“For people who are not familiar with the histories of (global) policing and even just youth struggles, political struggles in Nigeria, the #EndSARS uprising may have come by surprise. The narrative in the U.S. about policing and police brutality (at the root of which is) White supremacy and racism … to be the same really in the largest Black nation in the world. But when we think about how in the U.S., the roots of policing is slave patrols and slavery and restricting and undoing Black freedom and also protecting White property interest,” said Dr. Krystal Strong, whose research and teaching focus on activism, the political power of youth and the role of educational spaces as sites of political struggle with a geographic focus on Africa and the African Diaspora.
During an exclusive interview with The Final Call from her University of Penn office, she said, “We see similar but (a) distinct set of foundations where the roots of policing (on the continent) are colonialism … imperialism, militarism.”
Dr. Strong, whose training is in Anthropology, has lived in Nigeria and spent 15 years conducting research in Africa’s largest country. In fact, her dissertation was about student activism in leadership after Nigeria’s transition to democracy.
According to Dr. Strong, the SARS or the Special Anti-Robbery Squad was created in 1992. “And so SARS comes on the scene at a time when there is a particularly highly violent crime rate, including kidnapping and things of that nature were at a peak. SARS was created to address that. However, over time SARS became a police unit that was completely unaccountable and rogue, and so they extorted people, killed people tortured people bribed people, raped people,” said Dr. Strong.
Its operational style, according to lawfareblog.com, included a mixture of uniformed police officers and many in plainclothes. “The plainclothes officers were known for forcibly demanding cash from civilians, brandishing weapons, and engaging in indiscriminate searches and detentions.”
“And so if you have a cell phone, if you’re dressed a certain way, if you’re driving a certain kind of car, you can be targeted,” said Dr. Strong. “And then there was numerous incidents of them profiling people and then extorting them. Telling them, ‘we’re going to detain you. We’re going to arrest you, unless you take us to your ATM and withdraw an exorbitant amount of money.’ And, of course, one would want to do that because people hear stories of what happens when you are detained by SARS. You can disappear literally.”
So the #EndSARS campaign was born. It came into existence “as a kind of struggle, and a galvanizing sort of mantra that actually proceeds 2020. #EndSARS as a hashtag comes on the scene in 2017 when some online activists want to draw attention to the way that SARS is unaccountable with impunity and there was calls for SARS to be reformed,” said Dr. Strong.
On Oct. 11, after much pressure from demonstrations, the police announced they’d dismantle SARS. However, this, lawfareblog.com reported is a much used tactic: “… in recent years, the government has made many similar public statements to pacify the public after alleged extrajudicial overreach—and it is improbable that the announcement will halt the protests.”
Social media has become a prime weapon of Nigerian youth and “internet-savvy Nigerians and members of the Nigerian diaspora,” including ex-pats in Washington D.C., and London, coordinating with one another and staging protest and sit-ins. Some form of protest, according to many published reports, will go on for the foreseeable future.
Nigerian rapper and political activist Jude M.I Abaga, in a recent opinion piece in Al Jazeera wrote: “This is a monumental moment in Nigerian history. For many young people, President Buhari represents an old and corrupt generation of politicians that have little left to offer the country. This is the moment where previous generations of Nigerians were on the cusp of change, but decided to sit back, fearing a violent backlash, or that there were not enough of them. I understand it, but we are ready to push on. At some point, there has to be a generation that takes a stand. A generation that says: ‘We are not going to stop, even if you kill us.’ ”
Dr. Strong said the Nigerian government has a history of “pretending to make change.”
“They said they’d reform, they’d disband it, reorganize it. dismantle it. But yet nothing changed. So part of what catalyzed the 2017 online movement was a viral video. This should be very familiar with U.S. audiences. A video of SARS murdering someone went viral. And so people online started talking about their own personal SARS experiences. This is when #EndSARS as a hashtag was born. SARS in the context of them killing a young person. And in 2020 something similar happened. So on Oct. 1, Nigeria celebrated 60 years of independence. And then two days later a viral video begins to circulate of SARS killing a young man in the Niger Delta region in Delta State and not only that, they abandoned his lifeless bloody body by the side of the rode. And then they steal his Lexus SUV,” Dr. Strong recounted.
“And so again this prompts outrage with people sharing their own SARS stories. But the difference is people decided to take to the street. And, of course, there could be a number of reasons why people choose to take to the streets. It could be that this was just too much after the previous incident. It could also be that they were seeing uprisings happening all over the world. We had a summer of police protest related to police brutality in the U.S. … and there was a revolution in Mali. We also saw the Sudanese revolution. So it isn’t shocking or it shouldn’t be shocking that the response is a radicalized response,” added Dr. Strong.
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