Opinion | #BLM provides momentum for #EndSARS


Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Under the trending hashtag #EndSARS, people are bringing awareness to police brutality in Nigeria.

By Ajani Powell, For The Pitt News

Police brutality is not just an American problem, it is a frequent set of incidents that result from those in authoritative positions abusing their power.

The Special Anti-Robbery Squad is a now-dissolved police force in Nigeria established in 1992 when robbery ran rampant throughout cities. It was created as a separate force that would act independently and undercover to respond to small crimes like theft. Since officers were plainclothes, this allowed the organization to get away with much more violence in public view without much accountability.

Nigeria’s Independence Day is Oct. 1, making 2020 its 60th year of Independence. Two days later, on Oct. 3, came the first viral tweet addressing the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, also known as SARS. The tweet described current vulgar events inflicted on young boys in Nigeria that day.

Within hours, #EndSARS was trending on Twitter. Under #EndSARS there were people describing what was occurring in Nigeria, and others bringing awareness to how long the violence has been operating. There were GoFundMes in the comments trying to raise money for families impacted. It was all across my social media feed — there was no avoiding it.

SARS was introduced to people in the United States through the international dialogue about police brutality on different social media platforms. Since its introduction, it has gotten much support from Black Lives Matter advocates, as people believe it is an extension of what BLM fights for. Amid the frequent coverage of BLM in recent months, #EndSARS is able to share the spotlight with these protests to amplify its voice and bring attention to their issues.

After the implementation of SARS, there still wasn’t success with capturing bandits. That was, until the practice of abuse and torture came along. Once there would be more reports and arrests due to abuse of power it became a normal and reoccurring act. SARS would torture and exploit residents for information. They used this abuse beyond suspects of robberies — they would also abuse people that may have expensive or charitable items, had certain hairstyles or have tattoos. The abuse ranges from beatings to waterboarding, sexual assault, mock trials and beyond.

For example, Ayotunde Adesola, a University of Lagos graduate, was accused in 1993 of being in a gang when walking down the street. To make him confess, SARS officers used irritant powders on his face and beat him. Bola Afilaka and Ayodele Adejuyibe, two university students, were shot and killed in 1995 when Afilaka would not stop at a car checkpoint. There was also a 1999 incident where a man died in SARS custody from being held in interrogation for days and subjected to abuse. He was accused of theft of a vehicle. Regardless of whether they committed these crimes or not, these people did not deserve to be beaten or killed.

These aren’t even recent events that are occurring in Nigeria, yet this draws comparison to Black Lives Matter in America. There are many examples of Black people being targeted and racially profiled. In 1955, Emmett Till was lynched after being accused of offending a white woman in the grocery store. In 2012, a volunteer neighborhood patrol shot and killed Trayvon Martin for seeming suspicious as he was walking home after getting Arizona tea and Skittles. In 2018, police shot and killed Antwon Rose because they suspected him of participating in a drive-by shooting. These are all people who deserved to live without being subject to the abuse of power they endured.

Since Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd on May 25, America has met with much protest and many people rioting for justice. The ongoing fight has sparked a greater wave of support for BLM, with protestors demanding change against the frequent acts of police brutality, making it impossible to ignore the necessary reformation. Many protests have demanded reformation of the racist system, abolition of the unjust judicial system and defunding of police. Black Lives Matter has been such a monumental part of recent months that addressing it is almost required — it is a part of society now. As it should.

The momentum of BLM has given a broader platform to other systems abusing power. Although police brutality from both the American police and SARS has been going on for a long period of time, this issue is now getting the recognition it deserves. If BLM did not have the traction that it did, it is unlikely that #EndSARS would be as well known in the United States.

The ability to amplify voices is important, and it is great to see social media bringing awareness to situations that would not get as much coverage, especially for minority groups with restriction or little exposure in popular media. #BLM has set a precedent for protest and awareness that has inspired other hashtag activist movements like #BringBackOurGirls, #MeToo and now #EndSARS. If it weren’t for social media for providing the platform, we may not have been informed about these movements.

Social media outlets are imperative because they are not controlled by our government, and we can respond appropriately. We may be divided by oceans and documented borders, but we are still experiencing similar problems. #EndSARS is #BLM — it is identifying and critiquing the same issue. Black people in America or Black people in Nigeria are still Black Lives that Matter. We cannot expect change from the world when we ignore problems because they are foreign to us, just as we should not have double standards for foreign and domestic issues.

For instance, there are people, including government leaders, who will speak about BLM or SARS from an international perspective and lend support, but when the same issue is presented in their home country, they will be silent. 

“We hope that greater efforts be made to restore confidence between the police and the Black communities,” Garba Shehu, the spokesperson for Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, said. “We equally urge that incidents like this should not be allowed to happen again.”

This is performative and hypocritical because although Buhari decided to dissolve SARS, he is replacing it with SWAT. We can’t petition for changes elsewhere and be blind to what is happening in our own country. Some people feel removed from responsibility when these issues are inflicted somewhere else, but this is ridiculous. You can’t say #EndSARS and then say you don’t support #BLM — or vice versa — when they are addressing the same issues.

All in all, we need to support one another because the issues for which we are fighting where we currently reside may be happening elsewhere. As Martin Luther King Jr. once wrote in my favorite quote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Although #EndSARS may have expanded its platform off of the momentum from #BLM, that becomes irrelevant when we are fighting for the same cause — the right to existence.

Ajani Powell writes about social influences and Black culture. Contact them at [email protected].