World Nigeria’s Protests Over Police Torture and Killings Go Viral
The young protesters who forced a president to back down
Nigeria's #EndSARS protests gathered momentum online, but burst onto the streets to force a change.Despite forcing the president to disband the unit, they are not satisfied as they want total police reforms and for officers in the rogue department to face justice.
ABUJA, Nigeria—On October 3, a horrific video went viral on social media, which showed officers from Nigerian police force’s notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) dragging two young men from a hotel in Lagos and executing one of them in the street.
The video was a tipping point for many Nigerians. For the past three weeks, tens of thousands across the country have taken to the streets calling for the scrapping of SARS. The government, after years of inaction on the violent unit, has finally been forced to disband it—but critics say the worst offenders are just being moved to different roles.
Death toll climbs as Nigeria protests spiral
Crowds took to the streets again in Nigeria's largest cities on Monday as the death toll rose in snowballing protests sparked by police brutality. Amnesty International said five people had died since the start of the weekend, taking the overall number of fatalities to 15 since demonstrations against abuses erupted this month. In Lagos, home to 20 million people, thousands of people took to the streets again on Monday, bringing the economic hub to a standstill. The huge outpouring of anger over brutality by Nigeria police's notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) forced the government to scrap the unit a week ago and promise reforms.
Reports of brutality by SARS are common in Nigeria. The rogue police unit has in recent years been criticized publicly by activists and politicians for extrajudicial killings, illegal arrests and torture of citizens. SARS has mostly targeted young men—usually between the ages of 17 and 30 from vulnerable groups and low-income backgrounds—whom they often accuse of being internet fraudsters or armed robbers.
In one of its numerous brutal acts, personnel of the Nigerian police force’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) arrested prominent radio host Kofi Bartels a year ago for filming five SARS officers beating a boy just outside the journalist's compound in the oil-rich southern city of Port Harcourt. Like so many young men arrested indiscriminately across Nigeria by SARS policemen, Bartels says he was tortured while in police custody and officers threatened to put him in a prison cell with a male inmate who would rape him. A photograph of the journalist lying injured on a bed following his alleged assault by the police was published by a number of media outlets(CPJ).
Curfew in Nigeria's Lagos over 'monster' protests
Authorities on Tuesday imposed an indefinite curfew in Nigeria's economic hub Lagos as the police ordered out anti-riot units nationwide to face protests officials claimed had been hijacked by criminals. As the lockdown went into force in Africa's largest city at 4 pm (1500 GMT), hundreds of defiant protesters sang the national anthem as they pledged to remain out on the streets. "Are you afraid?" a man shouted to the flag-waving crowd from a stage at a tollgate in the city centre that has become the epicentre of the demonstrations. "We will stay here peacefully," 32-year-old demonstrator Akin told AFP. "This is our new home.
"They (SARS officers) used all kinds of objects on me and left me with a fractured knee," Bartels told The Daily Beast. He was released hours after his arrest following the intervention of a former commander and who wasn't charged with a crime. "The incident left me terribly traumatized."
Although the police(PDF), there's no evidence to prove that anyone was ever punished for the journalist's ordeal.
Since the protests began, the hashtag #EndSARS has consistently been trending on Twitter with thousands using it to share very disturbing stories of SARS aggression. There have also been casualties, as nearly a dozen demonstrators have been killed by the police while demanding change,.
Protest Erupts at Nigerian Ambassador's House in Maryland Over Killing of Protesters in Lagos
A group of protesters gathered in front of the home of the Nigerian Ambassador to the U.S. on Tuesday after reports of the killing of anti-police brutality demonstrators in Lagos.Protests began in October in Lagos against the special police force known as the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). According to Amnesty International, SARS is "notorious for the widespread torture and other ill-treatment of Nigerians." Tuesday's shootings occurred in the Lekki district of Lagos, the largest city in Africa. While a confirmed number of casualties has yet to be released, witnesses at the scene told Reuters that at least two people had been struck by gunfire.
Concerns about escalating violence against the #EndSars protest movementafter armed thugs attacked demonstrators at the headquarters of the central bank in the capital, Abuja, and police fired tear gas at people protesting peacefully at the heart of the city.
In the northern city of Kano, reports that a 17-year-old boy in police custody wasprompted protests in the very busy Kofar Mata area, with demonstrators reportedly barricading the main road and setting tires on fire while chanting songs calling for an end to police aggression.
Across the country, more and more people turned up at protest grounds demanding action from the government against SARS. Fighting tears, one protester recalled how officers took the life of a close friend.
"SARS officers killed my neighbor and three of his friends simply because they were young boys heading home in the same car so late at night." Isaac Anani, a medical laboratory scientist in Abuja, told The Daily Beast about an incident that. "Despite a huge public outcry, the culprits escaped full punishment and SARS continued to brutalize innocent citizens."
Unrest in Lagos after deadly Nigeria protest shooting
Buildings were torched in Nigeria's biggest city Lagos on Wednesday as authorities shut down the economic hub, after the shooting of peaceful protesters by security forces caused international outrage. Concerned by the escalating violence reported on Wednesday in a string of cities including Lagos, the International Committee for the Red Cross called for restraint.At least 12 people were killed by the Nigerian army and police in two locations in Lagos on Tuesday in a deadly crackdown on demonstrations, Amnesty International said.
On social media, celebrities across the world including Cardi B, Drake, P Diddy, Trey Songz and Viola Davis have tweeted their support for the #ENDSARS campaign. Although the issue only just gained international attention with the latest protests, campaigns for the disbandment of the notorious squad have been going on for years in Nigeria.
"Nigerians have become so tired of listening to the news and hearing of another story of SARS officers killing a young person." Marc Bisong, a Nigerian human rights lawyer who has been protesting across the country, told The Daily Beast. "If we don't get the authorities to deal with this issue of SARS brutality, we risk having more of our brightest youths killed by very heartless officers."
In its most recent report on police impunity in Nigeria released in June, Amnesty International, which documented 82 cases of ill treatment and extra-judicial execution by SARS officers between January 2017 and May 2020,many detainees in SARS custody are subjected to severe beatings—mostly carried out under the supervision of high-ranking police officers—and denied medical care. The victims, according to the report, are often unlawfully arrested in raids on television viewing centres and recreational centres and are held in detention and forced to pay huge bribes to secure their release, with those unable to pay subjected to torture or other ill-treatment.
The fake stories around the Nigeria protests
Misleading claims about protests against a controversial police unit have been widely shared.The story has started trending globally, with thousands of posts on social media, but not all of them factual.
"No SARS officer has been held accountable for human rights violations documented in this report," Amnesty revealed. "Many victims of SARS violations face obstacles and, in some cases, concerted opposition from the police authorities while seeking justice, including threats to their lives."
The first major social media campaign against SARS brutality in Nigeria occurredafter a video was posted on Twitter showing an angry mob chasing after a vehicle carrying SARS officers, who were fleeing the scene after killing a man. Many shared graphic footage of overbearing police brutality and an online petition was created calling for the controversial squad to be disbanded. A judicial commission of inquiry to investigate the activities of SARS and recommend reforms was established the following year by the Nigerian government—but the commission's findings, which was quickly submitted to the government, has been kept away from the public for about two years now.
"It just shows the lack of genuine interest and commitment to bringing an end to SARS," said Bisong, the human rights lawyer. "Since Nigerians began to campaign against SARS a few years ago, the only thing the government has done is make failed promises."
The response by authorities to the ongoing protests has been swift. President Muhammadu Buhari early last week approved the disbanding of SARS while Nigeria's police chief, Mohammed Adamu, announced the formation of the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) to replace the unpopular police unit. But those moves have not been enough to quell the anger and protests have continued.
Police patrol Nigeria's Lagos after days of unrest
Barricades and police checkpoints dotted the empty streets of Lagos Friday as authorities tried to restore order to Africa's biggest city, under curfew following days of violent unrest. Sporadic gunfire was heard Friday morning but the centre of Nigeria's economic hub appeared calmer by the afternoon, and Lagos governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu announced he was easing the curfew. From Saturday, he said, "people can go out between 8:00 am and 6:00 pm".Sporadic gunfire was heard Friday morning but the centre of Nigeria's economic hub appeared calmer by the afternoon, and Lagos governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu announced he was easing the curfew.
"What the government has done is simply rebranding SARS," Uchenna Okechukwu, a protesters in Abuja, told The Daily Beast. "The fact that SARS officers are still serving in the police and no one has been held accountable for crimes committed against innocent citizens shows that nothing has changed."
The Nigerian police have long struggled with a reputation problem. Four years ago, the World Internal Security and Police Index ranked the country's police forces as theand revealed that corruption is a key issue affecting the institution. In the last 25 years, the government has shown little or no responsiveness to numerous demands for reform.
Since the mid 90s, successive administrations have set up panels to assess and make recommendations to reform the Nigeria Police Force but their findings have been largely overlooked.
A Presidential Committee on the Reform of the Nigeria Police Force(PDF) by then-President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua took a look at the reports of four government panels since 1995 and noted the failure of government to implement the recommendations of the former committees. Recommendations made by committees set up in 1995, 1997, 2002 and 2006 were either completely ignored or not fully implemented, according to the 2008 presidential panel, which made a number of suggestions to the Nigerian government, including reforming the budgetary process of the police to effectively check corruption and creating a credible public complaint mechanism. As usual, those recommendations were never fully considered by authorities.
As impunity and abuses by the police—particularly SARS—persist, the Nigerian people are displaying their energy and spirit. Across the country women and youth have been the driving force of the protests that keep growing by the day. Abroad, the Nigerian diaspora community have organized demonstrations in solidarity with their counterparts at home, with #EndSARS protests taking place in Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States. The voices of young people in Africa's most populous nation have never been this amplified.
"Until all those police officers who've abused, tortured and killed innocent Nigerians are held accountable, we are not going to end our protest," said Bartels, who's one of the young people leading the protest in Port Harcourt. "The Nigerian people can no longer be taken for granted."
Nigeria deploys 'all police resources' amid unrest .
The shooting of unarmed protesters earlier this week sparked the worst street violence seen in two decades.Mohammed Adamu said criminals had hijacked anti-police brutality protests and taken over public spaces.