What is #EndSARS, and Why Should You Care?
If you follow me on social media, you would hopefully have seen me post a bit of information about #EndSARS over the past few weeks. Some people have engaged in a discussion; others have merely scrolled past.
I do not live in Nigeria; I'm not a Nigerian. I cannot speak firsthand on the experiences of those who have dealt with SARS in the country. What I can advise to other non-Nigerian, non-Nigerian-dwelling people is why we should care.
For a little bit of background from my limited knowledge and non-existent firsthand experience, SARS, or the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, is a unit of the police in Nigeria which was set up in 1992 when armed robbery was widespread throughout cities such as Lagos. The unit ran operations undercover in order to catch criminals and boasted early success stories before reports of abuse of power started filing in.
Over the years, these reports have grown - reports of torture and inhuman treatment, bribes, killing, false arrests and punishment. The first instance of the government promising reform occurred in 2008, and there have been many similar promises since. However, these promises have not eventuated into anything much.
In 2017, the Twitter campaign for #EndSARS began as people across Nigeria shared their stories of human rights abuse from SARS officers.
The protests and demonstrations at the beginning of this month were prompted by a viral video of the murder of a young Nigerian by a SARS officer. A few days later, nationwide protests kicked off, led mostly by young people, calling on the Government to shut down SARS.
Another few days later, on October 11, protestors presented a list of five demands to the Federal Government of Nigeria. These demands included the following:
The immediate release of those arrested during the protests
Both justice for those who died at the hands of police brutality throughout Nigeria and compensation for their families
The establishment of an independent body within 10 days, charged with the task of investigating and prosecuting all reports of police misconduct
The psychological evaluation and retraining of all SARS operatives
An adequate increase in the salaries of the Nigerian police
These demands were signed, 'A Nigerian Youth'.
Peaceful protests continued across the country as young people persevered in their call for an end to SARS.
An indefinite 24-hour state-wide curfew was declared on October 20 at 4pm West African Time (WAT) by the Lagos State Governor. This curfew was then extended until 9pm WAT. During this period, video footage circulated of cameras being turned off at Lekki tollgate, where protesters were peacefully gathered, and the street lights being powered off by an official.
At 6:45pm WAT, the Nigerian Army arrived and began shooting into the crowd of unarmed protestors. Among the many injured, Amnesty International has confirmed 12 people died during this incident in what is known as the Lekki Massacre. Another 26 people died across Nigeria that day, bringing the confirmed death toll since the beginning of the protests at the start of October to 56. Due to the continued cover-up of these deaths by the Nigerian government, it is difficult to get an exact figure.
I spend a lot of time watching the news. As I work, I have ABC 24 running in the background, just in case something major happens.
On October 21, I did not see a single report on ABC about the Lekki Massacre.
A couple of days later, however, I noticed a report on ABC about young Nigerians looting. At the end of the report, there was a throwaway mention of the cause of the protests and the massacre.
Our ignorance in Australia is not good enough. As a country built on a foundation of colonisation, we can no longer turn a blind eye to the plight of peoples around the world whose social and political history has been disrupted by colonisation, as Nigeria's has been, and pretend this isn't something we need to care about.
As I shared information on my social media, I noticed my story views significantly declined. Since my first post about #EndSARS, my story views were down over 10 times of their normal numbers on Instagram and Facebook; I was being shadow-blocked.
I stopped posting about #EndSARS as a test to see what would happen; sure enough, my views jumped straight back up. Days after the Lekki Massacre, Instagram and Facebook apologised for flagging #EndSARS posts as 'fake news'. Apparently, the company had been flagging information shared about the human rights violations in Nigeria on and around October 20th as false after 'failing' Facebook's fact-checking test.
This means that not only were we, as Australians, unable to learn about what was happening in Nigeria through our government-funded media outlet, but we were also unable to learn about the protests and the massacre due to the algorithms that blocked legitimate information from being shared.
With the viral spread of the deaths at the hands of police officers in the United States earlier this year, it shows that sharing information about the topic of police brutality and Facebook's ability to fact-check on this topic is not limited; it is only limited in being a conduit of this information outside of the 'Western bubble'.
Nigeria is the 7th biggest country in the world by population, accounting for over 2.5% of the global population. Nigeria is a powerhouse economy in the continent, having topped South Africa as having the highest gross domestic product (GDP) of all African countries in 2019. It should be in all country's economic interests to call on the Nigerian government to ensure peace and adherence to human rights throughout the nation.
But more than as an economic interest, Nigeria is home to over 200 million individuals, with one of the highest percentages of youth. These young people deserve better. These young people deserve a chance at a safe life, where their government, law and order enforcement officials can be trusted and relied upon. They deserve a life of opportunity without fear. And it is our responsibility to listen to their stories and share their stories and encourage our government officials to advocate on their behalf.
I am passionate about this topic; however, my knowledge is limited. I encourage you to research the firsthand experiences of young people across Nigeria. A great place to start is the #EndSARS campaign on Twitter.