Police Brutality Rears its Ugly Head in Nigeria, as Protests to #ENDSARS Become Widespread

Within these past few weeks, a movement has steadily grown throughout Nigeria. Protests in the country have drawn thousands of participants, all to advocate for the abolishment of Nigeria’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), which has been the main perpetrator of increasing police brutality across the nation. At the same time, protestors and activists demand police reform immediately in order to end the impunity with which SARS violently acts.

The #ENDSARS movement is not new. Nigerian citizens have been calling for an end to the unit for some five years already, with no success. However, as a series of brutal killings by SARS has captured the attention of global media outlets, the movement has encountered a resurgence and an international participant base- superstars such as Cardi Bi, Drake, and Burna Boy have expressed their solidarity with the #ENDSARS movement via their social media accounts recently.

Back in 2018, a 32-year-old Nigerian man by the name of Ugochukwu was arrested without a warrant and accused by the police of paying a gang that had been blackmailing him . Contrary to the name of SARS, which would suggest that they aid citizens in situations of blackmailing and financial hostage, SARS officers posted a heavy fine upon Ugochukwu for his release: 20,000,000 nairas, equivalent to USD $55,325. Ugochukwu refused to pay bail, knowing that he had been arbitrarily detained and had committed no crime. As a result, for nearly a week, SARS officers physically tortured him, before informing him that he would be killed for refusing to pay his bail. When faced with the imminence of death, Ugochukwu begged to be spared, and he ended up paying 6,000,000 nairas (USD $16,666) before he was released the next day.

Now, protests have re-ignited, following the circulation of a video in which a Nigerian man is allegedly killed by SARS officers. A handful of protesters have already been killed during the mass demonstrations. As a result of the inflamed violence and threat to national stability, Nigerian head of police Mohammed Adamu announced that SARS would be dissolved and replaced by Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT), which would be trained by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

However, despite the announcement, Nigerian civilians have not been pacified. The majority of activists feel that “police rebranding” does not eliminate the deeply ingrained practices of police brutality and impunity.

Image by Tobi Oshinnaike on Unsplash

“It’s like you’re just replacing jam with jelly. We want the government to own it and say, ‘Yes, we’ve heard that these units are notorious and we’ve shut it down. And all the officers, especially the commanding officers, have been summoned to face a pane;. And these are the people that will be on the panel. These are the terms of reference.’ We’re not getting those concrete things.” – Amnesty International Country Director Osai Ojigho

Freedom House’s Africa program director Jon Temin stated the following:

“Nigerians taking to the streets in large numbers to protest police brutality deserve the protection of security services, not to be targeted by them. Similar to movements around the world, including in the United States, the #ENDSARS movement reflects the widespread demand among Nigerians to end impunity for police who use excessive force. Police or members of the military who opened fire on protesters – as well as those who gave the orders – should be held to account. In addition to disbanding abusive police units and pursuing justice for victims of police brutality, the government of Nigerian should engage in a comprehensive dialogue with protesters and civil society representatives to address a wide range of civilian security concerns.”

On October 22, United States Senators Cory Brooker (D-NJ), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Chris Coons (D-DE), and Chris Murphy (D-CT) of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health Policy released a statement condemning the police violence in Nigeria:

“As members of the Subcommittee on Africa, we have been watching the recent developments in Nigeria with great concern, and call for an immediate end to the violent crackdown on peaceful protestors. The escalation of violence in Lagos is unacceptable. That security forces have used live ammunition against peaceful protestors demonstrating against police brutality is especially alarming. We urge security forces to act with restraint and for Nigerian authorities to de-escalate the situation and hold perpetrators of violence to account.”

“Nigeria is the most populous country and largest economy in Africa and is an important strategic partner of the United States. It is, therefore, disheartening to see a valuable diplomatic and security partner resorting to violence against its own civilians. We urge the government of Nigeria to consider the negative impact that recurrent violations of human rights and violence against protestors will have on the U.S.-Nigeria security partnerships. Our hearts go out to the families who have lost loved ones, and we stand with those who protest police brutality and government corruption.”

See below the #ENDSARS conversation happening right now on Twitter:

Cover image by Tobi Oshinnaike on Unsplash