An #endsars hashtag – a call by Nigerians of all ages for the government to end the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), which is accused of widespread police brutality – has been trending on Twitter this week. Thousands of protesters have blocked roads in hundreds of towns in the most populous country on the continent. The protesters have been brutally rebuffed, with police killing more than ten protesters, according to Amnesty International. Reacting to the protests, the government has said that it has dismantled SARS. However, according to CNN, all this amounts to is replacing SARS with a new Special Weapons and Tactic Unit (SWAT).
The hashtag #endsars has been trending internationally – including in the U.S. – as well as in Nigeria. Protesters are also using WhatsApp and online coordinated messaging to outline and broadcast their demands. They are asking President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria to fire the police inspector general and end police brutality. They have been sharing encounters with the police through social media.
Protesters argue that a country that allows its police to kill and abuse people with impunity is not a mature democracy. Amnesty international has documented 82 cases of killings, extortions, rapes, and abuses from SARS between 2017 and 2020. The Washington Post reports that prisoners are subject to sexual assault, torture, and humiliation in police custody in Nigeria.
Nigerians have been calling for an end to SARS since at least 2016, when an officer killed a man, fled the crime scene, and video caught the event. The video sparked widespread protests, and an avalanche of sharing of other violent experiences with SARS by the public. Although the president of Nigeria has said he has disbanded SARS, protesters say it looks like the government has only made a name change, without other substantive, serious reform.
The protest movement has gained international traction. CNN reports that the Nigerian Diaspora from the United Kingdom, Germany, and Canada are supporting the protesters. Kanye West has expressed his solidarity, along with other celebrities from the worlds of music and sports. All are urging the Nigerian government to listen to the people.
An important figure in Nigerian politics, Akinwumi Adesina, a former minister and currently president of the African Development Bank, has been tweeting frequently. Among his tweets: “I am stressed by the unrest in Nigeria. The youth are the life of our nation. They are the present, our tomorrow, and our future. Securing the future must start with protecting their lives.”
Volunteers are supporting the protesters. A Crowdfunding effort lead by the Nigerian Feminist Coalition has raised close to $180,000. The funds are paying the medical bills of injured protesters, as well as supplying protesters with water, food, and glucose. Lawyers have stepped in and have secured the release of some detained protesters. Small businesses are offering meals in many cities of the country. Volunteers have set up a website to document people’s experiences with SARS.