I will be honest with you, up until a couple of weeks ago SARS (Special Anti-Robbery Squad) was not an acronym, I was familiar with. Other than a lyric by ‘BR3NYA’ in her song Double Dutch … ‘I roll with SARS you know that’s gang’.
Gang indeed, just when you think 2020 could not be a shittier year, we are witness to dramatic, heart-breaking, and devastating footage of SARS – a branch of the Nigeria Police Force founded in 1992 – shooting into a crowd of peaceful protesters in Lagos. Allegedly killing 12 innocent people, with several people being wounded.
I’ve since found out that SARS is a notoriously known dangerous pillar of authority in Nigeria, one who regularly targets the youth and commits human rights violations including, kidnapping, murder, torture, robbing, raping & abusing women , illegal arrests, and extortion and in particular it profiles and targets young male Nigerians.
However, it is not a new institution so why has it all flared up in 2020 ending in worldwide protests to #ENDSARS? Nigerian’s started protesting nationwide on 8 October amid reporting of weeks of police aggression and violent tactics on its citizens. People had had enough. Mass protests resulted in (note to those in power – you cannot underestimate the voice of the people ever!) and President Muhammadu Buhari agreed to disband SARs. However, this was not the triumph many wanted, as historically similar announcements have been made in the past but have not resulted in any real fundamental change.
Rightly so, protests have continued with the #ENDSARS movement picking up momentum. Many celebrities, including our beloved Brit, Anthony Joshua have used their platform to vocalise and contest the Nigerian government over their treatment of citizens and their handling of the situation.
There have been protests here in the UK too with Nigerian singer Wizkid metaphorically leading from the front and being openly critical of the President Muhammadu Buhari. You can readily see online footage of Nigerians & others, here at the Nigerian High Commission on 11 October, angry, upset and using their voices to shout the UK into action. But likewise, the Nigerian government have also continued with their violent oppression. The violence has escalated rather than dampened down.
It is hugely political, and when I mentioned to my Nigerian friend (with family currently living in Nigeria) I was going to write this article; he took a sharp intake of breath. It is such a deep area and steeped in history. He explains SARS not only shoot to kill but they have been actively blocking medics from tending to the wounded, in this recent travesty.
I am not going to profess to know all the politics surrounding this, but what I do know, police brutality and corruption is a human rights issue which requires a call for affirmative action by those who can.
It is interesting to note, as ‘Dope Black Women1’ state on Instagram, that in this critical time it is ‘young women are having a critical role in sustaining this movement, and young people across Nigeria feel like leaders in their own right’. Black women are a pivotal point in this movement, and we should be proud of their resolve.
I spoke to two Nigerians currently living there, and who are deeply involved in the #ENDSARS movement. This is what they had to say on the clearly emotive and emotional situation.
“For me, EndSARS elicited a feeling I had not felt about Nigeria in a long time: hope. Watching the Nigerian Government dither in the face of peaceful protests and an eminently simple request, I fantasised about the implications of victory, both actual and symbolic. For those who had been personally affected by the unit, victory promised liberation from at least one kind of state-endorsed violence, the removal of a physical threat and the emotional strain that accompanied it.
And so when the police continued to shoot at protesters in Anambra and Abuja; when the Government in Abuja banned protests in a surprising show of concern about Covid-19; when the buses continued to bring armed men to protest sites, the protests continued undeterred. But when on the 20th of October, Lagos State declared a curfew and the military shot and killed protesters who lingered at Lekki Toll Gate, the old script reasserted itself. When the President emerged days later to issue a threat to posters poorly hidden in pro-protest rhetoric, I could only stare dumbly at the television, feeling foolish for being surprised.
The Government’s response is sobering for a movement that relies on physical bodies to make its point. We know now that it will harm those bodies to make its own”.Unnamed Source, Nigeria, October 2020.
Faced with this corrupt level of action by the Nigerian government, they have had to retreat and re-strategize to refine ‘EndSARS’ to include 5 for 5, a clear list of indicators that would provide the basis for their ending the protests which are yet to be met. They have ‘joined the SARS investigation panels State Governments have created and declined to sign oaths of secrecy that would taint the process.
I asked what can we do as a collective, to help resolve the status quo, and the continuing mind-blowing cruel events? She explains that protesters voices are contributing to intensive scrutiny in foreign outlets, that they dare not have hoped for at the beginning.
But they need this to continue and she states while EndSARS can and must remain a rallying cry, diaspora and other external voices can expand their focus to include improved governance across the board and a focus on the 2023 elections.
“The UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office will invest millions of pounds in programmes to improve voting processes. UK citizens can call for transparency in how that business case is being drawn up and require them to demonstrate how and why that programme will deliver meaningful change. By requesting greater transparency from the Nigerian Government and the foreign organisations that support it, we can build on the hope and effectiveness born in October 2020 to finally do more than just talk about meaningful change in Nigeria.”
This human rights travesty is being documented as you read. I for one, need to know I did all I could to make the call for action to save lives, promote peace, and hold the Nigerian Government to account, specifically President Buhari – we can continue to support on a practical level too, by fundraising and donating funds, signing petitions to raise the profile and by continuing to use our collective amplified voices to highlight it on social media.
Let us keep the world informed on what is happening in Nigeria and support the #ENDSARS campaign for fundamental change and peace.