ENDSARS is a decentralized social movement and series of mass protests against police brutality in Nigeria, disbanding of the Social Anti-Robbery Squad SARS and bad governance. The protests which takes its name from the slogan started in 2017 as a twitter campaign using the hash tag #ENDSARS to demand the disbanding of the unit by the Nigerian government. After experiencing revitalization in October 2020 following more revelations of abuses of the unit, mass demonstrations occurred throughout the major cities in Nigeria, accompanied by vociferous outrage on social media platforms. Solidarity protests occurred throughout the major cities of the world. The protest is notable for its patronage by a demographic that is made up of entire young Nigerians.
The protesters first target was the notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). This special police unit was established formally in 1992 to curb robbery, then a serious problem in Lagos. In its early years, it recorded impressive achievements, notably busting several violent gangs, and it earned a great deal of praise. After its first decade, however, the poor supervised unit began to display declining professionalism and increasing brutality. Some of its personnel started to intimate, arbitrarily arrest, extort & even kill innocent citizens. In numerous recent cases, SARS officers, often on unauthorized street patrols, abducted and shoot down helpless youths, forcing them to make bank transfers online or marching them to ATM to empty their accounts at gun points as a condition of regaining their freedom. SARS thus became synonymous with blood stained detention centers and culture of impunity that pervades Nigeria’s security and intelligence service. It is often obtained confessions from suspects through torture. So confident were SARS agents of being above the law that, according to numerous witness accounts, they often dared their victims to report them to the Police Inspector General or even President. With time, a large number of Nigerians began to see SARS operatives no longer as law officers, but as a pack of wolfish criminals
SARS officials have been alleged to profile young Nigerians, mostly males, based on fashion choices, tattoos and hairstyles. They were also known to mount illegal road blocks, conduct unwarranted checks and searches, arrest and detain without warrant or trial, rape women, extort young male Nigerians for driving exotic vehicles and using laptops and iPhones. Nigerians have shared both stories and video evidences of how offices of SARS engaged in kidnapping, murder, theft, rape, torture, unlawful arrests, humiliation and extortion of Nigeria citizens. A large section of victims of the abuses of SARS have been young people.
The 2020 protest was instigated as a recent of what happened on Saturday, October 3, 2020, a video showing a SARS police officer shooting a young Nigerian in front of Wetland Hotel, Ughelli, Delta State trended on the internet. It was alleged that some police officers took away the young man’s vehicle — a Lexus SUV. The trending video caused public out cry on social media, especially on twitter.
On Thursday, October 8, 2020, nationwide protests on ENDSARS started after weeks of outrage and anger with videos and pictures showing brutality, harassment and extortion in Nigeria. The protests were led predominantly by young Nigerian in different cities, alongside many activists and celebrities. On Sunday, October 11, 2020, the ENDSARS protesters made a list of five demands to be met by the Federal Government of Nigeria. The demands which were signed by ‘A Nigerian Youth’ demanded for immediate release of all arrested during the protests as well as justice and compensation for all who died through police brutality in Nigeria. They also demanded that independent body set up within 10days to investigate and prosecute all reports of police misconduct. The protesters also asked for the psychological, evaluation and retraining of SARS operatives before they are deployed to other police unit. Lastly, they asked for adequate increase in the salaries for officers of the Nigeria Police
In response to the public outcry on police brutality, the Inspector-General of Nigeria Police banned the FSARS, Special Tactical Squad (STS), Intelligence Response Team (IRT), Anti-Cultism Squad and other tactical units from mounting of road blocks, checkpoints, stop-and-search and other routine and patrols. Similar bans had been announced multiple times over the previous four years, causing citizens of Nigeria to question whether the bans would actually uphold. There were further reports of SARS officially involved in killings across the country. As this was the fourth time the Nigerian government has announced a similar ban on SARS activity.
But after its decision to disband SARS, the police infuriated the protesters anew by announcing that it would immediately set up new Special Weapons & Tactics (SWAT) team to replace the old unit. Many protesters crisis group that spoke in Lagos and Abuja felt that the hasty transformation would simply amount to relabeling the hated squad, citing an earlier name change that had made no difference in SARS officers’ behavior.
This therefore made the peaceful protest continue with the hash tag #ENDSARS #ENDSWAT. However, The Nigeria Police Force disrupted the protests in some cities, throwing tear gas, using water canons and shooting at unarmed peaceful protesters as seen in Lagos, Abuja, Osun, Oyo etc. This led to the death of Jimoh Isiaq in Ogbomoso, Oyo State. Unprecedented protest against police brutality then spun to deadly clashes in several major cities in Nigeria. On October 20, 2020, soldiers allegedly opened fire upon protesters gathered at toll gate in the largest city, Lagos killing at least a dozen according to rights groups, although the government rejects these findings. A protest which started peacefully, later witnessed widespread violence with loss of lives, destruction of public and private infrastructure across the country.
In all of these, it is quite unfortunate that the youths seeking for a fair treatment and good governance are now being prosecuted. This is a call for the government and individuals to stop prosecuting and harassment of peaceful protesters and focus instead on governing the country the way it should be. Those in authority should fix Nigeria, which was already near collapse, address security problems the unprecedented public discontent over poor governance, extreme income disparities between those who hold political office and millions of other citizens, immediate resuscitation of federal industries, stable electricity, adequate medical facilities, poverty alleviation, urgent need to repair bad conditions of the federal roads, job creation should be made available so as to curb the daily increase in unemployment.
These and more are what should be the paramount concern in Nigeria at the moment and not prosecuting peaceful protesters thereby diverting from the main problems facing Nigeria today.