Young Nigerians led the #endSARS protests in 2020, but the real issues lie deeper says Abideen Olasupo.
In October 2020, young Nigerians took to the streets to protest against police brutality. The country rose up to demand an end to the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) that had been accused of violence and torture.
What was the #endSARS protest about?
SARS was created in 1992 with the intention to fight armed robbery and other violent crimes. Initially, plain-clothed SARS policemen carried out covert operations and did not carry any arms but today the unit has morphed into something entirely different. It has been accused of torture, extortion and several human rights abuses.
Like other young Nigerians, I never believed that SARS could torture and extort people at random. That was until I experienced it first hand when I was harassed by operatives of the SARS unit who forced me to explain conversations between me and other international Sustainable Development Goals advocacy partners. This awakened me to the reality of the situation. I was one of the countless other protestors who were targeted.
The Nigerian Government’s response
The Nigerian government has promised to reform and restructure the unit several times. Despite the promises, human rights abuses have continued. This has increased people’s distrust in the Nigerian government.
The Nigerian government repeatedly cracked down on #endSARS protestors. Several campaigners had their bank accounts frozen. Officers were ordered to use force on any new wave of protesters. The judicial councils set up to investigate officers’ alleged participation in extra-judicial activities were slow to act. Justice seemed like it may never come.
Since the beginning of the #endSARS protest in October 2020, organisations like BBYDI, YIAGA, EIE, FeministCo, and Legal Aid network have played important roles in standing with protesters. They raised funds, advocating and helping illegally detained protesters gain freedom.
What were the #endSARSprotestors demanding?
Protestors had five demands – the immediate release of all arrested protesters, justice for victims of police brutality, creation of an independent body to oversee investigation and prosecution, a psychological evaluation for SARS operatives before redeployment and an increment on police salary.
Despite repeated calls, no one was listening to our demands. Activists are still continually subject to harassment. We were waking up to lawsuits and passport seizures and were were often called terrorists.
What we are demanding is justice, but what we are receiving is more harm. Why should we feel so unsafe in our own country? Sustainable Development Goal 16 calls for peace, stability, human rights and effective governance. It is a goal every single country, including Nigeria, signed up to in 2015. What we have seen recently in our country shows that we are far from achieving this.
A global fight
As a human rights advocate, I know that changes like these don’t occur overnight. It took almost a decade of continuous action to achieve success with the Not Too Young to Run Act. We have to recognise that #endSARS is a much deeper cry in response to chronic poverty, food inflation, economic instability, and weak institutions.
This is a global fight. We have been heartened by the response from around the world, standing with campaigners who are fighting for their rights. We need to keep the pressure up, to use tools like technology to keep fighting.
Abideen Olasupo is the founder and executive director of Brain Builders International. He also championed the translation of the SDGs into local languages and is currently mobilising community campaigners to meet stakeholders across all the 774 LGAs in a bid to help in the localisation, and most importantly, the achievement of the SDGs.