Nigeria’s movement comes as protests demanding the protection of Black lives continue in the United States. At their core, the protests carry the same message: A country that allows state security agents to kill and abuse people with impunity is not a mature democracy. And, as in the United States, this is not the first time Nigerians have risen up against police brutality.
Amnesty International documented at least 82 cases of torture, extrajudicial killings, extortion and rape by SARS between January 2017 and May 2020. According to their report, victims held in SARS custody have been subjected to “mock execution, beating, punching and kicking, burning with cigarettes, waterboarding, near-asphyxiation with plastic bags, forcing detainees to assume stressful bodily positions and sexual violence.” Arrests and cases are rarely investigated. Despite the fact that Nigeria criminalized torture in 2017, no SARS officer has been convicted.
In December 2017, after a video circulated of SARS officers fleeing the scene after killing a man, Nigerians took to social media to share their stories of abusive encounters with the police. Back then the federal government promised all manner of reforms and investigations. But protest organizers were clear about what they wanted: SARS needed to be abolished.
In 2016, the World Internal Security and Police Index rated Nigeria’s police forces as the worst in the world. According to recent polls, Nigerians place the majority of the blame on police and government for high rates of human rights violations. For the last 25 years, the government’s response to calls for reform has been a running joke on the continent. Instead of providing better training and disciplining units guilty of abuses, successive Nigerian governments have instead responded with useless committees and panels. In 2006, President Olusegun Obasanjo set up the Danmadami police reform committee. Then, in 2008, President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua’s Presidential Committee on the Reform of the Nigerian Police was set up to investigate the implementation of previous recommendations. In 2012, after reports that the terrorist group Boko Haram had infiltrated the police force, President Goodluck Jonathan fired the inspector general of police. He then proceeded to, you guessed it, set up a yet another committee to reorganize the police force.
And as abuses and impunity persist, Nigeria’s democracy has been dying in the darkness of government committee panels.
The energy and spirit of the Nigerian people is on display. On the ground, it has been Nigerian women and youth who have been the driving force of the protests. Feeling the pressure, a governor this week in Rivers State unconstitutionally banned #EndSars protests, but protesters took to the streets anyway. Nigerians around the world are also rallying around the #EndSars movement. Nigerian superstars, including John Boyega, Davido, Burna Boy and Genevieve Nnaji, have been tweeting in support. Jackie Aina, a Nigerian American beauty influencer, has also been posting information and links to organizations on her social media channels. In Houston, home to one of the largest populations of Nigerians in the United States, the singer Adekunle Gold helped organize a rally to support Nigerians in their protest against police brutality.
Here in the United States, the Congressional Black Caucus has even posted messages of support and solidarity. The #BlackLivesMatter movement has reminded us that for all of our lecturing to other countries about security reform and human rights, the United States has a persistent problem of police brutality and impunity. Worse yet, we’ve exported our own policing methods to other countries. The United States has offered training to Nigerian police forces. In 2017, police officers from Prince William County in Virginia trained members of the Nigerian police in human rights. This is the same police department that recently used tear gas and rubber bullets against peaceful protesters. The United States has also sold equipment and weapons to the Nigerian army and security forces.
Now Nigerians around the world are saying “enough” to police brutality, reinforcing the importance of the fight against police abuse here in the United States. And vice versa: Black Americans could stand to learn more from the years-long fight against Nigeria’s corrupt police force.
Nigeria is one of the most vibrant and dynamic countries in Africa. Sadly, it has had the misfortune of being ruled by shambolic, corrupt governments. But now the country, which has long been divided along religious and ethnic lines, has come together against police brutality, showing the power and spirit of the Nigerian people when pushed to their limits. As they say in Nigeria, “Naija no dey carry last!”
The people of the world’s largest Black nation deserve to prevail over state-sponsored oppression.