#ENDSARS: Nigerians protest police brutality

Grace Fassio, Staff Reporter

On Saturday, Oct. 3, a video of a Nigerian Police Force Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) officer robbing and killing a young man went viral. Young Nigerians immediately took to social media to spread the hashtag #ENDSARS, calling for the permanent disbandment of the SARS unit. Protests started across Nigeria on Oct. 8 and have continued for weeks, facing violence from the police.

The SARS unit was originally created in 1992 to handle violent gang crime in Lagos, Nigeria. A key feature of the unit is anonymity; the officers don’t wear uniforms or name tags and travel in unmarked vans. This anonymity was considered vital to take down gangs, but critics say the inability to identify and hold rouge officers accountable has opened the door to abuse, according to the New York Times. SARS officers are accused of targeting well-dressed young people to rob, and torturing or even killing those who resist. Outcry against this abuse by SARS began in 2017.

Amnesty International’s report Time to End Impunity documented 82 cases of police brutality by the SARS unit between January 2017 and May 2020. The report also discovered that this brutality was often carried out under the supervision of higher-ranking police officers. 

Amnesty International said the report “reveals a disturbing pattern of abuse of detainees in SARS custody despite the 2017 Anti-Torture Act. In many cases, Amnesty International bore witness to the scars, bruises and dried blood on victims’ bodies. Many of them were subjected to beatings with sticks and machetes and denied medical care.”

On Sunday, Oct. 11, the Nigerian Police Force announced that it dissolved SARS but planned to redeploy members of the unit to other areas of the police force. In response, protestors released their five demands: the release of all arrested protesters, justice and compensation for the victims of police brutality, an independent body to oversee reports of police misconduct, psychological evaluations and re-training for all disbanded SARS officers and an increase in police salary.

The increase in police salary is to help adequately compensate officers for their work. Whitman African Students Association (WASU) and Black Student Union (BSU) Budget Manager Grace Fashanu emphasized the corruption and poverty that is rampant in Nigeria. She explained that while SARS officers are committing atrocities against the public, they can often barely afford to provide for their families and are mainly following orders from higher-up officials. 

“People need to realize that [the SARS officers are] a product of the system that they live in,” Fashanu said. “When jobs aren’t readily available and people can’t feed their family, what else do you do? It’s not the people’s fault, it’s the government’s fault.” 

Amnesty International reports that on Tuesday, Oct. 20, the Nigerian army reportedly opened fire on peaceful protesters at Lekki Toll Gate Bridge, killing at least 12 people. The organization says at least 56 people have been killed since the protests began, mainly due to excessive police force. So far the army has denied responsibility for the event, which social media users have called the “Lekki Massacre.”

Fashanu, who is Nigerian, explained that the Nigerian public is distrustful of their government because it has already dismantled SARS three separate times but the violence continues. She believes that while disbanding SARS is a step in the right direction, it is not going to fix the overarching problem of corruption and violence in Nigeria. 

“Disbanding of SARS is not the problem. Ending SARS is not going to fix the problem,” Fashanu said. “There is a larger problem at play which is the Nigerian government not caring about the people.”

President of the WASU Aby Ramata Mbaye agrees with Fashanu that the larger problem in Nigeria is the corrupted government that stems from colonization. 

“It is clear that the Nigerian government does not care about its people and is highly corrupted, which is not an isolated case in Africa,” Mbaye wrote in an email to The Wire. “Therefore, African politics is very complex insofar as colonialism has completely destabilized societies and political dynamics.” 

The joint Instagram account of WASU and BSU have a story highlight called “#ENDSARS” where they post information about the movement. Several of the posts pull on the Black Lives Matter protests that occurred in the United States this summer. One post emphasizes that “ALL Black Lives Matter,” not just those in the United States.

Fashanu urges people to recognize that police brutality is a universal issue that stems from a system of white supremacy and colonization. She encourages people to de-Westernize their perspective on the world and pay attention to anti-Blackness worldwide, not just in the United States.

“Police brutality has been happening in the U.S., but police brutality is not specific to just the U.S.,” Fashanu said. “It’s a larger picture of anti-Blackness as a whole and disregard for human life.”