Nigeria’s EndSARS Protests


Nigerian Citizens take to the streets to demand dismantling of corrupt police squad, future of the country may hang in the balance.

Daily protests in Nigeria erupted in the past weeks over the demand to dismantle the Special Anti Robbery Squad, or SARS. Tens of thousands of Nigerians marched in protest of the police force, and the government’s response to impose a 24 hour lockdown in some of the biggest cities in the country is bringing tensions to a critical breaking point [CNN]. 

SARS is a police unit known for its decades of corruption and abuse of power towards Nigerian citizens. The squad allegedly kidnaps, harrasses, and extorts citizens for money, specifically targeting middle class individuals. “If SARS see you as a young person who is successful with a nice car, they will harass you and extort money from you,” said an activist to BBC News.

Global human rights group, Amnesty International, stated that SARS carried out “at least 82 cases of torture, ill treatment, and extra- judicial execution,” between Jan 2017 and May 2020 [as told by VOX]

Protestors tokened the term “EndSARS” to demonstrate the clear motives behind the movement: the formal disbandment and reconstruction of the squad by the government. The term became a “battle cry” for activists, as written by journalist Motolai Alake, who believes it upholds “a tone of rebellion, a note of valid belligerency, and a chant of unification in the Nigerian struggle against police brutality and terrible governance” [CNN]. 

While the vast majority of protests have been peaceful, the government chose to impose 24 hour curfews and deploy riot police as a response to the public outcry. In Lagos, Nigeria’s most populated city, activists state the police opened fire on protesters once the lights went out. “Members of the Nigerian army pulled up on us and they started firing,” said activist Akinbosola Ogunsanya to CNN. “They were shooting, they were firing straight, directly at us, and a lot of people got hit. I survived, just barely.” 

Eyewitness accounts state the shooting went on for 15- 30 minutes that night, with many bodies lying in the streets in the aftermath. 

Nigeria’s President, Muhammadu Buhari, went to Twitter to express his stance on the state of SARS and the protests. “Our determination to reform the police should never be in doubt,” wrote President Buhari. “I am being briefed regularly on the reform efforts ongoing to end police brutality and unethical conduct, and ensure that the police are fully accountable to the people.” 

The protests further heighten the strain on the relationship between Nigerian citizens and their government. The social disparities, and the decaying economy within the state threaten a downward spiral for the country. The SARS protests may potentially be the final straw for an already unstable government [Washington Post].  

“Let me make you this promise today,” wrote President Buhari. “We will protect your children. We will protect your wealth. We will make this country work again” [as told by the Washington Post].