The Black Lives Matter movement has no borders. It recognizes the plight of the full diaspora in battling anti-Blackness and structural racism. That mission doesn’t end when the perpetrators are also Black—because we also know that marginalized people become weapons of their own oppression regularly. We aren’t here to debate the validity of this global movement but rather to link arms with our siblings across the diaspora who are in pain and under the foot of militarized policing and a lack of accountability. That is what #EndSARS is about.
For those who are still unfamiliar with the recent protests in Nigeria, here’s a very brief recap: A special unit of the Nigerian police, called the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, or SARS, was founded in 1992 to address crimes like theft and kidnapping, but instead members of the police unit have become some of the biggest perpetrators of that violence. The squad has an extended history of corruption and extrajudicial killings, with #EndSARS protests beginning in December 2017. Often operating in plain clothes, the SARS squad members are armed and unmarked, with no uniforms or badges, and they terrorize communities through bribes, torture, kidnapping, and worse. Several times over the last decade, the Nigerian government has promised to “disband” SARS, and yet the force continues to return with less accountability and more brutality. Their victims are often young people, queer people, protesters, and women—not unlike the police brutality and right-wing vigilante violence we see in the United States.
Despite past attempts to reform SARS, the violence has continued, leading to a second wave of protests. Earlier this month, a video went viral of a SARS officer shooting a young Nigerian. Shortly after, the 2017 hashtag #EndSARS started to trend again. As more reports piled on, the outrage only amplified, defying the Nigerian government’s efforts to quell the unrest. Following the refusal to meet key demands or protect citizens, protesters began to occupy Lekki Toll Gate, preventing the flow of vehicular traffic. After two weeks of demonstrations, the Nigerian Armed Forces attacked the unarmed protesters in what is now being called the Lekki massacre.
From Nigeria to the United States to Brazil and beyond, there is a leader-full, international movement demanding abolition, and we aren’t going away. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. famously declared, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Our outrage must always be consistent, especially when we know that crooked and abusive policing is a global crisis. To truly practice anti-racism and sustain community, we have to be in solidarity with those around the world experiencing these same problems.
What we saw in May of this year is true now: It’s time to pass the mic to those on the front lines of these fights to best understand what solidarity can look like and how to stay vigilant without feeling hopeless. Below, three Nigerian women spanning the diaspora share their raw reflections, pleas, and calls to action. Learn from them, support their work, and find your entryway into connecting the dots of racism as a global phenomenon that must be stopped.
Kanyinsola Oye, Organizer and Junior at Howard University
When I hear the words #EndSARS, I instantly think of a moment of justice. Those words represent the voices of the Nigerian youth finally being heard. Their movement reminds me of struggles against police brutality globally and the fight for Black lives in America. As a Nigerian abroad watching the violence taking place in your home country, you oftentimes feel helpless. You see your people dying, and you feel like there is nothing you can physically do to help your family and friends. But this is a misconception that will force you to lose focus on the importance of this fight—and the role you have in it.
The truth is that movements like this demonstrate that justice is not fought through one specific route. Instead, the struggle for justice is truly successful when individuals implement their different skills on the road to freedom. This may look like creatives amplifying the End SARS movement, organizations mobilizing to provide aid for protesters, or the simple act of sharing on social media. Every single one of us can contribute to the fight for a better world. The Nigerian fight is not only a struggle for Nigerians, but one that includes us all within the Black diaspora. We cannot reach full liberation until we are all free.
Danielle Mbonu, Photographer
I think what a lot of people are failing to realize in all this is that the whole #EndSARS movement is just one little piece of the puzzle. The bigger picture being years and years of oppression of the people by the government. I myself have been a victim of the notorious SARS, as I have been stopped various times and I’ve had to either talk my way out of it or pay ridiculous amounts of money. I had committed no crime, and yet this was what I had to do to avoid getting shot at, raped, or killed.
The justice system in Nigeria is so tainted; nothing actually works, nothing actually exists, no database, no way of accountability. So many innocent people are either dead or lost in the system. Everything is corrupt as hell! This is the first time since our independence [in October 1960] that so many people have come together to protest a common cause. And as soon as the government realized the power the people had, its officials decided to shut it all down and paint them as a “threat” to peace in the state, rather than do their jobs and meet the simple requests of the citizens. They restricted the media in Nigeria from airing news on anything related to the massacre, and the next day, the governor went on national TV to basically say, “Nothing happened.” The president did not even acknowledge any of it ever happened.
In my 21 years living mostly in Lagos, Nigeria, I never knew we’d reach this point. Right now more than ever, considering our media will not cover the real stories, and the military and government keep spreading lies to try and cover it up, I think it is so important for everyone abroad to keep sharing and keep talking about it, so the world knows what’s actually happening here. The main and most trusted group I’d say to donate to is @feminist.co. They have been the backbone of this entire movement and have taken care of so many people who have been affected through the protests.
Jess Chibueze, Music Curator and Influencer Based in Lagos
#EndSARS has evolved from a social campaign hashtag into a war cry. The Nigerian government has waged war against its citizens who they know cannot fight back with violence. They have underestimated how these same citizens are fighting back with technology and social media. We are being oppressed not only by SARS, but every facet of Nigeria. For me, the #EndSARS movement has been my generation’s rude awakening of just how wicked the Nigerian government is. Our parents warned us, and we called them cowards.
This isn’t the first time we’ve called for the abolishment of SARS, but this is the first time we’ve gained global support for the cause. This latest call to abolish SARS and the government’s refusal to listen has exposed the deep rot in our system that goes far beyond police brutality. Our military killed unarmed protesters on October 20 (the Lekki massacre). We just found out that our state governors have been withholding COVID-19 food relief from underserved communities. Our tyrant-like president used a pre-recorded speech to confirm his lack of empathy and compassion toward a democratic nation. What started out as a simple ask for our leaders to honor our right to life has morphed into the unearthing of even more corruption, ineptitude, and callousness in the system.
But most importantly for me, #EndSARS has broken mental chains that have kept my generation mentally subdued, defeated, and understandably complacent for decades. We were never lazy; opportunities to excel have always been withheld from us. We were never selfish; we were told to care only about ourselves and not trust our neighbors. We were never docile; we were forced to believe that if we stood up for ourselves, no one would listen. We are not scared; we just do not want to die. And we are not poor; the government just steals from us.
To learn more about the movement to end SARS and actions you can take, check out this infographic carousel post created by Adunni Brown in collaboration with @soyousanttotalkabout.
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