20-10-20: A day to not Forget

End SARS is a decentralized social movement and series of mass protests against police brutality in Nigeria. The slogan calls for the disbanding of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a notorious unit of the Nigerian Police with a long record of abuses. The protests which take its name from the slogan started in 2017 as a Twitter campaign using the hashtag #EndSARS to demand the disbanding of the unit by the Nigerian government.
After experiencing a revitalization in October 2020 following more revelations of the abuses of the unit, mass demonstrations occurred throughout the major cities of Nigeria, accompanied by vociferous outrage on social media platforms. About 28 million tweets bearing the hashtag have been accumulated on Twitter alone. Solidarity protests and demonstrations by Nigerians in diaspora and sympathizers occurred in many major cities of the world. The protest is notable for its patronage by a demographic that is made of entirely young Nigerians. The movement has since expanded to include demands for good and accountable governance.

Within a few days of renewed protests, on 11 October 2020, the Nigerian Police Force announced that it was dissolving the unit with immediate effect. The move was widely received as a triumph of the demonstrations. However, it was noted in many quarters that similar announcements had been made in recent years to pacify the public without the unit being disbanded and that the government had merely planned to reassign and review SARS officers to medical centers rather than disband the unit entirely.

The Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) was a branch of the Nigeria Police Force under the State Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department (SCIID). It was founded in late 1992 as one of the 14 units in the Force Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department, which was established to detain, investigate, and prosecute people involved in crimes like armed robbery, kidnapping, and other violent crimes. The squad was created as a masked police unit to perform undercover operations against violent crimes like armed robbery, car snatching, kidnapping, cattle rustling, and the bearing and use of illegal firearms.

SARS had been accused of several human rights violations, illegal “stop and searches”, illegal arrests and detentions, extrajudicial killings, sexual harassment of women, and brutalizing of young male Nigerians. These human rights abuses were properly documented in trending videos on social media, most notably Twitter.

Five demands

On Sunday, 11 October 2020, the protesters made a list of five demands to be met by the Federal Government of Nigeria. The demands which were signed by ‘A Nigerian Youth’ demanded the immediate release of all arrested during the protests as well as justice and compensation for all who died through police brutality in Nigeria. They also demanded that an independent body be set up within 10 days to investigate and prosecute all reports of police misconduct. The protesters also asked for the psychological evaluation and retraining of SARS operatives before they are deployed to any other police unit. Lastly, they asked for an adequate increase in the salaries for officers of the Nigerian police.

On 20th October, between 6:45 pm and 9:00 pm, the Nigerian army and police reportedly killed at least 12 peaceful protesters and left several injured in Lekki and Alausa in the cosmopolitan city of Lagos. The security forces, without warning, opened fire on thousands of people who were peacefully calling for good governance and an end to police violence as part of the #EndSARS movement.

Those considered as financial backers or leaders of the #EndSARS movement by authorities have been targeted. Some had their bank accounts frozen or their passports seized to keep them in the country.

Three of the country’s prominent news agencies have been fined for broadcasting social media footage of the #EndSARS protests and security forces shooting protesters.

The #EndSARS protests have forced Nigerian authorities to disband the Special Anti-Robbery Squad – SARS. States across the country have now set up judicial panels to investigate SARS abuses. But the #EndSARS movement was met with the same police brutality and violence it was set to fight against. It’s time to demand accountability and finally end impunity for police violence in Nigeria.

Today makes it exactly one year where the current administration demonstrated one of the most callous acts seen since the start of Nigeria’s fourth republic. an act in which the military was used to overpower peaceful and unarmed protesters at Lekki Tollgate. This will forever remain a scar in the heart of Nigerians. We forever pray for the ones who departed this world on that horrific night, for their names will never be forgotten.

October 19, 2021

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