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#EndSARS: Why are tens of thousands of Nigerians protesting?

Amnesty said there was "credible but disturbing evidence" that security forces in Lagos had shot and killed protestors.

#EndSARS: Why are tens of thousands of Nigerians protesting?
Cover Image Source: Getty Images (representative)

For more than two weeks now, tens of thousands of Nigerians have been taking to the streets to protest against police brutality and demand the closure of the country's notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). The unit was accused of extortion, torture, and murder after a video of SARS officers shooting a man on the streets of Lagos went viral on social media. Although the identity of the victim and the date of the incident remained a mystery, Nigerians — who are no strangers to police brutality — from far and wide stirred into action as the video resonated with many of them personally.


According to The Guardian, almost every Nigerian in the country had a story about being assaulted, or extorted, or sexually harassed, or wrongfully detained by a Sars officer. As young people mobilising through social media began staging demonstrations, the #EndSARS hashtag gained attention from across the world. Soon, US celebrities of the likes of Kanye West, John Boyega, P Diddy, Trey Songz, Viola Davis, Rihanna, and Manchester United footballer Odion Ighalo tweeted their support to the movement as they recognized it as the latest iteration of the Black Lives Matter movement in the West African country. 


What is SARS?

SARS was a special police unit formed during military rule in 1984 to battle the populous country's rising levels of crime and kidnappings. However, despite being successful in reducing cases of violent crime in its initial days, according to Fulani Kwajafa — the man who set up the unit — it has now "turned into banditry." Kwajafa's statement is backed by a June 2020 report released by Amnesty International which documented at least 82 cases of torture, ill-treatment, and extrajudicial execution by SARS between January 2017 and May 2020, reports Al Jazeera.


The government's response

With no signs of protesters backing down, the government agreed to disband the unit. "The disbanding of SARS is only the first step in our commitment to extensive police reform 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," said President Muhammadu Buhari. However, the President's promise failed to placate the country's citizens as last week, Muhammed Adamu — inspector general of police — announced that all SARS officers would be redeployed to other police commands, formations, and units.


The move drew widespread condemnation from protesters who vowed to keep up their efforts demanding accountability and justice for the victims of police brutality. The protests have since snowballed into calls for wider reforms with protesters now also using the hashtags #EndBadGovernance, #BetterNigeria, and #FixNigeriaNow to build support on social media, reports BBC. The demonstrations have also turned violent in recent days with various reports of police violence against protestors, including the death of a 17-year-old teenager named only as Saifullah. The teen reportedly died in police custody in northern Kano state on Monday after she was allegedly tortured to death. Police have not yet commented on the allegation.


On Tuesday, Amnesty said there was "credible but disturbing evidence" that security forces in Lagos — the country's commercial hub — had shot and killed protestors. The rights group also stated that dozens of protesters were severely injured after armed thugs attacked activists occupying the central bank's headquarters in the city early on Monday morning. "We again call on law enforcement agencies to investigate these incidents and protect the protesters from further attack by hoodlums," it said. On Tuesday, former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on President Buhari and the Nigerian army "to stop killing" protesters.


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