Around the United States, people have rallied together and taken to the streets to protest police brutality as it appears in North America, fueled directly by the death of George Floyd and countless other incidents of the same ilk. The protests that have taken place across the States have not only incited discussions and spurred change locally, they seem to have also sparked similar movements around the world.
We saw protestors support the BLM movement everywhere from England to Australia, however, over in Nigeria, they are contending with a similar yet drastically different situation in their own fight against police brutality, and it’s one that’s now reaching a boiling point here in the States too. Similar, because they too are fighting to put an end to police brutality and unlawful behavior by those meant to protect them– however drastically different, in the sense that, the police unit they are protesting appears to have a much more sinister background, with a complete disregard for the law and their citizens.
What is SARS?
SARS stands for the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, a special police unit that was founded in 1984. Despite the good intentions behind the unit, in so far as Nigeria was dealing with a rise in crime and kidnappings, the SARS unit has since been frequently accused of using unlawful tactics in their approach to criminality, as well as accusations of killing their own citizens. An Amnesty report from June of this year detailed some of the brutality inflicted by the unit, stating:
“Detainees in SARS custody have been subjected to a variety of methods of torture including hanging, mock execution, beating, punching and kicking, burning with cigarettes, waterboarding, near-asphyxiation with plastic bags, forcing detainees to assume stressful bodily positions and sexual violence.”
Their report documented 82 cases of police brutality between 2017 and 2020, and stated that rarely, if ever, were the police officers in question brought to justice/investigated further.
The situation, however, all came to a head when a video went viral of alleged SARS officers killing a young man in October. SARS reportedly claimed the video was fake, and the man who filmed the video was arrested, angering citizens further.
An #ENDSARS protestor shows their support in London, England, October 21 2020 – Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
The Disbanding Of SARS, But the Establishment of Another SWAT
In the face of all this, President Muhammadu Buhari announced that SARS would be disbanded effective immediately on October 11, 2020.
In a video announcement, the President stated, “The disbanding of SARS is only the first step in our commitment to extensive police reforms in order to ensure that the primary duty of the police and other law enforcement agencies remains the protection of lives and livelihood of our people.”
Yet, in its place, the government has said they will create a new SWAT team to “fill the gaps arising from the dissolution of the defunct SARS.”
Thus, Nigerians have continued their protest efforts, as they demand change beyond the establishment of another type of police unit– one that would ultimately do the exact same type of governing as SARS– leading many protestors to simply switch their signage to read #ENDSWAT. It’s worth noting, this is not the first time the Nigerian government has promised to disband or reform SARS. Both in 2017 and 2018, an overhaul and investigation was promised, although it appears that little to no change actually occurred.
Lekki Toll Gate Shooting
As the #ENDSARS protests continued last night, we tuned in from a Live IG stream by way of DJ Switch (@djswitch_), which documented police officers seemingly opening fire on the protestors at Lekki Toll, as DJ Switch revealed seven people were shot, and she herself held her camera up to show us the bullet wounds as they pleaded for help, and an ambulance. All the while, Switch exclaimed how the police were preventing them from reaching an ambulance or receiving assistance, as they blocked off the Lekki Toll and started fires in the distance– in the distance of IG Live stream, a sea of orange flames were clearly visible.
As viewers came pouring into her live stream, many celebrities were tagged in the process as well as new outlets around the world, in an effort to bring light to the situation, and document it properly for the world to see– just in case the police officers attempted to deny what happened. It appeared to have worked, as BBC Africa later tweeted that “The rights group @amnesty says it has received credible evidence that excessive force was used against protesters in Lagos.” Since last night, we’ve also seen countless celebs show their support for Nigeria, including Rihanna and Beyonce.
DJ Switch has also continued to keep her IG Stories updated on the gunshot wound victims as well as their protests– documenting yet another gunshot wound victim the very next day, and calling once again for help. You can check her page here.
Lagos’ Governor Issues a Statement on #ENDSARS Protestors
Following the protests and gunshots receiving coverage worldwide, the governor of Lagos, Babjide Sanwo-Olu, issued a series of statements on twitter. He started last night by revealing he had visited the Lekki Toll shooting victims. “This is the toughest night of our lives as forces beyond our direct control have moved to make dark notes in our history, but we will face it and come out stronger. I’ve just concluded visits to hospitals with victims of this unfortunate shooting incident at Lekki,” he tweeted alongside images from the hospital.
Sanwo-Olu continued tweeting updates this morning, revealing one person had died, although it’s unclear if they were a protestor.
“Information reaching us now is that a life was lost at Reddington Hospital due to blunt force trauma to the head. It is an unfortunate and very sad loss. This is an isolated case. We are still investigating if he was a protester,” the governor tweeted.
He continued shortly after in a twitter thread addressed to Lagosians, where he purported to detail how exactly the protests turned sour.
“We were making progress together though the pace was slow due to lack of an acceptable leadership amongst the #EndSARS protesters.
However, events took a different turn from Sunday 18, October 2020 as criminal elements took advantage of the firm orders handed down to the officers and men of the Nigerian Police not to resort to shooting as a rule of engagement. In Ogolonto, armed gangs unleashed mayhem on one another. While this was happening, other criminal elements joined in attacking innocent citizens who were returning from church services. There were cases of robbery of citizens and rape of frightened women scampering for safety. Other criminal elements in turn began to unleash terror on citizens in different parts of the State like Fagba in Ogba & Ebute Metta.”
He continued to say that they would be calling upon the President Muhammadu Buhari to investigate what exactly occurred at Lekki Toll Gate. The President has yet to release a statement on yesterday’s events.
“For clarity, it is imperative to explain that no governor controls the rules of engagement of the army. I have nevertheless instructed an investigation into the ordered and the adopted rules of engagement employed by the men of the Nigerian Army deployed to the Lekki Toll Gate. This is with a view to taking this up with the high command of the Nigerian Army and seek the intervention of President Muhammadu Buhari in his capacity as the Commander-in-Chief to unravel the sequence of events that happened yesterday.”
You can view some of the Governor’s tweets below.
We’ll keep you posted as more information comes to light regarding what exactly occurred at Lekki Toll Gate.