‘End SARS protesters are aware of their rights and it’s vital we support them’

As her country reels under ongoing police brutality and corruption, Ene Obi, Country Director of ActionAid Nigeria tells Marie Claire how Nigerian's youth are the key to a brighter future

On 20th October 2020, a group of young End SARS protesters gathered peacefully at the Lekki Toll bridge in Lagos State, Nigeria. Part of the biggest and longest-running series of national protests in a generation, they were united by one objective: to end police brutality.

Since 2017, the #ENDSARS movement has had Nigerian youths taking to social media to share their experiences of violence perpetuated by the country’s corrupt Special Anti-Robbery Squad, otherwise known as the SARS unit. Taking back a small but significant bit of power with the hashtag #ENDSARS, Twitter and Instagram have become havens with which these young people can air their pain and experiences of police brutality online.

It was the shock and anger of these young demonstrators that united them at Lekki Toll Bridge – after a video emerged in early October that captures the moment a group of police officers (thought to be members of the SARS unit) stop an unarmed young man, push him out of his vehicle, shoot him dead and drive away with the car.

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British Nigerians and fellow supporters march through central London to demand an end to the violence in Nigeria and the disbanding of the SARS Police unit on October 25, 2020, London

Despite the anger and frustration over police brutality, people peacefully gathered to wave flags and listen to DJs, calmly setting up camp overnight and singing the national anthem in unison – all the while demanding an end to the brutal police brutality that has for years brutalised young Nigerians.

Then at 6.50pm, chaos unleashed on the streets – after the Nigerian Military arrived and shot directly at protestors. Many people fled in panic while others were barricaded and boxed in by soldiers – leaving at least 12 protesters dead. In Abuja, my daughter was one of the protestors brutally beaten by police and ending up in hospital. She’s home now but many others aren’t. So many innocent lives have been lost – which is is why ActionAid Nigeria is now doing whatever it can to support the cause. 

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Set up in 1999, ActionAid Nigeria is a part of the ActionAid global federation – that works to further human rights for all within Nigeria. We applaud the way in which young Nigerians have made their voices heard and condemn any further attacks against these unarmed End Sars peaceful protestors. The incident that transpired at Lekki Toll Bridge with the military must be investigated and those who ordered the shooting, as well as the officers who fired at peaceful protestors, must be brought to justice. The President must also commit to justice for all victims injured and all the families who have lost loved ones.

ActionAid Nigeria agrees there is a need for governance that is accountable, transparent, responsive, effective and inclusive – and follows the rule of law. The government must now provide a definitive timeline for when it’s going to respond to protestors’ demands and ensure that responses are clear cut. 

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Ene Obi, Country Director of ActionAid Nigeria

 We are also looking to offer counselling to protestors as feedback from the young people we work with is that many are distressed and shocked by what they have seen. I can relate to this immensely – I was among those who struggled for democracy in Nigeria in the early 90s (Nigeria’s 1990s democracy movement) and was imprisoned, detained and kidnapped by the military.

I went on to work for ActionAid because it is a natural ground for any feminist activist. Its primary objective is to work with local women leaders to challenge power relations, increase the number of women participating in decision making processes, and end violence against women and girls.

These protests give me hope that now more than ever, these things will be possible. Now more than ever, young people are engaged with how their country is run and are aware of the rights and power they have. It is vital we support them and maintain decorum.

* Ene Obi is the County Director of ActionAid Nigeria, working with local women and girls to lead social change and build a new world that is safe and equal. For more information on ActionAid’s Stand with Women campaign, visit: actionaid.org.uk/stand-with-women

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