Jonny Rogers investigate how the recent violence against Nigerian protestors has exposed the growing tension between the country’s government and its citizens.
Photo by Tosin James
On the evening of October 20th, the Nigerian military opened fire on peaceful protestors at Lekki Toll Gate and Alausa, injuring hundreds and killing at least 12. The protest’s demands: an end to police brutality.
Although the authorities have attempted to hide these shootings by removing CCTV cameras and cutting the electricity in the area, they have been unable to contain the response on social media. Eye-witness recordingsbrought the brutality to international attention, igniting further protests among Nigerian communities around the world.
The youth-led protests began in early October after a video emerged featuring a notorious police unit, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), beating and killing a man. As a heavily-armed police force established to fight violent crime, SARS has faced countless allegations of abuse – including claims of torture, enforced bribes, rape, and extrajudicial killings – throughout its 28-year history.
President Muhammadu Buhari’s failure to mention the recent causalities in his address to the nation last Thursday has only reinforced the tension between the Nigerian government and its citizens – though they have since admitted that the army was involved in the shootings. Although the dissolution of SARS was announced on October 11th, the protestors are not convinced that this will bring an end to police violence.
As such, the #EndSARS movement has taken on great significance as a public stand against the violation of human rights throughout the country.
Sexual Violence & Religious Persecution
Earlier this year, a reported wave of sexual violence against women and girls – including the rape and murder of a 22-year old student in a church – has further fuelled demands for greater protection and gender equality. According to a study by UNICEF in 2014, 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 10 boys have experienced some form of sexual violence, and only a few received any support.
In February, thousands of Nigerian Christians protested against the persecution of religious believers by the Fulani ethnic group, ignited by the beheading of Brethren pastor Lawan Andimi. The Nigerian government has been criticisedfor failing to appropriately condemn the Boko Haram jihadist insurgents over the past few years.
As journalist Patrick Egwu explains: “Nigeria is still deeply divided along ethnic and religious lines… Marginalisation, unequal political appointments, and ethnic and religious tensions are still brewing division.”
The Future of Nigeria
It is clear that the country’s widespread socio-political tensions will not disappear overnight. With an average national age of 18 and a rapidly-growing population, the recent global crash in oil prices due to coronavirus is said to pose a significant threat to the creation of new jobs.
Although the protests have been largely peaceful, some have taken the opportunity to vandalise shops and raid warehouses, as well as attack the properties of politicians thought to be connected to the military shootings. A report from Amnesty International reveals that at least 56 people have died since the protests began, including both anti-police demonstrators and some believed to have been hired by authorities to confront the protestors.
Nevertheless, some journalists believe that the #EndSARS movement will continue to shape the future of Nigeria.As the BBC reports, the government’s promise to disband SARS has “given Nigerian youths confidence”, noting that “they believe that they can make a difference.”As Kathryn Salam concludes, October saw years of ‘fancy hashtag activism’ turn into marches.
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