The #EndSARS movement draws parallel to Black Lives Matter
Updated: Jan 13
Both movements have been spearheaded by young demonstrators fed up with the status quo
For the first time in my life, as a Nigerian American, the imperfections of our beautiful republic are on display for the world to discern.
Millions of global citizens who engaged with the heartbreaking images, videos and testimonies from the #EndSARS movement were left with more questions than answers on the current state and well-being of Nigeria.
SARS is Nigeria’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad, assembled in 1992 to arrest and prosecute suspects in violent crimes such as armed robberies, kidnappings and murders. Over the years, these plainclothes officials regressed from fighting for justice for Nigerian natives to inflicting the same violent harassment, extortive tactics and assassinations they were hired to prevent.
Launched in 2016, the #EndSARS movement has seen a revitalization over the last year due to a few high-profile cases of injustice that have empowered critics to share their personal experiences. For example, in May, an allegedly drunk SARS officer shot into a group of passengers after an extortion attempt on a bus driver was unsuccessful. Sixteen-year-old Tina Ezekwe was shot and killed. In September, Ifeoma Abugu was allegedly raped and killed by SARS officers, a death they described as a “cocaine overdose.” And on Oct. 3, a video showing a SARS officer from Delta State allegedly shooting a young man dead, then proceeding to drive away with the man’s vehicle, went viral.
The groundswell from these tragic events, along with countless others, compelled an outcry on social media from disheartened Nigerian citizens, which was then amplified by global artists Falz TheBahdGuy, Davido and DJ Switch.
After the outrage reached a tipping point on social media, the Nigerian government responded by announcing the disbanding of SARS on Oct. 12, a move met with skepticism by some locals who fear SARS members will be redeployed to other areas of police departments without adequate retraining.
This now-or-never approach toward reforming a broken power structure draws parallels between another notable rallying cry by Africans throughout the diaspora: Black Lives Matter. Founded in 2013, the social movement has focused on protesting police brutality and racially motivated violence against Black citizens. According to Kelechi Nwokocha, a 29-year-old entrepreneur who moved from New York City to Nigeria to build a financial services startup, Black Lives Matter’s success in raising mass awareness for important issues has recently served as inspiration for native Africans to stand up for what they believe in.
“The young people are feeling emboldened, and what their brothers and sisters have done around the world through Black Lives Matter protests has been uplifting,” Nwokocha said.
Both Black Lives Matter and #EndSARS have been spearheaded by young demonstrators who are fed up with the status quo and want to fix the transgressions of previous generations. Nigeria is made up of about 207 million people, and is one of the youngest globally (median age 18.1) with around 50% of its population under the age of 30. According to the United Nations’ 2017 Population Dynamics report, the country is expected to surpass the United States and become the third-largest country by 2050.
Before the economic and emotional displacement caused in 2020 by COVID-19, Nigerian youths suffered socioeconomic regression: “They have immense talent but have zero prospects for educational advancement. Zero prospects for business investment. No jobs. Political corruption and greed are diverting the advancement of Nigerian youth. And with our rapid growth, projections of 400 million people by 2050, we will only be worse off. Landmass doesn’t expand,” said Nwokocha.
Chatham House, an independent policy institute based in London, reported that 40.8% of youths aged 15-24 and 30.8% of youths aged 25-34 are out of work. To further contextualize, Leena Koni Hoffmann writes, “If Nigeria’s unemployed youth were its own country, it would be larger than Tunisia or Belgium.”
Perhaps most frustrating is the extreme inequality in the distribution of wealth. According to global poverty nonprofit Oxfam International, over half (112 million) of Nigerian citizens live in poverty. Yet the combined reported wealth of the country’s top five earners is nearly $30 billion. Nigeria’s wealthiest person could spend $365 million a year and not run out of money for 46 years. According to Statistica, in 2020 the monthly minimum wage in Nigeria is 30,000 naira, which is just under 80 U.S. dollars. As Africa’s top oil producer, the available resources are plentiful, but the misappropriation of assets has continued to prevent economic equity.
To usher in a new chapter of prosperity for the country, many are calling for President Muhammadu Buhari and his administration to step down, citing abuses of power. Others are petitioning for the international community, such as the United Nations, to impose sanctions that will disincentivize violence against Nigerian citizens moving forward. The former would pave the way for younger leadership, with a differing vision for what democracy would look like in the new Nigeria.
Both movements have benefited from a global audience sidelined by a health crisis and hurting economy, and high unemployment. A silver lining of this unfortunate pandemic has been an awareness that permeates us all, regardless of geographic location, race or class.