End Sars protests in London
With chants of ‘Soro Soke!’ (Yoruba word for Speak Up) and ‘Buhari is a bad boy’, African communities in the UK shouted, walked and prayed in solidarity with their fellow Nigerians against SARS and police brutality across Nigeria. Protests spread over London, Manchester, Birmingham and other cities.
‘I’m only here (in the UK) by luck. That could have been me, dead on the streets. End SARS Now’ said a protestor in London.
The Special Anti-Robbery Squad, better known as SARS, has been part of the Nigerian police unit since 1992. It was formed as a way to tackle growing crimes such as fraud, robbery and killings around Nigeria’s biggest cities. However, not too long after their establishment, SARS began to be accused of the same crimes they were formed to tackle.
Countless reports from victims have stated that the unit has participated in unlawful killings, rapes, harassments and bribery. They have been known to target young Nigerians with tattoos, deadlocks as well as people driving expensive cars, owning iPhones and laptops. “A SARS officer could look at you, decide you were a criminal, and treat you as such” said an anonymous resident from Abuja.
From Twitter to the streets
The #endsars movement began to circulate social media platforms in 2017. It became a place for young Nigerians to share their frustrations and experiences of police brutality, a way to amplify their voices and expose corruption in the Nigerian police unit.
Separated by a distance felt only through the touch of phone screens, the Nigerian youth along with African communities around the world watched innocent people being harassed, humiliated, abused and killed by SARS officers throughout Nigeria. The incident that triggered the beginning of the #endsars protests was a viral video showing a young man being heavily beaten by an alleged SARS officer at Delta State. More anger was stirred after the video was reported as fake by authorities and an arrest made to the person who recorded the incident.
With the increasing episodes and graphic videos circulating online, the Nigerian youth decided to take their protests beyond Twitter and into the streets. On the 3rd of October 2020, the world saw Nigerians peacefully march to the revolutionary music of Fela Kuti, sing their National Anthem and wear the colours of the Nigerian flag during the protests as a symbol of national unity. #Endsars became number one trending on Twitter on the 9th of October with over 2 million tweets.
As the movement began to gain greater visibility across social media, different forms of misinformation began to creep in. Such included the claim that carrying a Nigerian flag during the protest would protect demonstrators from the army, which has been verified as false.
‘Area boys’ also known as local gangs took advantage of the protests and occasionally turned the rallies violent with the burning of cars, vandalism and other violations.
Demands of #ENDSARS protesters
Faced with the pressures by the global public, President Buhari announced the total abolishment of the SARS unit with immediate effect. However, such claims fell on the deaf ears of the protesters as they recalled similar claims to end SARS in recent years without real outcomes. Demonstrators across Nigeria came up with five demands highlighting the changes that they want to see in their country before they can trust their government on their claims.
Dismantling the SARS unit is only a fraction of the demands of the protesters. Demonstrations across Nigeria and the UK have raised issues concerning poverty, low infrastructure as well as the lack of leadership across Nigeria. ‘The roads are bad, no lights, education zero’ said a 21-year-old protestor in Nigeria. They have also raised the issue of corruption in the country, specifically addressing the lack of a living wage among police officers. “Civil servants don’t get paid from months” protesters in the UK stated. ‘Buhari is a bad boy’ has become a statement by demonstrators disappointed by President Buhari’s leadership.
‘There would be no great Britain without us’
The UK government has been accused of funding and training the SARS unit. After denying any associations, James Duddridge, the minister for Africa, has admitted to providing training and funding to the SARS police unit between 2016-2020. Throughout the years, they have supplied £43millions of weapons until March 2020.
Protests across the UK have also spoken against the lack of action the UK government have taken toward the state violence in Nigeria. After 75 years of colonial rule and the wealth acquired from the exploitation of countries such as Nigeria, protesters believe the UK has a responsibility not to stay neutral on the human rights violations committed by the SARS unit.
Lekki Toll Gate shooting
The shooting of peaceful protesters at Lekki toll gate in Nigeria on the 20th of October became the breaking point. What began as a festive protest with music and protesters fists raised high, ended in tragedy when military officers began to shoot at unarmed protesters. Even though this shooting dissolved most of the protests across Nigeria, it triggered a chain of protests to break out across the UK outside of the Nigerian High Commission.
President Buhari, on his Twitter handle, has stated to be “deeply pained that innocent lives have been lost” and set out plans to improve vulnerable lives in Nigeria in the next 10 years.
The voices of the Nigerian youth and the African diaspora have not ceased. Numerous conversations and ways of reformations are still being discussed across different social media platforms to ensure that the lives lost during the protests have not been in vain.
Written by Manuela Brown