What is the #EndSARS movement, and how can you help from the UK?

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Lauren Geall
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EndSARS protestors in Nigeria

The #EndSARS protests in Nigeria have taken over the internet. But what are they about? And what can we do to help from the UK?

As updated 21 October: Less than a month after the #EndSARS movement against police brutality in Nigeria began, a group of unarmed protesters were reportedly shot dead or injured by a group of soldiers who are believed to have “opened fire” on the crowd on the evening of 20 October. 

In a tweet posted the same night, Amnesty International said they had “credible but disturbing evidence of excessive use of force occasioning deaths of protestors” in the Leikki suburb of the city.

The tweet continued: “While we continue to investigate the killings, Amnesty International wishes to remind the authorities that under international law, security forces may only resort to the use of lethal force when strictly unavoidable to protect against imminent threat of death or serious injury.”

Reports of the shootings have led to widespread outrage and sadness online, with a number of celebrities including Rihanna and Beyoncé paying tribute to protestors on their social media channels.

“I can’t bare to see this torture and brutalization that is continuing to affect nations across our planet,” Rihanna wrote on Twitter. “It’s such a betrayal to the citizens, the very people put in place to protect are the ones we are most afraid of being murdered by! My heart is broken for Nigeria man!! It is unbearable to watch!”

She continued: “I’m so proud of your strength and not letting up on the fight for what’s right!” 

Although the protests in Nigeria may feel worlds away from life here in the UK, we can’t afford to think that way. There are things everyone around the world can do to support the protestors fighting for change – particularly in raising awareness of the horrific violence which is being reported today.

From what prompted the protests and why they’re so significant, to the ways you can help right now, here’s a closer look at what’s going on in this historic movement.

As reported on 14 October: In 2020, the fight against police brutality is louder than ever. At a time when the coronavirus pandemic has put most aspects of our lives on hold, people are still coming together to speak out, protest and campaign against an issue which continues to affect countries all over the world, including here in the UK.

The #EndSARS campaign is the most recent example of this kind of change-making in action. The movement against the country’s widely feared Special Anti-Robbery Squad (or SARS), recently picked up online after reports that a young man had been killed during a stop and search operation in Southern Nigeria (the police say that SARS officers were not involved).

Although the campaign has been going for the past two years (it was started in 2017), it’s only in the last couple of weeks that it’s picked up international attention, with protests breaking out across Nigeria and in Nigerian communities across the world. 

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Although the campaign led to the Nigerian government ordering the immediate dissolution of the unit on 11 October, protestors are now calling for overall police reform – especially after it was announced that officers from the SARS unit would simply be redeployed to other areas of the police force.

Keep reading to find out more about the movement, including what you can do to help.

What is SARS?

Nigeria’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad was founded in 1992 to tackle the problem of violent crime in the country’s capital, Lagos.

According to The New York Times, the unit operated as a “faceless, 15-member team that travelled in two unmarked buses, its officers wearing neither uniforms nor name tags”. It’s said that the unit was allowed to operate anonymously in order to help them tackle the gangs which were operating in Lagos at the time.

However, as the unit has grown and spread across the country, it has become notorious for abuse, as the faceless nature of its officers has made it hard to hold them accountable when things go wrong.

Nowadays, they are known for targeting young, well-dressed people and shaking them down for money. They have been accused of torturing, abusing and killing those who resist the searches. 

An End SARS protestor in Nigeria
End SARS: protestors in Nigeria have taken to the streets across the country to demand police reform.

Why is the movement so important?

The #EndSARS movement comes after a new report from Amnesty International published in June 2020 documented at least 82 cases of “torture, ill-treatment and extra-judicial execution” by the SARS unit between January 2017 and May 2020.

The victims involved in these cases are predominantly males from low-income backgrounds between the ages of 18-35.

Even though the campaign has since forced the Nigerian government to order for the immediate dissolution of the force, the fight to end police brutality in the country is still just as pressing – during the recent protests, Amnesty International say at least 10 people have been killed by the police.

It’s also worth noting that the dissolution of the SARS unit does not necessarily mark the end of their violence. According to The New York Times, the government has said before that it planned to shut down the unit, but the officers have remained on the streets. Nigerian authorities have also failed to prosecute a single SARS officer on charges of torture despite existing evidence, even after anti-torture legislation was introduced in the country in 2017. 

Worse still, it is believed that the officers that have been working under SARS and committing these acts of violence will simply be redeployed now that the unit has been disbanded.

According to CNN, a new tactical unit to replace SARS will be known as Special Weapons and Tactics, or SWAT. Former SARS officers will be part of the new unit but will “undergo psychological and medical examinations to make sure they are fit,” according to the inspector general of police, Mohammed Adamu.

Protestors say these changes – which allow those who have allegedly inflicted torture on innocent Nigerians to return to work in the police – aren’t enough and are calling for widespread police reform.

What changes do the protestors want?

Protestors say they won’t be satisfied until action is taken – not just to disband SARS, which the government has already done, but to address the wider problems which continue to affect Nigerian police.

Their demands include psychological evaluations for all former SARS officers who are reassigned, an executive order from the president, compensation for victims of police violence and better pay for police officers (to lower the risk of financial exploitation of citizens).

They also want to see those who have been arrested in the protests released, and see a requirement introduced which means police are only able to use rubber bullets during civil unrest.

This comes after an unidentified bystander was killed in Lagos on Monday after the police fired bullets into crowds of protestors. 

Young protestors in Nigeria
End SARS: a majority of the protestors are young people under the age of 24, a group who make up over half of the population in Nigeria.

Who are the protestors in Nigeria?

An unprecedented number of young people have taken to the streets in cities across Nigeria to join the protests, in a move which people there say is indicative of their widespread frustration with the state in general.

As the BBC reports, “the majority of them are 18 to 24 years old, have never experienced steady electricity in their lifetime, did not enjoy free education in the country and had their years at university punctuated and elongated by lecturers going on strike.”

According to UN population figures cited by the BBC, more than 60% of Nigeria’s population is under 24 years old, so their political mobilisation could be a sign that things are changing in the country. 

What’s happened around the world?

Alongside the efforts on the ground in Nigeria, the #EndSARS hashtag has trended worldwide since last week, with celebrities including Kanye West, Marcus Rashford and John Boyega backing the protests on social media. 

“The youth in Nigeria need good leadership and guidance,” Boyega wrote. “This situation is tied to so many issues. Please lend your attention to this pressing problem!”

On Sunday 11 October, activists held a demonstration outside the Nigerian High Commission in central London, with afrobeat stars Wizkid and Mr Eazi attending the protests.

Similar demonstrations were also held in Canada, Germany and the United States.

How can we help in the UK?

The #EndSARS movement started in Nigeria and has gathered momentum across the world. There are things we can do in the UK to support this historic and incredibly important campaign.

Educate yourself

Reading up on SARS and educating yourself about police brutality in Nigeria and across the world puts you in a better position to spread the word about #EndSARS and support the movement from afar.

Here are some good educational resources to start:

  • The Slacktivists’ guide to what’s happening in Nigeria gives an overview of the current situation
  • The #EndSARS resource hub is a comprehensive guide to the movement – check it out for fundraising links, social media accounts to follow and news about what’s going on in Nigeria
  • Nduka Orjinmo’s look at the young Nigerian protestors making change gives a sense of context to the protests
  • @missbakare’s thread about the protests sets out the key information in an easy-to-read way
  • The Guardian’s video explainer details why the protests are so significant

Follow and amplify key voices

Although the #EndSARS movement is finally gaining international attention, it’s important that we continue to amplify the voices of activists on the ground, whether on social media or via conversations with friends, to ensure as many people are made aware of what’s going on as possible.

As well as following the #EndSARS hashtag, key voices to follow include: 

Feyikemi Abudu: Alongside her role as co-host on the I Said What I Said podcast, Abudu is part of the End SARS response team which is working to send medical aid and provide support to protestors. Her tweets provide a snapshot of what is going on in Lagos and across Nigeria.

Find them on Twitter @fkabudu

The Feminist Coalition: The Feminist Coalition is a group of young Nigerian women who are fighting for gender equality in the country. They’re also working on the ground at the #EndSARS protests to provide food, water and first aid and are fundraising to provide legal aid and pay for the bail of those arrested.

Find them on Twitter @feminist_co and on Instagram @feminist.co

Yemisi Adegoke: Adegoke is a journalist for BBC Africa working in Lagos, Nigeria. Alongside posting regular updates about what’s going on with the protests, she also retweets and shares key information and sources from protestors around the country.

Find them on Twitter @briticoyemo

Amnesty International Nigeria: As well as providing regular updates about the protests and what’s happening, Amnesty International Nigeria also share helpful resources and data which provide context to the ongoing protests. 

Find them on Twitter @amnestynigeria

Add your voice to the #EndSARS hashtag

Although it’s important to listen and learn from the people experiencing these horrific events, there’s also value in speaking out about what’s going on in order to raise awareness. 

Write to your MP

You can use a website such as www.writetothem.com to find out who your local MP is and send them a letter urging them to put pressure on the government to condemn the events in Nigeria.

Attend a protest

A protest against Nigerian security forces’ treatment of protestors is happening today (21 October) outside the Nigerian High Commission in London at 3pm. If you’re able to, attending a protest is a great way to show your support in person – just make sure you follow Covid-19 guidelines in order to keep everyone safe.

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Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and work. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time.

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