Reflection: Diaspora Dialogues (Nigeria)

February 23, 2021

By: RaeChelle-Faith Hamilton - Toronto


“Guys, the military are here right now and they are shooting at us…” - A young Nigerian protestor capturing video footage during the protests.

In October 2020, the world stood still as Nigerian youth, women and men lined its streets calling for a complete disbanding and overhaul of the detested police Special Anti-Robbery Squad (Sars). Among the calls for its abolishment, Nigerians at home and across the world demanded that the government heed their calls to apologize to and compensate the families of victims of police brutality, as well as that those accused of weaponizing their power in the police force to tyrannize Nigerians be brought to justice.

The activities of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad have for years largely remained unchecked. Consequently, Nigerians have also demanded that an independent Human Rights Commission be instituted to audit and scrutinize SARS while initiating actual reform. From celebrities to world leaders, the wave of support for the protestors could not be ignored. Despite many major international cities experiencing lockdown due to the pandemic, youths mobilised and marched in droves across Toronto, London, Berlin and New York for example. Primarily through the effective use of social media, Nigerian youths utilised technology to amplify their demands for empathetic and judicious leadership.

This Nigerian police group for many persons, especially the youth, became a symbol of oppression, and the ensuing protests against the task force triggered unwavering international diasporic support that the government seemed unprepared for. Not only did the Nigerian diaspora rally across the globe to raise funds for marchers, and to highlight the daily tragedies, but the movement sparked an outpouring of allyship that transcended the African continent.

Initially, the #EndSARS protests were dismissed as another trivial momentary upheaval by overzealous youth. But as thousands shared Instagram stories, tweeted marches, and Facebook-lived the ongoing police brutality occurring throughout the period, the hashtag was no longer a merely trending topical issue. The blood-stained Nigerian flag and scores of youths wailing in anguish with eyes that burned simultaneously with terror and defiance dawned a glimmer of hope that Nigerians would now be HEARD.

In response, the government made consistent calls to ‘sit down with the protest leaders’, but the time for discussions had long passed. Nigerians now demanded action. SARS was disbanded by the President Muhammadu Buhari a few days after the protests first began. However, the protests did not stop there--particularly in light of the fact that a new police unit, the Special Weapon and Tactics (SWAT) was set up to replace SARS. This move, coupled with the government’s imposition of a 24-hour curfew to discourage further protests only added more fuel to the youth’s fire. The protests continued despite the curfew and eyewitnesses claimed that the military used brute force to dispel them. It is reported that over 60 Nigerians lost their lives.

Presently, whilst there still remains much work to be done to reform the Nigerian police force, at least one key demand has been met-- a judicial inquiry into police abuse. The #EndSARS protests have led to an awakening among Nigerian youth [and their allies] for years to come.