Over the past two weeks, Nigerians have taken to the streets of their country’s largest city, Lagos, to rally against the violence and danger caused by police brutality. What began as a more controlled grassroots movement has now been classified as a pressing global issue, receiving support on various social media platforms from multiple superstars and celebrities including Rihanna, Beyoncé, Drake and Cardi B.
#EndSARS first surfaced back in 2017 as activists all throughout Nigeria aimed to abolish the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a federal police unit. SARS, formed in 1992, was initially created with the intention of combatting and putting an end to a rather sudden increase in crime and armed robberies. However, over time the unit began abusing its power and committing a multitude of unlawful arrests.
The movement began gathering momentum quite rapidly after a disturbing video emerged online on Oct. 4. The footage showed officers forcefully dragging two men from a hotel and shooting one of them directly outside.
All across the country as protests continued demanding justice, a rather sudden attention to the movement skyrocketed this past Tuesday, Oct. 20, when human rights groups and observers stated that Nigerian soldiers from the military opened fire on a very peaceful demonstration taking place in Lagos, a metropolis of nearly 20 million, killing at least 12 people.
Though the shootings have been widely condemned nationally, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari did not speak of them during his Thursday address, but rather urged protesters to halt their rallies.
“This government will not allow anybody or [any] groups to disrupt the peace of the nation,” Buhari articulated in his televised address, pleading protesters to “resist the temptation of being used by some subversive elements to cause chaos with the aim of truncating our nascent democracy.”
“For you to do otherwise will amount to undermining national security and law and order,” Buhari further explained. “Under no circumstances would this be tolerated.”
The president called on Nigeria’s youth “to discontinue the street protests and constructively engage the government in finding solutions. Your voice has been heard loud and clear and we are responding.”
Now the protests are not only dominating social media feeds across Africa and Europe, but have also made their way to the United States quite rapidly. On Wednesday night, the matter was picked up into the 2020 presidential race with Joe Biden expressing that “The United States must stand with Nigerians who are peacefully demonstrating for police reform and seeking an end to corruption in their democracy.”
Within the past 48 hours, Nigeria still stands in a warzone-like environment. Though the street protests have begun to slowly dissipate, widespread looting and vandalism have taken over. Angry mobs continue to roam parts of Lagos torching local police stations, looting big department stores and attacking government property. Sporadic gunfire can still be heard, and the Oba of Lagos, the region’s traditional king, was urgently evacuated from the palace by military personnel. Moreover, by just Thursday evening, 10 states in Nigeria were placed under a 24-hour curfew.
As the world continues to monitor this situation, the #EndSARS movement is only continuing to grow. By speaking up and spreading awareness, there is indeed hope for a better future for younger generations across Nigeria, and hence, we must keep defending them by advocating for change.
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