There are ongoing protests in Nigeria over the actions of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a unit of the Nigerian Police Force. For over a week, young Nigerians in over 23 of the 36 states in the country, including Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, have come out in their thousands to condemn the unit, while calling on the government to completely disband the unit and prosecute its officers.
Speaking with many young people who are professionals, educated, freelance workers, and students, I learnt how SARS officials have harassed, extorted, raped, tortured and murdered thousands of young Nigerians all over the country. They told me how Nigerian youth are profiled based on their appearance, or their possession of laptops and smartphones, and labelled internet fraudsters and criminals. They are arrested and detained on imaginary charges. They are harassed and killed for just walking on the streets. They are accosted at gunpoint, taken to ATMs to clear their accounts, and this hard-earned money is handed over to SARS officers. Thousands of young people are being held in police and SARS cells, many without the knowledge of their families. Several have been tortured, killed, and buried following their encounter with SARS officers.
Despite years of complaints about the unit, and reports by organisations like Amnesty International on the atrocities committed by SARS, government response has been inadequate. The unit has been “dissolved”, “disbanded” and “reformed” three times in the past five years, but nothing has changed. The Inspector General of Police (IGP) announced, after about three days of protests, that the unit had been dissolved, and officers would be deployed to other units, but police brutality still continues even after the announcement, and SARS officers are still on the streets in many states.
Now, young Nigerians want real action: the resignation of the IGP, investigation and prosecution of guilty officers in SARS and the Police Force in general, justice for those who have been affected, and real, lasting reform in the Police Force. These demands have not been met, and peaceful protests have continued, despite attempts by police to disperse protesters using water cannons, live ammunition and tear gas, and attacks against protesters by hired thugs. Unfortunately, this violence against peaceful protesters has led to the death of about 10 people in different states across the country.
With social media platforms like Twitter and the hashtag #EndSARS, youths have been able to sustain the protests and keep them decentralised, emphasizing that they have no leaders but speak with a common voice. Protests have also been supported by the thousands of SMEs that young Nigerians have built and had to rely on to survive, including financial platforms, catering businesses, health services and private security.
Nigerian youth are not fighting for amenities like electricity, or infrastructure like good roads and health care facilities, which the government has failed to provide. They are simply fighting for the right to live. They must be supported in their call for change because the actions of SARS and other acts of police brutality are stifling and killing a vibrant population in its prime.
Throughout the Covid19 lockdown, I have witnessed the resilience and resourcefulness of young Nigerians and young Africans, but there is also a mounting anger among the youth over unemployment, corruption, and economic mismanagement. The SARS issue is the tipping point as the young protestors shine a light on the deeper underlying problems: there is hunger in the land, the economy is poor, there is no power, no water. Government leaders must listen to these voices because from my five years of living and working with these young people, I know they are responsible, they love their nations, and they are a vital part of the solutions to their problems.
Sọrọ sókè means speak up, and the youth of Nigeria, its most precious asset, is speaking up loud and clear. Their voices must be heard just as we heard the voices of Black America for #BlackLivesMatter. We cannot be blind to Nigeria and Africa. We must care, because Africa matters.
For more information on SARS, the protests, and how you can help to sustain the protests by amplifying and donating to them, kindly visit the following links:
To learn about the protests: endsars.carrd.co
To read about people’s experiences with SARS: endsars.com
To donate to the protests: donatebtc.feministcoalition2020.com
For updates and youth perspectives on the protests: The EndSARS Movement Stack