On Oct. 20, 12 people were killed and many were left injured after men dressed in military uniform opened fire on a peaceful protest in Lagos, Nigeria. While the rest of the world is just now becoming acquainted with this monstrosity, for Nigerians the massacre epitomizes a head-to-head civil unrest that has spanned decades.
This protest was one of many demonstrations taking place in the country seeking to disband SARS—The Special Anti-Robbery Squad. SARS is a unit of the Nigerian police, notorious for abusing the human rights of unarmed citizens. On the front lines of the movement are young Nigerians who insist that SARS preys on them without a justifiable warrant.
SARS allegedly targets individuals based on their external features such as hairstyles, fashion and tattoos. Using high-end luxuries—such as driving nice cars or using an iPhone—puts one at a greater risk of being profiled by SARS. Mounting evidence against the group displays that the group rapes, extorts, kidnaps, tortures, steals from and unlawfully detains the innocent civilians of Nigeria.
Initially, the demands of protesters was to reform the police, abolish SARS and ensure that justice is delivered to victims of police brutality. Because the government is continuing to disregard these wishes, the movement’s demands are widening. In addition to calling for law enforcement agencies to respect the rule of law, youth are demanding more respect for human rights and a deepening of democracy.
There is speculation that the shooting was a premeditated government move as security cameras were disconnected just before the first shots were fired. That possibility is hardly surprising as brutality towards innocent civilians has been widely backed by the Nigerian government in the past.
The Algerian army insisted that the footage from the massacre is being manipulated.
Many feel that the President of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, is not treating the upheaval with the urgency it requires. The lack of energy put into rebuilding trust between the government and the public is being widely felt. In Buhari’s first public appearance since the killings, he did not even directly recognize the event. This fueled the divide. Rather, Buhari called on protesters to “resist the temptation of being used by some subversive elements to cause chaos”.
The EndSARS movement is serving as a sort of outlet for Nigerian youth as it follows a year of bottled-up turmoil between them and the government. The discontent among youth was already simmering given the economic crisis sparked by the fall in global oil demand, institutionalized corruption and state profligacy that have drawn more Nigerians into poverty.
In addition, Covid-19 left many college-age students feeling slighted after learning institutions were closed for eight months following strikes by educators. This laid the foundation for a call for justice that is equally as desperate as it is demanding.
Perhaps the movement is being led by young people because they have the courage to equate their age with potential. Young Nigerians are trying to take control of their history. They refuse to live in the same world as their ancestors before them.
The EndSARS movement is about something deeper than just police brutality, it is about restoring hope in democracy and faith in humanity. This matters because humanity is universal, the plight of the youth in Nigeria is ours to share.