Protests against police brutality erupt in Nigeria

A video showing an unprovoked killing by Nigerian police catalyzed massive uproar.


Kola Sulaimon/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Protestors dissenting the infamous SARS unit and its unprovoked acts of violence.

Valentina Moreno, Editor

Turmoil has erupted in Nigeria in the last few weeks as protests against the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) have deluged the African country. The SARS was originally instituted in 1984 to fight violent crime, including robbery, but instantly transformed into the very thing it sought to destroy: an unbridled criminal group. Nigerians have been protesting the iniquitous actions of SARS for years.

According to Amnesty International, SARS has committed 82 acts of torture, ill treatment and extrajudicial executions in the span of three years, from 2017 to 2020. 

Individuals have been arrested and tortured by SARS officials over the years with undue force. Miracle, a 23 year old victim of the visceral wrath of SARS, was badly tortured following an accusation of stealing a laptop in 2017.

“Their leader directed them to go and hang me,” Miracle said. “They took me to the back of the hall and tied me with ropes. Then they started using all manner of items to beat me, including machetes, sticks, inflicting me with all kinds of injuries. One of the officers used an exhaust pipe to hit me on my teeth, breaking my teeth. I was left on that hanger for more than three hours.”

On October 3, a video surfaced of a man killed by SARS officers in Ughelli, inciting the uproar that has overwhelmed the country and the world watching it.

Nigerians’ bellows of dissent against the debased indemnity of the group and its unprovoked actions have reached social media platforms worldwide with the hashtag #ENDSARS. 

Spearheaded by mostly young protestors, the movement has seen unprecedented momentum.

The movement permeated into American celebredom, reaching the heights of public figures as they offered staunch support for the demolition of the SARS. Singer Rihanna voiced her succor through a tweet on October 20th.

“My heart is broken for Nigeria man!! It is unbearable to watch. I’m so proud of your strength and not letting up on the fight for what’s right! #EndSARS,” Rihanna tweeted.

Even American politicians are backing the protestors, urging Nigerian officials to protect the #ENDSARS protestors.

“I urge President Buhari and the Nigerian military to cease the violent crackdown on protesters in Nigeria, which has already resulted in several deaths,” Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said. “My heart goes out to all those who have lost a loved one in the violence.”

Unfulfilled promises by Nigerian officials to overhaul SARS since 2018 have left Nigerians as angry as ever, as protests have not subsided.

“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,” Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said.

However, protestors are vociferous that they will not rest until the police are completely reformed, unimpressed by President Buhari’s promises. 

The protestors have five demands they released on October 11: The immediate release of arrested protestors, justice for the families of victims of police brutality and appropriate  compensation, an independent body to oversee investigations into misconduct, retraining of released SARS officers before they are redeployed along with psychological evaluations aligned with the Police Act, and increased police salary so they are adequately compensated. 

According to CNN, the violence has persisted despite the constant activism, as several eye-witnesses claimed they saw protestors shot by soldiers during a peaceful protest at the Lekki tollgate in Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city.

“Members of the Nigerian army pulled up on us and they started firing,” eyewitness Akinbosola Ogunsanya said. “I just survived, barely.”

The Nigerian government has suppressed reports of dead protestors at the hands of Nigerian soldiers, claiming they are fake.