Home Politics Anti-Police Protests in Nigeria : Shooting, Pandemic, Social Crisis and Youth Connect
A girls' school in Nigeria was attacked by gunmen. Dozens of female students were kidnapped.

Anti-Police Protests in Nigeria : Shooting, Pandemic, Social Crisis and Youth Connect

by YCPress

Police violence like the Freud incident is happening every day in Nigeria. It has nothing to do with racism, but the level of violence is heinous. 

The Nigerian Anti-Robbery Special Operations Squad (SARS) is known for its torture, extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrests and illegal extortion. 

The Nigerian people have accumulated their dissatisfaction with SARS for a long time. The video of SARS shooting a young man that appeared on social media on October 3 set off a protest in Nigeria. Such a large-scale national protest can be described as unique in Nigeria’s nearly 20-year history.

People walk past burnt buses at the deserted Ojodu Berger bus terminal, during a protest against police brutality, in Lagos on October 26, 2020. – Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari on October 25 appealed for “peace” as authorities struggled to halt looting across the country, the latest in a wave of unrest sweeping Africa’s most populous nation.†A statement from the presidency said Buhari backed a judicial inquiry in Lagos “to give justice to peaceful protesters who lost their lives, security men who were murdered” and those who lost property in days of violence. (Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP)

SARS brutality and police violence

SARS brutality and police violence “Because one of the main responsibilities of SARS is to deal with robbers and bandits, they can easily say that the people they executed rob and commit crimes. The dead cannot defend themselves.”-Interviewee L

SARS in Nigeria was established in 1992. Its mission is mainly to investigate and arrest armed robbers, bandits, kidnappers, and other violent criminals. With the prevalence of cybercrime in Nigeria in recent years, investigating and punishing cybercriminals has also become one of the main responsibilities of SARS. 

SARS police officers are dressed in civilian clothes and are known for their brutal methods. Most people are afraid of them.

Nigeria has a group of people called “Yahoo Boys” who specialize in online fraud. Their common methods of committing crimes include making friends online to induce the other party to send money, and phishing to obtain private information such as bank accounts. 

They also pretended to help disadvantaged groups withdraw money in front of the cash machine, and exchanged bank cards for fraud. Once the fraud is successful, they can make a fortune. Yahoo Boys like to show off and often drive luxury cars and wear famous brands. SARS is the institution that punishes these cyber crimes. 

With this power, SARS often arbitrarily intercepts young people who wear wealthy clothes, drive luxury cars or carry laptops. They intercept vehicles at will and coerce the youth to hand over their belongings, just like robbery in broad daylight. “SARS will even take you to the cash machine and force you to withdraw all your bank deposits, otherwise you will be put in prison.” L told me.

Those arrested by SARS will face a more terrible nightmare. According to reports from international organizations, people in SARS prisons cannot see their family or friends, nor can they seek legal aid. 

During the period of imprisonment, SARS will use various types of torture and ill-treatment to force the arrested person to confess guilt. These tortures include severe beatings, hanging the imprisoned person, refusing to provide food, and even shooting directly in the leg. The brother of friend L was arrested by SARS for purchasing an unknown mobile phone, and he was imprisoned in a SARS prison in Abuja. 

The prison transformed from this animal slaughterhouse is the most terrifying prison in Abuja. In the end, his family spent huge sums of money to bail him out. And more innocent lives who could not pay bail died in SARS imprisonment.

Most young people in Nigeria have been harassed by SARS either by themselves or by friends around them, and public grievances have been accumulated for a long time. 

The video of SARS killing young people caused a strong response on social media and became the fuse of the protest. However, SARS is only the tip of the iceberg of police violence in Nigeria.

According to reports from international organizations, the Nigerian police force causes hundreds of extrajudicial executions or disappearances every year. From the beginning of March to the end of April, the police extrajudicial executions in Nigeria resulted in 18 deaths.

Nigerian government uses violence to sanction anti-violent protests

If I can make Nigeria a better country by sacrificing myself, I will have no hesitation. People are not afraid of death. People are shot at protest, killed by bandits, and tortured to death by SARS. They are all dead.

Nigerians overseas can protest, and they will not be killed for protest. After the protest, I seriously wanted to leave my country for the first time.

After the video of SARS shooting youths was spread on the Internet, Nigerian youths born in the 1980s and 1990s self-organized peaceful protests on social media, calling for the dissolution of SARS and the cessation of SARS violence and extrajudicial executions. 

By October 8th, the protests had spread across the country. Nigerians separated overseas have also begun protests in London, Paris, Toronto, New York, Indonesia, Finland and other parts of the world. The protest was supported by celebrities such as Rihanna, Cardi B, and Twitter president Jack Dorsey.

On October 11, the Nigerian government announced the dissolution of SARS. The Nigerian government subsequently promised to replace SARS with the newly established “Special Weapons and Strategic Team” (SWATS). 

But the protesters were not satisfied with the result, believing that it was just a makeover. The Nigerian government claimed four times to reform SARS from 2006 to 2016, but the actual situation has not changed at all. The protesters believe that the government’s commitment this time will not bring actual changes. 

The hashtag #EndSWATS on Twitter was reposted in large numbers, and the protesters also further demanded that the government stop the violence in all police agencies. 

On October 19th, gangsters in Edo Province in southern Nigeria rushed into the prison to release the prisoners. Most of the prisoners escaped from the prison. In the early morning of October 20, arsonists burned down the police station in Lagos. At noon, the Lagos government announced that it would implement a 24-hour curfew at 4 pm that day, and no one was allowed to go out.

Demonstrators barricade the road to protest against abuses by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) at the Lekki toll Plaza in Lagos, on October 12, 2020. – Nigerians protested to pressure the government to follow through on disbanding a feared police unit after authorities made the rare concession in the face of widespread anger over abuses. Around 2,000 people blocked one of the main highways in the country’s biggest city Lagos, demanding officials make good on an announcement on October 11, 2020, that the federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) was being scrapped. (Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP)

On October 12, 2020, in Lagos, Nigeria, people took to the streets to stage a demonstration against the serious violations of the police’s “special anti-robbery action team” and demanded reform of the police system.

The Nepalese media and the public often suspect that pro-government politicians have hired thugs to disrupt the originally peaceful demonstrations. 

Protesters always emphasize peaceful protests because they know that once the situation gets out of control, the government has sufficient reasons to send police and military forces to suppress and arrest. 

The mob brought knives and clubs, burned vehicles, robbed shops, dispersed protesters, attacked police and security personnel, destroyed personal and public property, and even rushed into prison to release prisoners, completely contrary to the intentions of the protesters. 

During the Nigerian election, politicians hired mobs to create chaos and destroy ballot boxes. This time, witnesses and videos confirmed that a mob walked out of the police car with sticks and began to cause chaos. Some mobs also dictated that they had accepted politicians about 10 to 30 yuan in money to help them create chaos.

When the Lagos Police Station was burned down, the Governor of Lagos said: “I was shocked to see the peaceful #EndSARS parade evolve into a monster that threatens the harmony of our society.

In order to prevent criminals from creating chaos under the cover of protests, I It was announced that the curfew will begin at four o’clock this afternoon.” The government subsequently delayed the curfew until nine o’clock that night. But at about 7 o’clock in the evening, the government shot the protesters at Lekki Gate in Lagos.

Lekki Gate is an important passage connecting the mainland of Lagos and the surrounding islands. Blocking this traffic artery has a great impact on the operation of the city. Before the shooting, the protesters had camped here for more than a week to protest. In these days, some vehicles waited at the toll booths to pass until three in the morning. 

On the evening of October 20th, protesters still peacefully protested at the Lekki Gate toll booth in Lagos. At about 7 o’clock in the evening, someone came to remove the CCTV cameras in the area, and then all the street lights suddenly turned off. At this time, the protesters shook the national flag and sang the national anthem to pray together.

However, gunshots rang soon afterwards and the ambulance was blocked by the police from entering the area to save people. According to reports from international organizations, at least 12 people were killed and many injured in the shooting.

The Lekki Gate massacre caused an uproar around the world. Politicians, the African Union and the United Nations have all condemned the actions of the Nigerian government. 

However, the Nigerian army refused to admit that they were at the scene of the incident and pointed out on Twitter that the relevant media reports were fake news and the video was “processed with Photoshop”.

 However, the protesters live on Instagram Live that day showed that many people were injured, and the live broadcast cannot be faked. On October 20, the Lagos State Government also made a statement denying involvement in the incident.

On October 22, President Buhari delivered a national speech on protests. In his speech, he not only avoided talking about the Lekki Gate shooting, but also made a threatening speech: “I call on the protesters to resist being used by some subversive elements. These subversive elements are intended to create chaos and undermine our nascent democracy.

If you do not do this, your actions will damage national security and undermine the law and order. Under no circumstances can this be tolerated.” On October 28, Nigerian Army Representative Fang admitted that the army was at the scene. He explained that the Lagos government deployed the army because multiple police stations were burned down and policemen were killed, but they did not shoot at the people. The governor of Lagos said that only two people died in the shooting. The government’s practice of covering up the truth of the incident has aroused more public dissatisfaction.

Before the Lekki Gate massacre, many protesters had been killed by police or security personnel. Protesters everywhere were also attacked by tear gas and water guns dropped by Nigerian police. As of the end of October, the violence that occurred during the protests in Nigeria had resulted in 73 deaths, of which 22 were police officers. The peaceful protest against the violence of government police agencies has been exchanged for further violence by the government and military. This is simply a huge irony.

Youth Connection

From non-governmental organizations to start-ups, forces from all walks of life participated in this protest. In Nigeria, where patriarchy prevails, the Feminist Alliance NGO, mainly composed of young women, has become one of the core protest groups.

They raised nearly US$400,000 for the protest. Fintech company Flatterwave and a number of technology startups also jointly raised funds for the EndSARS parade. After the Bank of Nigeria closed the Feminist Alliance’s account, Flatterwave assisted it in receiving donations in cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin. 

In addition to providing food, emergency medicine and other material assistance to the protesters, the funds raised are also used to hire private security personnel and private ambulances to ensure the safety of the protesters. The funds also cover the costs of court prosecutions for protesters arrested in various parts of Nigeria and medical expenses for victims of police violence everywhere. The protesters also set up an emergency helpline and set up their own radio station. 

Social media and technological innovation brought fresh power to this protest and also helped Nigerian youths to unite and speak up. In Nigeria, where class divisions are severe, protests also broke class barriers. The protesters are united regardless of their identity or origin. Stars such as Nigeria Runtown and Falz took the lead on the streets. From unemployed youths to celebrities, the protesters chanted. DJs brought audio equipment on the streets, and protesters sang and danced to the music.

Nigeria’s north-south division has always influenced local identity politics. The population in the north is dominated by Muslims and supports the ruling party’s All Progress Conference. Southern Nigeria is dominated by Christians, and mostly supports the opposition People’s Democratic Party. The gap between different religious beliefs and ethnic groups is deep. 

However, this protest has a certain degree of cross-regional identity barriers, which has a wide-ranging impact across the country. In the capital, Abuja, nearing the Muslim Friday prayer time, Christian protesters took the initiative to clear the roads, intercept passing vehicles and assist Muslims in praying on the streets. Such a scene is extremely rare in Nigeria.

Nevertheless, many people in the north do not support the suppression of SARS. SARS atrocities in northern Nigeria are often more secretive. They will force victims to sign non-disclosure agreements after torture, revealing that the victims of their atrocities may face their lives. Therefore, SARS violence in the north did not cause widespread concern as in the south. The factors of insecurity in northern Nigeria are complex. 

From terrorist organizations to wars between farmers and herdsmen, from wanton kidnapping to robbery by bandits, the people in the north are in danger. One of the tasks of SARS is to deal with bandits. The dissolution of SARS may lead to more rampant bandit actions, so some northern youth support reforms rather than ban SARS. 

Interviewee L pointed out, “Although I know the atrocities of SARS, I don’t want SARS to be disbanded. Who will deal with the bandits after they are removed? Because there are more people who died from bandits than because of SARS.”

While the SARS protests are gradually unfolding, the northern provinces continue to experience security crises. On October 12, Boko Haram killed 14 farmers in Borno State in northern Nigeria. Robbery by bandits in Katsina State on October 13 resulted in at least 12 deaths. On October 29, the robbers in Zamafara State shot and killed 21 people.

It is precisely because the people in the north face such threats on a daily basis, the protests in northern Nigeria mainly target regional security issues such as the Boko Haram terrorist organization, kidnappings, bandits and robbers, which are different from the southern protests. Protesters in the northern provinces used #EndBandits and #EndInsecurityNow as slogans. 

Protesters in the north also slogans “Empower SWATS to end northern insecurity” (Empower SWATS to end northern insecurity), demanding that the government send the disbanded SARS police to the north to combat local criminal forces.

As the government agreed to ban SARS, some protests in the south have gradually turned to dissatisfaction with the overall governance of the government. Some protesters even shouted slogans for the current President Buhari to step down. To a certain extent, SARS is only the fuse of the incident.

Government corruption and abuse of power, poor national governance, inflation, soaring unemployment, insufficient infrastructure, extreme inequality, regional insecurity, etc. make people live for a long time. In danger and extreme poverty, this is the root cause of protests. These problems seem to intensify in recent years.

ABUJA, NIGERIA – OCTOBER 12: People stage a demonstration against Special Anti-Robbery Squad (Sars) in Abuja, Nigeria on October 12, 2020. Demonstrators demand that the government break up the Special Anti-Robbery Squad and release those detained in previous protests (Photo by Adam Abu-bashal/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Repeated protests against the disbandment of the Nigerian police “special anti-robbery team”

Looting the government granary

“My job is okay, but after Coronavirus, all my friends and family are unemployed. Now I have to support six people.”

“We need these relief food, it is our right. My neighbor was almost starved to death because of Coronavirus pandemic.”

As of the end of October, Nigeria had about 62,000 Coronavirus cases. Since the emergence of case zero in early March, Nigeria’s states have gradually begun to lock down. Nigerian government official Chris pointed out that Nigeria cannot afford the consequences of a blockade like other countries. 

Nigeria has more than 90 million people living below the poverty line of US$1.9 per day, more than 40% of the national population. The closure of the market during the COVID-19 period caused most of the Nigerian population working in informal industries to lose income. The youth unemployment rate exceeds 25%.

The Coronavirus pandemic has not spread in Nigeria on a large scale, but the unemployment and economic recession brought about by Coronavirus pandemic blockade have brought a huge impact to the lives of the people. People say that the “hunger virus” is more terrifying than the new coronavirus.

Rising prices have made the situation worse. The Nigerian government is facing a severe financial crisis under Coronavirus pandemic. Starting in September, the Nigerian government reduced government subsidies for motor vehicle oil, resulting in an increase in oil prices. This is the second increase in oil prices since June this year, and the increase has reached 24.9% since June.

 The Government Electricity Regulatory Commission also announced that it will stop subsidizing electricity tariffs from September 1, which will cause electricity tariffs to double. Due to union pressure, the Nigerian government has postponed the start of the new electricity tariff. In addition, basic food prices in several states have increased by nearly 20% over the same period last year. Rising prices have made life more difficult for people who were facing unemployment and hunger.

The day after the Lekki Gate shooting incident, the palace of the traditional leader of Lagos was ransacked by the people. Angry young people dragged the throne into chaos, robbed property, and swam in the palace swimming pool. Subsequently, the Lagos government granary was also looted. 

At the same time, a mob robbed the government granary in Abuja. A large amount of hoarded food with the words COVID-19 and Not for Sale is stored in government warehouses. Witnesses pointed out that people came from various places, rushed into the government granary, and carried away food such as rice, instant noodles, and oil from the warehouse. And the protesters were far more involved in the robbery, most of them were ordinary people. Abuja’s security personnel also joined the robbery.

On October 22, 2020, the shopping area in Lekki District, Lagos City, Nigeria was looted. The army suppressed peaceful protesters who ignored curfew restrictions. Chaos was triggered. More than 20 important state institutions were set on fire. The store was destroyed and the food store was robbed.

As the news spread, residents of all states in Nigeria began to rob government warehouses, and government granary robberies occurred in 12 of Nigeria’s 36 states. In Kogi, Taraba and other states, a stampede occurred during this process, resulting in at least 10 deaths. Some people were injured in the crowd carrying 50 kilograms of rice. There are also warm scenes in the seemingly crazy robbery. Some people who grab the food distribute the food to beggars, the elderly and the disabled who have difficulty participating in the robbery.

People also found Coronavirus relief food when they ransacked the homes of politicians. After a government official in Lagos was robbed from his home, he said that he had planned to distribute relief food on his birthday two days later. These indicate that the food in the government granary may be the relief food that the government originally allocated for the people, but it was corrupted or hoarded by government officials. Many people think that the relief food originally belongs to them, and they just get back what belongs to them.

Nigeria began its blockade in March. The food relief policy formulated by the central government stated that it would distribute food and cash to 3.6 million poorest families, benefiting about 15 million people. Today, the Nigerian Pandemic has eased, public places have basically been opened, and almost no one wears masks on the streets. Most people said they never received government relief. The government’s embezzlement in disregard of the safety of people’s lives has caused extreme dissatisfaction among the people.

The Nigerian Governor’s Forum denied the government’s claim that the government is hoarding Coronavirus relief food. The spokesperson said that such a statement is completely wrong and misleading the public. The state governments have given different opinions on the hoarding of food. For example, the Lagos government pointed out that it was protests that caused the relief food to be unable to be distributed in time. 

The anti-coronavirus alliance formed by Nigerian businessmen and companies donated a lot of money to the government. They claimed that the excessively large amount of purchases caused the supply to fall short of demand and the production stagnation, so the government also received relief food. Some government officials also stated that the hoarding of food was in preparation for the second wave of the Pandemic. Most people doubt this statement.

The robbery of the government’s granary seems to be an angry and powerless resistance against government corruption and the continued squeeze of the people during the Pandemic. However, gangsters also participated in the robbery, and social disorder was gradually serious. Robbery in many places has spread from the government granary to surrounding businesses or wealthy houses, which has become a veritable crime. The government justifiably began to arrest the looters. 

The Calabar City Government ordered the security agencies to conduct house-to-house searches and arrest people with robbed items in their homes. As of the end of October, 71 government warehouses and 248 private shops have been looted in 13 states in Nigeria, and 1,596 people have been arrested for robbery or violence.

On October 24, the Nigerian Police Inspector General ordered the deployment of all police forces to stop the unrest. Many police officers were stationed on the streets of Abuja to contain the #EndSARS protest. Many states in Nigeria have announced a curfew, and ordinary people who appear on the streets during the curfew will be arrested. Protest marches in Nigeria’s provinces have also almost stopped.

If we look at the effect of the protest from the government’s response, the government’s promise shows that the protest has been successful to a certain extent.

As early as the beginning of the protest, the government made compromises to demands related to police violence. In addition to disbanding SARS and reforming the police agency, the government agreed to the five-point request made by the protesters on October 13, including providing appropriate compensation to victims of police violence and their families, conducting investigations and psychological assessments of SARS police, and so on. 

The federal government also ordered the prohibition of the police from arbitrarily censoring the people and checking their mobile phones at will. The governor of Lagos State, located at the center of the protests, set up nearly $50,000 in funding for victims of police brutality. At the same time, he established an eight-member judicial team to investigate cases of police violence in the state.

At the same time, the government realized the importance of youth, and the federal government announced the establishment of a youth fund of about 6.5 million U.S. dollars. Governor Imo also said that the funds will be used for youth empowerment projects. SARS police violence is only one of many social and governance problems in Nigeria.

The resolution of SARS violence will not necessarily bring great changes to Nigerian society, but more importantly, this protest made young people realize their strength. The huge influence caused by the protests and the compromise made by the government are themselves a huge encouragement to young people.

However, protests and riots have also caused certain negative effects. The originally declining economy has been further damaged, and the organization of Internet power has also aroused the government’s vigilance. The government may further control public opinion. Members of the House of Representatives stated that the public property and infrastructure losses caused by the protests were close to $2.6 billion. 

The huge economic burden and the government’s already stretched budget means that such economic losses will most likely be borne by the people. With various anti-government remarks, rumors, and fake videos on Nigeria’s social media, the Nigerian military announced that it will begin nationwide investigations on the Internet codenamed “Smiling Crocodile” from October 20 to December 31. This action will focus on identifying, tracking and responding to negative publicity on social media.

Interviewee Y said to me that Nigerians are most known for their hard work, but the failure of government governance and selfish leaders have caused people’s suffering. This is why Nigerians overseas tend to excel. If society provides enough opportunities, Nigerian youth can definitely make a career. This protest demonstrates the courage and social responsibility of Nigerian youths, and this is only the beginning of the youth’s promotion of social change in Nigeria.