Fighting fire with fire: the #endSARS movement
Online Features Editor Becca Wells discusses the situation in Nigeria and the #endSARS movement.
Nigeria’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) has come under severe pressure for abolishment following years of national protests and international recognition on social media.
SARS was established in 1992 as a strategy to fight violent crimes including robbery and kidnapping, however the methodology of fighting violence with violence has led to an expected outbreak of civil rights protestors fighting for the abolishment of police brutality. Nigeria’s population is estimated to be 60% people aged between 18 and 24, a demographic who are often looked over, ignored and who suffer under the influence of state barbarity.
During SARS’ establishing years, the squad consisted of mainly plain clothes officers, who acted as special detectives stalking suspects before leading other intelligence to their locations. Since those years however, SARS has evolved to a new branch of the Nigerian Police Force who have become synonymous over the past few years with torture and other ill- treatment of their unlawfully held detainees.
A 2016 report from Amnesty International outlined the findings of some who went to see for themselves the brutalities which SARS officers exerted. The report states that various methods of torture including severe beating, hanging, mock executions and starving are routinely utilised in order to extract information or coerced confessions from detainees. The Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 describes that unlawful confessions, or those extracted through mistreatment, coercement or excessive force and pressure cannot be used as evidence in court. Amnesty International reported the presence of 130 detainees, and since the initial report, have stated that the “horrific reign of impunity by SARS makes a mockery of anti- torture law”, and reported that no prosecutions have been made of the perpetrators working within the SARS unit.
The abuses of power overtly evident in the contemporary mediascape have been gathering speed notably since 2017 when an International #endSARS Twitter movement began. Since then, the movement has been on the backburner on social media until earlier this year, when a significant turning point was reached during the circulation of a video showing the alleged murder of a man by a SARS officer in Delta State. Whilst police dismiss the video as fake, since its widespread circulation, police have arrested the videographer behind the video.
The abuses of power overtly evident in the contemporary mediascape have been gathering speed notably since 2017.
As a result, there has been another burst of energy into the protests in Nigeria’s most prominent cities, Lagos and Abuja. During one such demonstration in Lagos last month, police allegedly opened fire onto a sea of protestors, killing or injuring at least 12 people. Again, this is denied by police but gunshot wounds have been found. The abuses of power overtly evident in the contemporary mediascape have been gathering speed notably since 2017.
Furthermore, Al Jazeera reports that both a police officer and a protestor have reportedly been killed during a protest last month in Ughelli, Delta State. Police officer and 20th Inspector General of Police for Nigeria Mohammed Adamu tweeted that “protests by citizens remain a legitimate means for airing their concerns and views”. Since, the State has made their fourth declaration to reform the SARS unit within four years, however many have been exclaiming that its abolishment is necessary for renewed peace and prosperity in the country.
Just last Friday, The Guardian reported that the Nigerian authorities have been rebranding the protestors as terrorists. The report states that prominent #endSARS actors have had bank accounts suspended, passports seized, and, being ranked 115th out of 180 countries documented on the World Press Freedom Index, various media agencies have been fined for “exaggerated reporting”, including those circulating footage of the 12 injured or killed protestors last month.
However, due to the spread of the movement on Twitter and other forms of social media, the protests have gone viral and gained international recognition, as well as celebrity endorsement and awareness. Supporters with huge social media followings such as Beyoncé and Kanye West as well as a plethora of others have been gaining traction behind the scenes. In addition to this, physical protests have also spanned internationally over the past month, significantly in London. On the 21st October this year, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said that he is “deeply concerned” by “violence” and “clashes in Nigeria” and that he calls “for an end to violence”. The UK government has also said that they are “monitoring” the developments of the protests in Nigeria and The Minister for Africa and the UK Government, James Duddridge MP says “the Nigerian people’s democratic and peaceful calls for police reform”.
The Guardian reported that the Nigerian authorities have been rebranding the protestors as terrorists.
Whilst there have been few tangible moves from the UK government to call for an end to police brutality in Nigeria, there are multiple NGOs relying on donation and crowdfunding to help end the “reign of impunity” over the region by donating towards medical emergencies and legal aid for citizens unjustly held by the SARS unit, something which in Nigeria has been blocked by authorities. For a list of prominent NGOs getting involved in these atrocities and to read their mission statements, please see below:
Feminist Coalition: https://feministcoalition2020.com/statement-oct-22/
Kokun Foundation: https://www.facebook.com/Kokun-Foundation-1079291695586864/
Reach Initiative: https://www.reach-initiative.org/where-we-work/nigeria/
Connected Development NGO: https://www.connecteddevelopment.org/
Assata Collective: https://www.facebook.com/assatacollective/