police officer allegedly shot his colleague by accident. He turned on protesters and sprayed bullets at them"
The Nigerian youth are understandably sick and tired, and the parallels between these protests and the recent resurgence of the #BlackLivesMatter protests are apparent. Nigeria’s president Muhammadu Buhari, made claims to end the extra-judicial killings under the SARS unit. In a video shared on Twitter, he said:

“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.”
However, it was revealed later that the SARS unit would be commandeered by another unit known as “SWAT”, much to many people’s disappointment. This resulted in another rightful outpour of outrage across social media, with many creating memes and calling out the ridiculous nature of the so called “reform”. Many began also using the hashtag #ENDSWAT, to show the continued fight against the corruption. Celebrities also used social media to show their support, with Nigerian singer-songwriter Burna Boypenning a letter to the Nigerian youth to continue fighting, and promoting his fund “Project Protect”, an initiative created solely to provide support and resources during the protests.
As a Nigerian of the diaspora, I found myself at a loss: wanting to show my support, but also feeling slightly removed due to the distance. In a conversation with my friend and fellow Nigerian-Brit, Oyin Akintomide, we spoke about the current circumstance regarding SARS. She said the following:

“It’s shameful, how can ones country bring you so much pride and disgrace at the same damn time. Nigeria has failed in so many realms, and the fact that public security now sits on the list of the country’s failure along with education, infrastructure, welfare, and healthcare lets me know that #ENDSARS is just the start. Life should not be lived like this, the level of corruption needs to be addressed immediately.”
As pointed out by Oyin, the #ENDSARS protests is the tipping point to a line of issues that affects not only the Nigerian youth, but the Nigerian population as a whole. The outcry is layered, highlighting the issues that seep into the very foundation of Nigeria’s kleptocracy.

The irony of the name “SARS” is fitting: it is as dangerous and killer as a disease. If it is not removed from Nigeria’s body of people, there will continue to be unrest and frustration. SARS as a unit must be usurped in order for any semblance of peace to be restored. The Nigerian youth have been silenced for a long time, and many of their stories, their friends stories, have been swept under the rug and hidden from the world for far too long. This new generation’s revolution will be rightly televised.
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