A Background on the “End SARS” Protests in Nigeria

By Sunny Sivakumar (’21)

Recently, protests, which have spread through social media all around the world, have erupted in Nigeria, trying to end SARS. Not to be mistaken with the disease, SARS stands for “Special Anti-Robbery Squad”, and is an elite police force created in the 1980s to reduce crime rates. However, now, they have become part of the problem, with Amnesty International reporting on their instances of police brutality, including “cases of torture, ill-treatment and extrajudicial executions.” Additionally, a video documenting this brutality was released in early October, which added to the growing dissent against the group. 

The #EndSARS hashtag, while used as early as 2017, became a trending topic around the world, with even Beyoncé publicly supporting it. Social media has become a way to spread the message. In fact, Twitter made moves to broaden the reach of the movement by verifying important members and adding a specific “emoji symbol for it.” 

The Nigerian government responded to the protests on October 12, as President Muhammadu Buhari promised to “disband SARS”. However, things are not as simple as they seem.The government plans to re-employ former SARS members in different positions, only firing two. This move has not quelled the opposition, as the protests become not just about SARS and reform but also larger issues with the government, such as corruption and the economy. 

In response, peaceful protests are becoming more dangerous, with the military being used to stop the protests. In fact, only last week, another hashtag was used to discuss an incident at the “Lekki toll gate plaza,” where peaceful protestors were shot at by Nigerian military forces. The incident once again sparked intense backlash, and evidence was gathered by Amnesty International.Later, the United Nations secretary general said he “condemns” the violence. This isn’t the only example of violence against protestors, with protestors reportedly being fired at in Lagos, a major city in Nigeria as well.Despite the danger, the protests seem to have no intention of stopping, as speeches from President Buhari and the lack of action continue Nigerians’ disillusion with the government. However, in-person protests are being halted due to the deaths and the president’s speech with a “thinly veiled threat to young people to get off the streets.” However, it is far from over, continuing online and around the world. In fact, a statement from Coalition of Protest Groups, which announced the current end of “physical protests”, added that “THE STRUGGLE MUST CONTINUE” in capital letters, sending a clear message.

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