The Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a specialized unit of the Nigerian police, was created in 1992 to fight the escalating crime rate in African’s most populous nation.
However, SARS soon went rogue, gaining notoriety for their impunity and flagrant violation of human rights of Nigerian citizens. A 2016 report by Amnesty International described SARS as a “police squad operating outside the law” that has turned torture into “a means of extracting confessions and lucrative bribes.”
The movement to end SARS was born in 2017 from the hashtag #EndSARS, which trended on Twitter and was employed by netizens to track SARS abuses.
The #EndSARS offline protests started on October 3, 2020, when a video of SARS members brutalizing a young man in a Lagos hotel went viral. As of October 9, the hashtag #EndSARS had racked up 2.4 million tweets and was the number one Twitter trending topic in several countries.
Since then, Nigerian youth have risen up en masse to wage war against police brutality.
#EndSARS protests have sprung up in at least 12 of Nigeria’s 36 states, including Abuja, the federal capital, and Lagos. Protests also took place in many Nigerian diaspora communities.
The protagonists of this protest are Nigerian youth, often the victims of SARS intimidation, harassment and torture. They have built a peaceful, organic, decentralized, nonpartisan mass action on social media and through street protests that cuts across ethnic and religious lines.
Stories about #EndSARS: A youth movement to end police brutality in Nigeria
The protest came on the heels of the Lagos Judicial Panel of Inquiry's decision to reopen the toll gate— a move perceived as insensitive to victims of the Lekki shootings.
“Why is [Lagos State Governor] Sanwo-Olu denying? Immediately after [the Lekki shooting], Sanwo-Olu came, parked at the toll gate. He saw dead bodies on the ground. Why is he denying?”
Nicholas Okpe, an active #EndSARS protester, wore a patch on his right chest where a bullet pierced him. The bullet was still lodged in Okpe’s chest.
Online free speech advocates insist that Facebook’s flagging of #EndSARS content was neither a “mistake” nor a “bug,” but rather due to sparse investment in content moderation.
President Buhari emphasized state power over the human rights demands of citizens. “As far as Buhari was concerned, the youths who were killed at Lekki did not count for anything.”
To cover their tracks after the gunning down of unarmed, peaceful protesters, some Nigerian state institutions are promoting false information and propaganda on social media.
Nigerian security officials opened fire on protesters in Lekki, Lagos, reportedly killing at least three people. Civil society groups say the government has "declared a war on the people."
The Nigerian government has shown zero commitment to protesters’ demands for police reform but wallows in self-deluding verbal platitudes that are as ineffectual as they are dishonest.
Protesters from the #EndSARS movement agreed to hold a festival of lights on Friday night in honor of heroes who lost their lives due to police brutality.
The question of control over SARS has not been adequately answered. The constitution vested control of the police to the presidency under the police chief. But that chain-of-command has broken.
Described as ‘lazy’ by Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari, with a significant number unemployed, stereotyped as ‘unserious’, these digitally savvy youth have proved critics wrong.
SARS is Nigeria's police squad operating outside of the law