Over the past three weeks, the #EndSARS protests calling for an end to police brutality in Nigeria have taken the country by the storm. Last Tuesday, the protests turned deadly after Nigerian security forces opened fire on peaceful protesters at Lekki Toll Gate, an upscale suburb of Lagos, killing at least 12 people. An Instagram Live streamed by DJ Switch and watched by over 100,000 people showed viewers what was happening on the ground and videos taken during the incident immediately started flooding social media, with #LekkiMassacre trending on Twitter.
Nigerian youth galvanized social media to mobilize and spread awareness of the shooting at Lekki Gate. Within hours, advocacy groups like the Feminist Coalition and the EndSARS Response Unit redirected their efforts to setting up medical and legal aid funds, finding the whereabouts of missing protesters, and running hotlines to connect protesters to the resources they need. Nigerians were able to spread the word about the incident at Lekki Toll Gate, garnering immediate global attention. Across the world, solidarity marches and protests were held to stand with Nigerians and condemn the use of force on peaceful protesters. From world-renowned musicians to political leaders, the #EndSARS protests gripped the attention of everyone, amplifying the voice of Nigerian youth at such a critical moment.
Antonio Guterres, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, called for “maximum restraint” on the part of security forces when dealing with protesters, and urged the Nigerian authorities to “hold the perpetrators accountable.” The European Union likewise demanded that “those responsible for abuses be brought to justice and held accountable.” In the United States, a country that has had its movement against police brutality, the #EndSARS protests resonate strongly with citizens and public leaders.
The Congressional Black Caucus, which represents all 55 African-American members of the United States House of Representatives Congress, issued a strong letter to President Buhari, in a move that shows increased engagement by the African diaspora in the U.S. — and particularly just how powerful the voice of the Nigerian-American community — has been in pushing for change in Nigeria.
Vice President Joe Biden released a statement calling for “to engage in a good-faith dialogue with civil society to address these long-standing grievances and work together for a more just and inclusive Nigeria.”
While President Donald Trump did not comment on the #EndSARS protests, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Tibor Nagy, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State of African Affairs, both voiced concerns over what is happening in Nigeria. On Thursday, the U.S. State Department Counselor T. Ulrich Brechbühl met with Nigerian Vice President Yemi Osinbajo to raise concerns about the ongoing violence in Nigeria and what the Nigerian government is doing to address the demands of citizens.
Following a flood of requests to address the nation, President Buhari finally did so on Thursday night. While Nigerians were looking for the President to finally condemn the killing of innocent protesters, much to their dismay, he remained silent on the killings at Lekki Toll Gate. Instead, the President said that the government did indeed listen to the demand of protesters and scrapped SARS. He added, “On approving the termination of SARS, I already made it clear that it was in line with our commitment to the implementation of extensive Police reforms. Sadly, the promptness with which we have acted seemed to have been misconstrued as a sign of weakness and twisted by some for their selfish unpatriotic interests.”
The #EndSARS protests mark a pivotal moment in Nigeria’s and also Africa’s history. On a continent that has seen its fair share of corrupt governments it is inspiring to see young people using their voice to say enough is enough. Africans across the continent are taking to the streets to demand change and speak out against rape and sexual abuse, exploitation, police brutality and human rights abuses. From the Congo to Namibia, from South Africa to Cameroon, from Liberia to Ivory Coast, a generation fed up with being oppressed is rising. Nigeria’s #EndSARS protests will serve as an inspiration to citizens of these countries and could spark a new era of human rights struggles and victories across the continent.
The #EndSARS protests offer Nigeria in particular, and Africa as a whole, offer an opportunity for dialogue with the group of people who will determine their counties’ and the continent’s future: the youth. It is urgent that the grievances of Nigerians be addressed immediately, to set a new precedent for a more democratic and just Nigerian future. Regional organizations like the African Union must do more than condemn abuses and do their part to hold African governments accountable for their human rights abuses and utter failure in governance.