#EndSARS: A Closer Look at Nigeria’s Most Important Hashtag

Protests erupted in Nigeria on 8th October 2020, calling for the abolishment of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). While there is limited data on the alleged crimes of this police unit, accounts from human rights watch dogs and several video evidences which have surfaced online prove the accusations to be valid. 

The #EndSARS hashtag first appeared on Twitter in 2017 but started gaining global attention when the online protests translated into street protests in October 2020, resulting in over 20 million tweets been made globally using the #EndSARS hashtag as well as demonstrations by Nigerians in different countries across the globe. 

Subsidiary Impacts
The protests against police brutality in Nigeria was globally amplified by online movements, with twitter serving as the core platform used by protesters. In a bid to maximize results, Protesters presented the Federal government to Nigeria with 5 demands that are required to reform the police force. These demands include;

  1. The immediate release of all arrested during the protests
  2. Justice and compensation for all deceased victims of police brutality and appropriate compensation for their families. 
  3. An independent body to oversee investigation and prosecution of all reports of police misconduct within 10 days.
  4. In line with the new police act, psychological evaluation and retraining of SARS operatives (to be confirmed by an independent body) of all disbanded SARS officers before they can be redeployed.
  5. Increase police salary so that they are adequately compensated for protecting the lives and properties of citizens.

The persistent use of  #EndSARS drew the attention of individuals around the world, leading to the following responses from the Nigerian government and the International Community.

  • Following the five demands of aggrieved protesters for an improved police force, the Inspector-General of Nigeria Police Mohammed Adamu, banned the FSARS, Special Tactical Squad (STS), Intelligence Response Team (IRT), Anti-Cultism Squad and other tactical units from mounting of roadblocks, checkpoints, stop and search and other routine and patrols.
  • On Friday, 9 October 2020, the Lagos State House of Assembly held an emergency parliamentary sitting and made a seven-point resolution to fulfil the petition of protesters across the nation. The House Resolved as Follows, that:
    1. The Commissioner of Police Lagos State should protect End-SARS Protesters in the state and ensure that they are not molested
    2. The Commissioner of Police should stop unwarranted molestation of our youths by the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad otherwise known as F-SARS and its counterparts in the State.
    3. The Senate President and the Speaker of National Assembly should institute public enquiry on the extrajudicial activities, killings,maiming and dehumanisation of our youths by the Anti- Robbery Squad ; ensure that the victims are duly compensated while erring officers sanctioned appropriately.
    4. SARS be proscribed and a new security outfit which will be more efficient with clearly spelt out code of conduct and rule of engagements be established while sanction is imposed for misdemeanor.
    5. Mr President to ensure that culpable officials of SARS receive the punishment as prescribed by the National Assembly.
    6. Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Public Petitions liaise with the Commissioner of Police and Attorney General of the State to fashion out ways and means to address allegations of ruthlessness and extra judicial killings contained in the petition against SARS in the state.
    7. The Governor of Lagos State Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu engage relevant institutions to protect lives and property in the state such that phones, laptops and other means of communication belonging to youths are not confiscated indiscriminately without warrant.
  • On 9 October 2020, the #EndSARS became the number one hashtag trending globally on social media.
  • By October 11 2020, Nigerians in the diaspora commenced #EndSARS campaigns across the cities of London, Dublin, NewYork, and Canada.
  • On Sunday, 11 October 2020, Nigeria’s Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu announced the “dissolution” of SARS.
  • On Tuesday, 13 October 2020, the Public Relations Officer of the Nigerian Police Force, Frank Mba, announced the setting up of a Special Weapon and Tactics Team (SWAT) to replace SARS. This announcement was met by a new hashtag #EndSWAT as the replacement was widely rejected by Nigerians. 
  • Notable footballers, Marcus Rashford and Mesut Ozil, and celebrities like Viola Davies, Trey Songz, Cardi B, Big Sean, Jidenna, John Boyega, Kanye West, Drake, Diddy have stood by protesters, calling for the end of police brutality in Nigeria.

Issues to Consider

The response of the Nigerian Government to the #EndSARS protest will contribute significantly to determining Nigeria’s democratic standing globally in the short term. Some issues to Consider will include the deployment of fully kitted military to quell protesters leaving several injured, the killing of at least 10 protesters by men of the Nigerian Police Force. Based on the above premise, and the depletion of civil liberties in Nigeria, the country could slip  into the spot of “Authoritarian Regime”  joining other 20 African countries including Rwanda and Ethiopia. 

The Future of Hashtag Campaigns?

As features designed to streamline topics and ease the searchability of discussions on digital platforms, hashtags have become social media staples used across different industries to amplify causes, connect with like-minded individuals, and promote products and services. Globally, the concept of hashtag activism has been implemented to spread awareness about social issues, and has proven powerful for democratizing the use of social media. Hashtag activism enables the dissemination of information at a larger scale, and is particularly useful in environments with a crippled local media or highly regulated free speech. Over the past years, hashtags like #BringBackOurGirls,  #BlackLivesMatter, #MeToo, #EarthDay, among others, have been advantageous in the global promotion of equality, climate change, and justice. The growing use of social media in Nigeria means that more people have access to amplify social issues 

In Nigeria, young people and young  tech professionals are known targets for police brutality. With the Nigerian population dominated by youths (85%) and an increasing focus towards tech in Africa, police brutality threatens the lives and careers of this group. Violence within a potentially promising environment could demotivate investors, resulting in decreased funding, increased unemployment rate (which currently exists at 40.1%), and a further weakened economy.