*By Melvine Atieno*
On 8th October the Nigerians filled all social media with a hash tag, #ENDSARS. Hundreds of them followed and then thousands and now it’s a worldwide hash tag, a worldwide affair!
What is SARS?
Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) was a special police unit set up in 1984 by Fulani Kwajafa with an aim to battle rising levels of crime and kidnappings in Nigeria. Kwajafa clearly states that SARS was successful in reducing cases of violence until recently that it has been “turned into banditry.” According to a report released by Amnesty International, at least 82 cases of torture, ill-treatment and extra judicial executions by SARS were documented between January 2017 and May 2020.
ENDSARS is a nationwide protest that began about two weeks ago after a video showing SARS officers killing a young man in the Southern Delta State went viral. The authorities denied the reality in the video. To add salt to injury, the man who took the video was arrested.
Though the protestors are leaderless, the demonstrations are driven by young people who say they have been unfairly profiled by the SARS. Mind you, the #EndSARS hashtag didn’t start in 2020. It dates back to at least 2017 when it was used to share experiences of assault and violence.
More to #EndSARS….
Even though more Nigerian youths keep matching on the streets daily with their placards chanting the #ENDSARS slogans, the police brutality might just be a tip of the iceberg. The demos have far evolved into broader anti-government protest.
As part of their demands, they are calling for structural police reforms and better pay for officers so that they can be compensated for protecting lives. Their other demands include accountable government, respect for human rights, end of corruption, release of arrested protesters and justice for all victims of brutality and compensation for their families. Some demonstrators are also calling for more wide-sweeping change in Nigeria, which has the largest number of people living in extreme poverty in the world and massive youth unemployment rate.
Night of Blood!
20th October wasn’t an evening like any other. Crowds gathered in different parts of Nigeria with a group camping at Lekki toll gate in Lagos. The CCTV cameras at Lekki toll gate were removed and the electricity cut by the government shortly before uniformed men (the police) were seen barricading the protest site. The uniformed men then opened fire on the protesters.
According to several videos all over social media, protesters are seen to be singing the national anthem in the dark before the rage of gunfire descended on them. According to records, the night’s event left 38 dead and multiple others nursing injuries. At least, a total of 56 people have died throughout Nigeria since the protests began. The happenings of the night not only left a devastated state but led to renaming of Lekki toll gate to “LEKKI FREEDOM GATE”.
Other protests sites also had their portion of the poison to deal with. Alausa site being invaded with the Rapid Response Squad (RRS) leaving at least 2 people dead and others critically injured.
Earlier in the month, 11th Oct, the government announced the disbanding of SARS, which is the fourth time in record that such an announcement is made. From reliable sources, the SARS unit has not been disbanded. Instead, this is just a move by the government to rebrand the unit to SWAT with no reforms of the management and operation of the unit. The same old people are running the “newly” formed SWAT.
On Wednesday, 21st Oct, President Buhari’s office issued a statement calling on the people to have patience as police reforms “gather pace”. Surprisingly, the happenings of the night before were not mentioned in the statement. The military on the other hand, went on twitter calling several credible news reports about it “fake news” without issuing of any statement. Lagos governor, Obaijide Sanwo-Olu, denied the killing but confirmed more than 20 injuries. He ordered an investigation into the military’s action.
World celebrities have joined the protests via social media. October 20th events attracted the attention of U.S presidential candidate, Joe Biden, former presidential candidate, Hilary Clinton and many other. Solidarity protests have been organized in different places around the world including London, Pretoria in South Africa and Nairobi, Kenya. As the world is joining the movement for peace, it is saddening that African countries are still silent on the matter.
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