Our Lives Matter.
In 2017, the #EndSARS movement emerged on social media and steadily gained the Nigerian community’s attention. Days turned into months and months into years as the video of a SARS officer who shot a young man (name not revealed) from Delta state went viral with the hashtag #EndSARS.
Though peaceful protesting already occurred from 2017, October 8th, 2020 marked the date that the #EndSARS protests began in Lagos and gathered a more extensive audience, this time nationally and internationally.
State Sanctioned Violence
As the peaceful protestors continued exercising their freedom of speech, government-endorsed police officials began releasing tear gas, shooting water cannons and guns, and various silencing tactics on Nigerian citizens. On October 11the, the Nigerian government announced the SARS unit’s dissolution, but all would seem well without foreknowledge of this crisis. All was not well, and this had been the fourth time that the Nigerian government dissolved and re-deployed SARS since 2017. If SARS members were re-assigned to another unit, how could we expect the conflict to resolve permanently?
Government officials in Abuja and Port Hartcourt, for example, instituted unconstitutional bans on protesting, which only seemed to agitate the legitimate frustrations of the public. Conflict only increased. On October 20, 2020, with only a four-hour pre-notice on the induced curfew in a heavy-traffic Lagos hub, government officials cut the security cameras and streetlights, and soldiers fired upon unarmed peaceful protestors in Lekki and Alausa of Lagos state. Due to the heavy violence, this day is now known as Bloody Tuesday. The Nigerian government denied responsibility for the Lekki and Alausa Massacre the day after and labeled the news revolving around the situation as fake.
Who is SARS, and why is there the seemingly sudden outcry?
Established in 1992 under Police Officer Simeon Danladi Midenda, SARS [was] the official “Special Anti-Robbery Squad.” The irony of the name SARS became notorious due to their bribery, frequent involvement in extortion, random and undue stop & searches, random and undue arrests and detaining of citizens, sexual assault of all forms particularly against Nigerian women, physical abuse and harassment, murder, amongst other human rights violations. Youth were primarily targeted if they were found with, but not limited to, tattoos, dreadlocks, piercings, expensive devices, and well-kept cars.
Endorsed by the government, SARS’ unchecked power left many Nigerians with unmet needs, unlivable wages, basic housing, no access to education, few opportunities for jobs, and low access to primary healthcare services.
The #EndSARS Movement
When discussing the #EndSARS movement, it is impossible to avoid the conversation on the longstanding history of policing, the ramifications of colonialism, poor governance, the history of Biafra, and truth-telling.
Equally, on the discussion of the #EndSARS movement, it is impossible to avoid the conversation of the longstanding history of policing, the ramifications of slavery, systemic racism (sexism, ageism, and ableism) classism included), the Black Lives Matter movement, and truth-telling in America.
Black lives matter in Nigeria. Black lives matter in America. Black lives matter, globally.
The cry for ending police brutality is a lament, unfortunately all too familiar amongst Black people across the Diaspora. However, police brutality is the expression of unresolved conflict that has festered and morphed from generation to generation.
Global Police Brutality
In Nigeria, police brutality’s conflict stems from foundational issues like colonialism and its infamous divide and conquer mechanism. Additionally, the fact that British officials incorrectly drew geographic and ethnic group lines, influenced many of internal land/economic disputes, along with perpetuated state-sanctioned violence against the Igbo ethnic group, previously known as Biafra, all contribute to increased tensions.
More recently, the unresolved conflict of Nigeria’s history gave way for the targeting of youth, a lack of social mobility in daily living, a continual pro-Northern region government at the expense of all other ethnic groups, and power/wealth hoarding amongst a select few. With tensions brewing, police brutality maintains the inequitable structure that sustains the current and past government administrations. Unethical power and the quest for such power are why we hear and experience the #EndSARS movement’s sharp cry.
In America, police brutality’s conflict stems from the foundational issue of slavery and its ability to transcend every subsequent generation in new forms. With racism & sexism, state-sanctioned violence against all who did (and do) not fit the proposed description American (white, Anglo-Saxon protestant-and preferably male) became recipients of this oppression. More specifically, the unresolved conflict of America’s history gave way for the heightened acute targeting of Black women and men anywhere and anytime.
A lack of social mobility and access to social goods, along with the increased brazen presence of white nationalists, which the current administration supports, has also fostered a culture that sanctions police violence against Black people. This is why we see a stark distrust in government officials to protect the people and instead watch as they foster frustrations that make movements such as the Black Lives Matter movement especially necessary in addressing the conflict of police brutality.
Stand with the Oppressed
Both the #EndSARS movement and the #BLM movement execute their power in three main ways: they are youth-led, they are decentralized in structure enabling room for all (and genuinely meaning that), and they prioritize the voices of the most marginalized in their societies. Utilizing social media to their advantage, the global community has been able to rally together to disrupt all unjust systems. Peacefully, boldly, and unrelentingly.
To keep up to date, follow the #EndSARS hashtag on all social media platforms and ground activists like @republicjournal @feminist.co @bbcnewsnigeria.