What Is #EndSARS About?
Per Time, on October 8, 2020, a slew of nationwide protests against police brutality took place after a video from early October showed police officers thought to be from the controversial Special Anti-Robber Squad (SARS) shooting and killing a young man in the southern Nigerian state of Delta was widely shared on social media.
Although Nigerian authorities denied the reports, protests against police brutality began taking place across the country with the call to disband the unit and #EndSARS. Although there is no one specific organisation behind the protests, the BBC reported that the demonstrations were largely driven by young Nigerians aged 18 to 24-years-old, who "have never experienced steady electricity in their lifetime, did not enjoy free education in the country and had their years at university punctuated and elongated by lecturers going on strike."
They criticised the rogue police unit of profiling them, especially young men with dreadlocks, tattoos, iPhones, flashy cars and laptops. It's important to note that nearly half of Nigeria's population of 182 million is below the age of 30, making it home to one of the largest concentrations of young people in the world.
On October 11, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari dissolved the unit, however protestors have called for more changes, including reforms into the way the country is governed.
The social media call to #EndSARS first occurred in 2017, however, the unit—which was established in 1992 to handle robberies, kidnappings and other violent crimes—has long been widely criticised for human rights abuses, including "extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary arrests, unlawful detention and extortion", per Al Jazeera.
What Exactly Happened In Nigeria On October 20, 2020?
Following two weeks of mostly peaceful protests, videos began circulating on social media that showed crowds of protestors gathering at the tollgate in Lekki, an upscale Nigerian suburb, where #EndSARS demonstrators had been camped for two weeks. The footage, which trended under #LekkiMassacre on Twitter, showed crowds of demonstrators singing the national anthem in the dark, the sounds of gunfire as people fled the scene and protesters tending to those injured at the scene.
"Members of the Nigerian army pulled up on us, and they started firing," eyewitness Akinbosola Ogunsanya told CNN. "They were shooting, they were firing straight, directly at us, and a lot of people got hit. I just survived, barely."
Another witness, Temple Onanugbo, told CNN he heard what he believed were bullets being fired from his home nearby, and that the sound went on "for about 15 to 30 minutes."
Other eyewitnesses told the BBC that uniformed men opened fire and soldiers "were seen barricading the protest site moments before the shooting". Shortly before the shootings, Amnesty International received reports that government officials had CCTV cameras removed as well as phone and electricity networks cut just prior to the massacre in attempt to hide the evidence.
Per Amnesty International, at least 56 people have died across Nigeria since the protests commenced, with about 38 killed on October 20 alone. According to Time, eyewitnesses at a different protest site in the suburb of Alausa told Amnesty International that they "were attacked by a team of soldiers and policemen from the Rapid Response Squad (RRS) Unit at about 8 p.m.", leaving at least two people dead and one in critical condition.
That same day, a 24-hour curfew was placed on the 20 million citizens of Lagos—Africa's largest city—in an attempt to quell the protests and deploy anti-riot police in the city, to little avail, with malls and banks being looted and stores being burned. On October 25, Al Jazeera also reported that looters have pillaged different warehouses storing COVID-19 palliatives, with items like ramen, spaghetti and bags of rice, which were to be distributed to people amid the pandemic.
Following the massacre, Lagos state Governor Babjide Sanwo-Olu stated that criminals hijacked the protests "to unleash mayhem" and that he had "watched with shock how what began as a peaceful #EndSARS protest has degenerated into a monster that is threatening the wellbeing of our society."
Local activists remain frustrated by the Nigerian authorities' response, with the October 11 disbandment of SARS marking the fourth time the government has made such an announcement. On October 22, President Muhammadu Buhari's office released a statement asking the public for "understanding and calm", but did not acknowledge the shootings that took place in Lekki and Alausa. Moreover, the Nigerian military shared screenshots to Twitter calling various credible news outlets' report on the protests "fake news".
How To Help Nigeria Amid The #EndSARS Protests
The Nigerian protestors have five key demands from the #EndSARSprotests, including justice for the families of the victims of police brutality, the retraining of SARS officers before they are placed in other units within the police force, and an independent body to oversee investigations into police brutality. Demonstrators have also extended their demands beyond police brutality, calling for action towards "years of corruption and bad governance", per Time.
Here are some ways you can help support them in their mission.
1. Donate To The Organisations Recommended By EndSars
This page features a range of resources to help keep you up to date on what is happening in Nigeria, as well as a number of vetted fundraising links that have shown full accountability and transparency.
To donate, click here.
2. Stay informed
As it so often happens with online movements, there is a lot of misinformation floating around, with many of the facts being distorted in the process. Listen to those in Nigeria and follow resources that deliver clear updates on what is happening on the ground, such as Amnesty International Nigeria, Can We Talk? and So You Want To Talk About.
3. Sign Petitions
Make your voice count by signing Change.org petitions calling for the likes of the United Nations and The Nigerian Government to reform the Nigerian police force and put a stop to police brutality.