Nigeria endSARS protest continues, peaceful protestors shot dead by army

On Oct 20 evening, several reports and videos on social media appeared to show the Nigerian army opening fire on unarmed peaceful #endSARS protesters at the Lekki toll gate in Lagos after reportedly turning off the street lights and cutting phone networks. Casualty numbers are yet to be confirmed, although Amnesty International said late Tuesday that there was “credible but disturbing” evidence protesters had been fatally shot and witnesses told the BBC that 12 people were shot dead.

The movement #EndSARS has gained momentum on the social media and is supported by many celebrities.

Story so far:

In 1992, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad was set up by the Commissioner for Police to curb a spate of armed robberies in Nigeria. By 2009 it had become a large and powerful unit, and its focus expanded beyond armed robbers to internet fraudsters. It had also become largely uncontrolled.

Members of the unit were allowed to carry guns, drive unmarked cars and operate without badges or uniform. They became known for their violent harassment of innocent young Nigerians. They also forced young Nigerians to withdraw money from ATMS and make transfers under duress.

There are numerous examples of people who have been raped, harassed, flogged, extorted, injured or killed by the unit.

In 2016  a campaign was launched calling for the Special Anti-Robbery Squad to be disbanded. It became widespread and drew some attention. Within three years the unit had been reformed, overhauled, decentralised and disbanded about three or four times. But without success.

Then in early October the first protests started against the infamous police squad. Mostly young Nigerians gathered in the front of the House of Assembly in Lagos State to demand the end of the unit. Within days thousands of protesters had gathered in 100 cities around the world, with the #EndSARS trending globally.

The government announced on October 11 that, yet again, it was disbanding the Special Anti-Robbery Squad. But the protesters have not let up. They are now calling for wider reforms of the police. Adejuwon Soyinka asked Damilola Agbalajobi to explain why these protests are different and what their political implications could be.

Current situation:

The Protest against police brutality in Lagos turned bloody on Oct 20 despite a statewide curfew with eyewitnesses telling CNN that multiple demonstrators have been shot by soldiers. Demonstrators have taken part in daily protests across the country for nearly two weeks over widespread claims of kidnapping, harassment, and extortion by a police unit know as the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). Tuesday saw the state governor impose a 24-hour curfew and deploy anti-riot police to the city.

Death and severe injuries amid the protests have been reported since the weekend.