Hundreds of Bay Area residents – many of them Nigerian and Nigerian-American – gathered at Lake Merritt Amphitheater in Oakland Oct. 24 to rally around the #endSARS movement.
Those at the gathering protested against police brutality in Nigeria, particularly demanding for the end of a special police unit known as SARS, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad.
What is SARS?
SARS was formed in 1992 in response to violent crimes in Lagos. Over time, the unit has developed a reputation of acting recklessly with impunity.
A report by Amnesty International cited at least 82 cases of abuse including torture, mock executions, and sexual assault over the past three years.
Why are people protesting now?
On October 4, a video circulated online that appeared to show SARS officers dragging two men from a hotel and shooting one dead.
The video incited protests in Lagos and other major Nigerian cities. The hashtag #endSARS went viral in a matter of days.
International celebrities such as Beyonce, Chance the Rapper, Rihanna have utilized their platform to speak out against SARS – in turn, reaching millions of their fans.
Has anything come of it?
President Muhammad Buhari agreed on Oct. 12 to disband SARS. Protesters rejectedthis plan, saying that Buhari’s move was just “lip service” and that many SARS officers would be deployed elsewhere within the Nigerian police force. Thousands continued to protest in the streets this week, even after Lagos instated a 24-hour curfew. Interactions between demonstrators and the police have become violent.
The Lekki Massacre
On Tuesday, Oct.20, the Nigerian army and police opened fire on peaceful protestors at the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos. Another attack happened in Alausa, another location in Lagos.
At least 12 died and hundreds were injured, Amnesty International reported.
Protest in diaspora
Demonstrations have erupted both online and in international locations around the world.
The role of youth and their utilization of social media has propelled the situation in Nigeria onto an international stage. Half of Nigeria’s population is under the age of 19 – pointing towards the importance of youth driving change in the country and in diaspora.
While the few hundred gathered in Oakland Oct. 24 was far less than the estimated tens of thousands of people demonstrating in cities like Lagos, one thing was clear: solidarity among Nigerians both in the country and in diaspora.
“Enough is enough!” a demonstrator yelled into a microphone at the gathering in Oakland. “We want a better government, and that’s why we are using our voice. We want a better Nigeria.”