Bridled with unemployment, inflation and corruption, Nigeria is presently one of the world’s most impoverished countries. It is further plagued with insecurity in the forms of terrorism, kidnapping, armed robbery and violent conflicts. In the political sphere, election fraud and gross indiscipline are pervasive. Moreover, the presence of incompetent, unpatriotic and corrupt leaders has hindered the development of politics in Nigeria.
SARS (Special Anti Robbery Squad) is a branch of the Nigeria Police Force. SARS officers carry guns but do not wear Nigerian police uniforms or badges. Since the creation of SARS, they have been known for engaging in illegal acts and torturing the citizens of Nigeria- particularly the youth. They ask for bribes, extort, harass, kidnap, rape and even kill citizens. Over the years, there have been public records of SARS units committing acts of corruption and malpractice across the country (Shasore, et al.). Despite this, the Nigerian government has failed to take action.
Following years of evident corruption and police brutality reports, protesters took to social media to voice concerns and promote activism with the hashtag #EndSARS towards the end of September 2020. Around October 4th, 2020 peaceful protests erupted in the West African powerhouse’s major cities and all over the internet. Powerful photos of these demonstrations filled social media feeds, creating a visual archive in real time of this pivotal moment in history (Olanrewaju). The pictures, taken by amateur and professional photographers, documented unprecedented levels of peaceful activism as well as disturbing scenes of police violence at a number of the events. What started as a grass-roots movement to end police brutality in Africa’s most populous country has become a global phenomenon embraced by the world’s biggest celebrities including Rihanna and Beyonce.
As the protests continued, there were reports of police violence all around, from tear gas to live shots. But by the 20th of October, 2020, the world watched as the Nigerian government shot protesters at the Lekki toll gate. The protesters who were present stated that it was a “massacre” with multiple people killed and dozens wounded. But local authorities have downplayed that account. Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, admitted to CNN that footage showed uniformed soldiers firing on peaceful protesters but claimed only two demonstrators were killed (Busari et al.). But, he then said there was “not a scratch of blood” at the toll gate when he visited. The governor said no families had approached authorities saying they were missing relatives. In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, the army denied any involvement, describing reports of the incident as “fake news,” before backtracking and saying that soldiers were present but fired their weapons in the air and used blanks, not live rounds.
These protests went beyond fighting against police brutality but also fought against corruption in governance. The hope is that the measures taken to peacefully protest and evoke change are helping to build awareness that norms of honesty, accountability, and transparency within government.
Busari, Stephanie, et al. “How a Bloody Night of Bullets Quashed a Young Protest Movement.” CNN, Cable News Network, 19 Nov. 2020, www.cnn.com/2020/11/18/africa/lagos-nigeria-lekki-toll-gate-feature-intl/index.html.
Olanrewaju, Adenike. “In the Wake of Tumultuous #EndSARS Demonstrations, Nigerian Photographers Tell a Story of Strength and Hope.” CNN, Cable News Network, 9 Dec. 2020, www.cnn.com/style/article/new-nigeria-studios-end-sars-protest-photo-exhibit/index.html.
Shasore, Olasupo, et al. “Beating the Corruption Enterprise.” The Republic, 4 Jan. 2019,