04 November 2020 | Story Dr Sunday Paul C. Onwuegbuchulam | Photo Supplied
Dr Sunday Paul C. Onwuegbuchulam, hails from Nigeria and is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Gender and Africa Studies, University of the Free State.

Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country has, since the first week of October 2020, seen a series of protests to end perceived police brutality under the banner #EndSARS. In this opinion piece, I argue that these protests reflect the general frustration among Nigerians concerning the sorry state of affairs in the country’s socio-economic and political space in recent times.

The #EndSARS protests called for drastic police reform in the country and specifically the disbandment of a police unit called Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). SARS was formed in 1992 amidst concern for increasing incidences of armed robberies and other organised crimes in the country. The unit was equipped and mandated to respond to these crimes; they have what could be termed a licence to kill. 

Abuse of power

In recent times, however, SARS morphed into a menace to the people it was supposed to protect, especially the youth. There have been a series of reported human rights violations in the form of torture, harassments, extrajudicial killings, extortion and downright corruption. Eventually, SARS became synonymous with abuse of power by the police with a concomitant toxic climate of fear and brutality. Amid heightened concern for the safety of citizens vis-à-vis SARS, some activists took to social media in 2017 and hence the birth of the #EndSARS movement. Since the movement started, the activists have succeeded in getting the government to commit to several police reforms. However, the impunity by the SARS continued and things came to a head on 3 October 2020, when a viral video allegedly shows SARS officers shooting an unarmed victim in Delta State. It seems this was the straw that broke the camel’s back and the youth took to the streets to say enough is enough. 

The relatively peaceful protest continued for several weeks and resulted in the country’s leadership announcing the disbandment of the SARS unit. However, the leadership sought to replace SARS with yet another police unit called Special Weapons and Tactics team (SWAT). This was not accepted by the protesting youths and the #EndSwat followed the earlier call for #EndSARS. The youths went further to demand the end of bad governance and corruption in the country and refused to leave the streets until the president addressed them and these issues. Sadly, peaceful protesters were reportedly injured and or killed by security agents in different parts of the country during these protests. On the night of 20 October 2020, there were also reports of the army shooting innocent protesters at a toll gate at Lekki, a suburb of Lagos. There have been conflicting accounts over whether or not there was indeed shooting and killing of peaceful protesters, with the army and the Lagos state authorities denying that it took place. But what eyewitness accounts and video clips and pictures from the incident at Lekki show is that there was some form of violence perpetrated against peaceful protesters. 

Opinion article Dr Sunday Paul C. Onwuegbuchulam, Centre for Gender and Africa Studies, University of the Free State.

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