#EndSARS: The Edinburgh Voices
Amy Houghton outlines what SARs is and why there are protests against it. Voices from the University of Edinburgh Nigerian society give us an insight into the feelings amongst the local Nigerian community and explain in what ways the rest of the world can practice solidarity.
3 weeks ago the hashtag #ENDSARS gained spectacular momentum across social media platforms as footage of frustrated Nigerian citizens marching the streets began to circulate. To an outsider looking in, it appeared as though this movement was a sudden reaction to an isolated event. However, much like the Black Lives Matter protests that caught the world’s attention, this was a result of a collective tiredness of a much deeper institutional problem.
What is SARS?
SARS is a unit of the Nigerian police set up in 1992. It stands for the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad and was founded with the intention of tackling armed robbery and violent crime. It has since become notorious for its corruption and lawless brutality against citizens, largely as a result of the freedom it was allowed from the outset.
Why the protests?
The organised movement against this police unit first materialised in 2017 when a petition, with over 10,000 signatories, was submitted to the country’s National Assembly urging for SARS to be disbanded. Its reform and reorganisation was officially ordered but little actually changed.
Three years later, the protests were reignited and intensified by graphic footage, posted in October, of SARS officers dragging two men from a hotel in Lagos and shooting them in the street.
The protesters have been peaceful, yet they have been subject to shamelessly horrific instances of violence. Most notably, the Lekki Toll Massacre on 20th October saw authorities open fire on a crowd, killing at least 12 people and injuring countless more, though officials have refused to disclose the actual number.
As the movement continues and judicial panels are in session, The Edi reached out to the University of Edinburgh Nigerian Society to get a sense of the feelings amongst the local Nigerian community and to ask in what ways the rest of the world can practice solidarity:
“Initially muted as a social media campaign in 2017 but without the scale of success recorded in the latest protests, the fact that nothing changed over the three-year period is enough proof of why something as serious as these prolonged protests was needed to get the nonchalant Nigerian government committed to any meaningful reforms.
The problem with police brutality in Nigeria is more entrenched than most people outside the country would believe. Two quick examples would drive home the point. First, about four months ago, a bus conveying passengers in Rivers state was stopped by police officers at a checkpoint. One of the passengers in the bus, a 24 year old widow, was forcibly ejected for not wearing a facemask and the driver asked to leave. The lady later accused the leader of the police team of raping her in a hotel where he took her. In defence, the officer claimed it was consensual sex. He remains a working officer.
Second, in Nyanya, Abuja two years ago, police officers killed a civil defence officer in broad-daylight. The offence of the deceased, who was with his wife and children, was that he drove against traffic. To this day, these officers, who are known, are walking free.
Real life occurrences such as this abound in Nigeria. Hence, it was not surprising that protests aimed at ending it gained that much traction, including from the international press, even if their intervention was belated and minimal. To a large extent, I believe that similar protests organised by Nigerians in the diaspora contributed to the attention from the international community.
The most important point that seems to be getting overlooked is why this brutality persisted so long. The reason is that when these officers maim and kill innocent citizens, they face no consequence despite the hues and cries from the public- so it is not surprising that this unacceptable wickedness gets repeated endlessly.
While it is true that the welfare of police officers in Nigeria is nothing to write home about, attributing their harassment of Nigerians to mental derangement, as some have, is completely off the mark as they almost never assault prominent citizens such as governors, senators, representatives and popular celebrities. Their targets are usually poor and helpless Nigerians. I do not know of such ‘selective psychosis’ that is able to differentiate between the have and have not, then choose the latter for all sorts of harassment.
What the protesters should expect is that ending police brutality has only just begun and the battle is far from being won. However, through the protests, enough attention has been drawn to the menace. So much, that curbing it has become a possibility through a continuous demand for accountability on the part of those who have supervisory roles over these malevolent officers. Yours sincerely has a passion towards ending police brutality and this will be thoroughly pursued (As an aside, about a month ago, I contacted Scotland Police on how they can assist our movement in Nigeria on ending police brutality and their response was that they could be of no help…).” From Dr Adedeji Adesope, 35 years (an Edinburgh-based professional)
“I think the feeling [amongst Nigerians watching from abroad] has been one of disgust at the Nigerian government for the lack of decisive action towards treating some of the prevailing issues that borders on Police malpractices; and the government’s irresponsibility and lack of will to find a lasting solution. Given the horrendous incident of the 22nd of October 2020 that saw a lot of peaceful Nigerian protesters being shot at by the men of the Nigerian Army, it is nothing short of horror for many of us Nigerians abroad and we are quite terrified, sad and angry at the government for abusing the fundamental rights of its people and treating them with so much lack of rest for their human life and dignity.
I think the Western media response to what is happening in Nigeria is quite slow and hesitant. Although CNN, BBC and a few other western media started reporting about the protest after videos of the Lekki Massacre of the 22nd of October went viral, I believe not enough has been reported about it. And may I say that I am not surprised at all about that – there seems to be a lot of crisis going on in a lot of countries across Africa (Ghana, Congo, South Africa, Sudan etc) with a lot of human rights violation issues being perpetuated, but you don’t hear so much of it in the media because it doesn’t exactly fit with the mainstream narrative and is not of much direct benefit…..sad! The western government can be of good use through serving as external pressure to compel internal governments in Africa to sit up and find solutions to some of the problems – but again that is not exactly in their interest. African problems can only truly be solved by Africa and its people.
I think the media can do more to report about some of the crisis going on in West Africa – a lot of children die everyday in Congo as a result of exploitation of the Coltan resources by big tech corporations, there is violations of human rights of women in South African and Ghana, there is human rights violations in Northern Nigeria. I think the media needs to speak up more about these issues. The media is very much the voice of the people and can be a voice for the voiceless and so they need to rise to the occasion.
Just like any other movement, traction can be gained towards achieving the demands of the agitation when a lot of awareness is created which can then mount pressure on the government to act. So, a lot of awareness needs to be created in the media. Government needs to be held accountable. People need to push for petitions against erring officers of the Police unit. Donations should be made to support organisations and coalitions, such as the Feminist Coalition, who are taking up the responsibility to cater to those who are victims of the Police Unit malpractices.
I would like to see that justice is done. Everyone who has unfortunately been a victim of the police brutality needs to get justice. I would like for the notorious Police unit to be disbanded; the men of the unit to be taken through thorough reassessment; and for those found guilty to be prosecuted. However, I think this movement is beyond just a clamour for the end of the notorious Police unit, it is an agitation and call for more responsible leadership in Nigeria. So, I see this as a wake-up call for every Nigerian youth to take the challenge and demand for better government and be more active and participatory in deciding their future.” From Emmanuel Oni (an Edinburgh-based professional)
To learn more and to keep up to date:
A day by day timeline of events so far: https://nairametrics.com/2020/10/25/endsars-protest-a-timeline-of-all-the-major-events-from-october-3rd/
The vital role of LGBT youths in the protests:
Why the world must care:
Why Western interference is not the solution:
If you wish to help please be aware that Nigerians have requested for people in the UK to avoid signing petitions calling for the government to make sanctions against the country. There is justifiably a lot of suspicion around Western intervention and they urge that this would only harm the situation.