By Qur’an Hansford
Do you know what is going on in Nigeria?
The ‘Special Anti Robbery Squad’ (SARS) was put in place in 1992 to protect civilians from armed robbers in Lagos, Nigeria. Instead, this militia has extorted, harassed, attacked and killed innocent youth. It has profiled Nigerian youth with nice cars, nice clothes or for simply having an iPhone, with the assumption that they have partaken in fraud or are involved with a crime.
“The SARS unit has been accused of targeting young people who appear well-dressed, shaking them down for money and torturing and abusing and even killing those who resist. Amnesty International says it documented more than 82 cases of abuse and extrajudicial killings by SARS officers from January 2017 to this May,” according to The New York Times. Many of the victims were between 18 and 35. Nearly half of Nigeria’s population of 182 million is below age 30, one of the world’s largest concentrations of young people.
The Nigerian government has disbanded SARS in 2017, in 2018 and in 2019, said Omobolanle Adams, 25, a Nigerian graduate student at Boston University who spoke with the New York Times.
The youth have been leading the movement both in Africa and the United States. Here in the United States there have been demonstrations all across the country. While we were all at home during the beginning stages of COVID-19, we were forced to watch police brutality take the life of George Floyd, sparking a 100-day protest in all 50 states and in over 60 countries.
Now, the roles are reversed and we are seeing Black people abroad enduring similar abuse and brutality from their police force.
Social media has been the driving force between the two worlds — it has been keeping those who are not from Nigeria or have not heard about SARS updated and informed about the atrocities that are occuring there.
The #EndSARS hashtag on Twitter obtained global attention, echoing particularly in the United States which was the birthplace of the Black Lives Matter movement. Demonstrations of solidarity have been held across the Nigerian diaspora in cities like Atlanta, Berlin and London, according to the New York Times.
In the beginning of October, New York held a demonstration of young protesters gathering in front of the Nigerian Consulate General in Midtown Manhattan to share their own stories of police brutality while in Nigeria and to demand action from the Nigerian government.
As the protests over the SARS killings grew, demonstrators faced an increase in violent strikes from security forces.
In the demonstrations in Oyo State, an unidentified bystander was killed in Lagos as the police fired bullets into crowds of protesters. Protesters and journalists were also shot at and beaten in Abuja, the capital city of Nigeria and countless more have been arrested and remain in custody.
The demonstrations have been the biggest in Nigeria in recent years, according to the New York Times. Nigeria has been torn down by weak governments and corrupt leadership for decades. Nigerians are divided among religion, ethnicity and class, so it is exceptional to see demonstrations around Nigeria because they do not often join in mass protests. But since the protest began, protesters of varying economic status and religion have taken to the streets to voice their demands. Top Nigerian celebrities like the pop stars Wizkid, Davido and Tiwa Savage have attended rallies in big cities. The protests have also bridged generational gaps as older citizens have briefly joined demonstrations.
Oftentimes social media is only looked at and used as a leisure tool, something to pass the time, but we have seen much more come from that. A simple post and a tweet of a hashtag can let someone you know learn about what is happening not only in Nigeria but in Africa. The hashtag #EndSARS exposed the silent genocide in Congo or the Anglophone crisis in Cameroon. Africa is bleeding. Many times we ask ourselves how can we help by being so disconnected? In fact, we are more connected than ever before, we have more power and ability at our fingertips that can reach anyone in the world. This is a humanitarian crisis that cannot be ignored further.
How will you help?