Over the weekend of October 9th -11th 2020, #ENDSARS was tweeted over 28 million times as the rest of the world discovered the social movement created by the citizens of Nigeria, but what does the hashtag stand for? And why is it so important to Nigeria?
The End Special Anti-Robbery Squad movement calls for the banning of an often plain-clothed unit of the Nigerian Police Force, a unit that is riddled with controversy and well-known for their acts of police brutality and oppression.
The SARS unit have been accused of engaging in kidnapping, murder, theft, rape, torture, humiliation, unlawful detention, unlawful arrest, extrajudicial killings, extortion, and failure to wear face coverings. A report in June 2020 by Amnesty International documented at least 82 cases of torture, ill-treatment, and extra-judicial killings by the unit between January 2017 and May 2020, despite them failing to prosecute a single officer during this period.
The list of crimes above is staggering, especially as they are police officers; their role is to uphold and enforce the law, not break it in a variety of inhumane ways and spread fear across the country.
The accusations of awful crimes committed by this unit have been around for a number of years, however this is the first time that they have been so virally spread via social media, the hashtag opened eyes across the world to the improper goings-on in Nigeria.
A Nigerian Twitter user, who goes by the Twitter handle of “Chinyelugo” posted a video that he claimed to show a SARS unit shooting a young boy in Ughelli, Delta. He went on to state that the unit left the boy to die at the side of the road in front of the Wetland Hotels, before hauling the deceased boy into a jeep and driving away. Despite Chinyelugo having just 800 followers, his tweet received over 10,000 retweets, an example of how the movement made its first move into widespread social media.
Chinyelugo told the BBC that: “ If SARS see you as a young person who is successful with a nice car, they will stop you to harass you and extort money from you.”
After the viral Tweet, real-life protests began in the streets of Nigeria, people gathered in their masses to demand the end of the SARS unit and police reform. Roads in major cities were blocked off as demonstrations took place in over 100 cities in the country, resulting in the deaths of at least 10 protesters, as police fired live ammunition, teargas and water cannons at the protestors who simply want a better life for themselves and their families.
As the hashtag and videos of the protests gained more and more momentum on social media, celebrities and public figures began to show their support for the movement, notably international icons such as Kanye West, Drake and Marcus Rashford, all before Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey joined the campaign and invited Twitter users to donate to the cause.
Premier League stars with links to Nigeria such as Chelsea FC striker Tammy Abraham and Leicester City FC midfielder Wilfried Ndidi were especially vocal about the movement, sportspeople that may have memories of the death of fellow athlete Tiamiyu Kazeem.
Kazeem was a Nigerian footballer who was killed by a hit-and-run driver in February 2020 after being stopped by SARS officers. This is not an isolated example of sportsmen falling victim to the actions of the unit, as another footballer, Izu Joseph was killed four years previously by law enforcement agents during a community raid.
By the end of the weekend, the End SARS movement had taken over Twitter, and protests began to start up here in the UK to stand up for the people of Nigeria when they needed it the most.
The movement had some success as the SARS unit was disbanded and dissolved on Sunday 11th October, but for many the fight is far from over, as similar promises have been made in the past that failed to come to fruition, and the government still continue to violently repress protests despite the announcement.
Whilst there is still a long way to go, the speed of the movements social media takeover is a positive sign, the world is now aware of the illegality surrounding the actions of certain officers in Nigeria. After international icons joined the thousands of Twitter users vowing to fight until Nigerians can live in peace, it is assured that this movement will not simply fade away and shows that large amounts of people are committed to the cause.
Protests continue as the Nigerian public reject the plans to replace SARS, fearing that this will simply be an outfit set to continue the oppression under a different name. The eyes of the world are now on the Nigerian Police Force and government, and they will not take any excuses, they want an end to the brutality immediately.
Whilst it may seem ridiculous to think that there are groups of supposed police officers in Nigeria doing the exact opposite of what their role asks of them, the oppression is very real and Nigerians need the help of the rest of the world to right this wrong and enable them to live in peace without fear of threats and attacks from the very people who are at liberty to protect them.
Source: BBC interview with Chinyelugo
Tweets from Chinyelugo, Tammy Abraham, Wilfried Ndidi, Kanye West, Jack Dorsey, and Drake