These last few months, the #EndSARS uprising in Nigeria has received a lot of attention and solidarity on the African continent and elsewhere in the world. Many accounts, including some brilliant ones, have been written from members of the Nigerian diaspora in South Africa and the United States. We wanted to do things differently and ask someone living in Nigeria to write a text for us. Sada Malumfashi accepted and provides us with this description of the movement.
The #EndSARS wave of protests against police brutality in October 2020 gained more momentum and distinction than any other social protest in Nigeria, in that it refused formal leadership, avoided political parties and any centralized organization or organized labor unions. The Special Anti-Robbery Squad of the Nigerian Police Force (SARS) has been the target of protests since 2017, but the latest revolt was driven by young Nigerians, tired of being harassed, detained, and having friends killed by the police.
The Special Anti-robbery Squad is a unit under the Nigerian police force created in 1992 to fight crimes associated with armed robbery and kidnappings in the country. However, in the past two decades, SARS officers have been responsible for hundreds of extrajudicial executions and disappearances. SARS officers particularly target and detain young men for suspecting them of cybercrime or being “online fraudsters,” on the sole evidence of their owning a laptop or smartphone. They then ransom their liberty with excessive bail fees.
Since 2017, protests have been building momentum across Nigeria, stemming from online advocacy to street revolts. For almost three weeks this Fall, Nigeria whirled around multiple demonstrations across the country after a video showing a member of the SARS killing a man surfaced on social media, sparking public outcry. Beyond any previous movement in Nigeria, its inclusivity was extraordinary, it was a generation-Z on the ground movement that directed their anger towards the political establishment. The heroes of the #EndSARS uprising are young Nigerians out of school for almost a year due to incessant union strikes and the government’s inability to properly fund the educational sector. They carried the heavy lid of the protests on their backs across streets in the various states in Nigeria. They ensured water was on ground, food was available, and facemasks went round to shield against the coronavirus. A group of women under the aegis of the “Feminist Coalition” spearheaded this drive helping to organize and fundraise the protests and planning further on how to effect change in Nigeria with the gathering momentum. The Feminist Coalition, a group consisting of 14 women coordinated support for the #EndSARS movement and established a fund that raised nearly 150 million naira (330,000 euros) to support the protests within a few weeks. They paid for hospital bills of victims of police brutality, bailed protesters arrested by the police, paid for their legal fees, as well as hired private security guards for protection from hoodlums at the protest grounds across the country. It is not the first time Nigerian women have been at the forefront leading, organizing, and maintaining the momentum of movements. No doubt that these feminist women of the #EndSARS protests were determined not to be erased from the annals of history.
A photograph of another woman, an activist and protester Aisha Yesufu wearing a full hijab covering with a bag hung across her chest and throwing a fist in the air became a figure of boldness and tenacity for the #EndSARS protests. This was just one among many powerful photographs that came out of the protests, a remarkable difference from other previous protests in the country in terms of photography coverage and output. Armed with high-resolution mobile cameras and social media presence, most of the pictures out of the protest popped up viral on social media without marks or ownership. However, they were powerful images that conjured emotions of the nation during the weeks of protest and the ugly reality of the value of a Nigerian life. Through the images, one is able to grasp and document the enormity of the #EndSARS protests, as reminders of how our actions can be powerful tools for historical change.