What You Should Know About Police Brutality In Nigeria & The #EndSARS Protests

Photo: PIERRE FAVENNEC/AFP via Getty Images.
Over 20 Nigerian security forces reportedly opened fire on hundreds of peaceful demonstrators in Lagos on the 12th night of protests against police brutality in the country. While authorities confirmed that some people were wounded in the shooting in the city's Lekki district on Tuesday night, The Premium Times quoted witnesses that said 12 had been killed. Amnesty International said it had obtained credible reports of deaths. There is much online speculation that the Lekki death toll is even higher. #LekkiMassacre trended on Twitter throughout Tuesday night.
Videos circulating social media appear to capture audio of live rounds being fired at the toll gate in Lekki. Scenes of protesters removing a bullet from someone's wound and pleading for help were broadcast in a live video on Instagram by DJ Switch, a popular Nigerian DJ.
On Tuesday, a 24-hour curfew was implemented on the 20 million people who live in Lagos — Africa's largest city — to bring protests to an end. But the demonstrations against a unit of the Nigerian police force called SARS (the Special Anti-Robbery Squad) show little sign of ending.
SARS was established in 1992 to tackle robbery, kidnappings and other violent crime, but has widely been criticized for human rights abuses including torture, extortion and extrajudicial killings. Nigerians claim plain clothes officers frequently and arbitrarily target young men with tattoos, dreadlocks and expensive cars. Demonstrations began on October 8 after a video allegedly showing SARS officers shooting a man in Nigeria's Delta State was widely shared on social media.
On October 11, President Muhammadu Buhari dissolved the unit, but demonstrators have called for more changes, as well as reforms to the way the country is run. Lagos state Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu has said that criminals have hijacked the protests "to unleash mayhem". He said he had "watched with shock how what began as a peaceful #EndSARS protest has degenerated into a monster that is threatening the wellbeing of our society."

We are such a brilliant nation, all we do is succeed. But I am crying because they [the government] are killing my brothers and sisters and there is nothing I can do about it.

"Imposing this curfew was difficult, especially as we have just returned from a COVID-19 required lockdown," he wrote on Twitter. "This curfew will allow security officials to immediately restore order to the state, arrest thugs and miscreants that have disrupted the peace."
Omotoke, a 25-year-old fashion business owner who lives in Lagos, has been protesting in Alausa, Ikeja, where the Nigerian governor's office is based. "The government is killing people. We started protesting over 10 days ago and it was super peaceful," she tells Refinery29. "We were just taking care of ourselves, providing our own food and security. Then police started attacking our brothers and sisters in the capital Abuja."
Nigeria is currently grappling with the coronavirus pandemic, with positive cases totalling 61,558 and 1,125 deaths at the time of writing. However, Omotoke says she believes the government is lying about the numbers. "The government has killed more people than COVID-19 since the protests, do you know how maddening that is? As God will have it (I'm a Christian), COVID-19 is almost non-existent," she adds. She says police have been attacking protesters with tear gas, hot water canons and guns. "The president hasn't addressed us live since this has started. The government has watched us bleed whilst doing nothing."
The fashion business owner said the curfew was impossible. "Lagos is over-populated, how do you expect people to get home by 4:30 p.m.? It is not possible. However, the protesters at Lekki toll gate stayed brave enough because the curfew means to stay where you are, but then the military hit the streets."
She continues, "They were literally shooting at people. Loads of people have died and are injured. The people who swore to protect us were killing us whilst waving flags and singing the national anthem. They are supposed to stand down but they didn't. The protests have given me hope that as young people we can fight together for a Nigeria we deserve. We are such a brilliant nation, all we do is succeed. But I am crying because they are killing my brothers and sisters and there is nothing I can do about it. We watched our peers die on Instagram live."
Abiola, 23 — an unemployed graduate living in Abia, eastern Nigeria — who has been organizing protests, tells Refinery29 she is terrified and devastated. "Our police is out to kill us all. We protest with just cardboard papers and they use AK-47 rifles to shoot at us for no reason. What we thought would be peaceful protest has turned into a place of intimidation from police."
Abiola says the police have spared protesters no mercy. "It is hell here. The things I have seen — it is traumatizing. Our aim is to save those who can be saved, the ones that need operations for the bullets. We need outside financial help."
The Feminist Coalition is a group of Nigerian feminists who formed in July 2020 to champion equality for women in Nigerian society. They have set up a donation fund to support demonstrators and assist the injured.

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