Police abolition is a project without borders; the work towards defunding and dismantling carceral institutions cannot exist only within the confines of our own colonial states. The #EndSARS movement deserves our attention as much as any North American struggle against police brutality. As stated by the McGill African Student Association (MASS) in a post in solidarity with #EndSARS, “Black liberation is a global movement that requires us to show up for Black people across the globe. Nigerians’ protests against this extrajudicial violence is a reminder that violence is a present in police forces globally.” Borders and carceral systems are deeply intertwined and are both inherently colonial institutions. We cannot work to dismantle one and not the other.
The #EndSARS campaign, initiated by Nigerian youth in response to the violence perpetrated by the Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS), began in 2017, but it has recently gained mainstream attention due to the online sharing of live footage of SARS officers attacking and murdering an unarmed man on October 3, 2020. The Nigerian Armed Forces opened fire on #EndSARS demonstrators who were protesting in front of Leki toll gate in Lagos on October 20, 2020. Though the squad was allegedly disbanded on October 11 in response to pressure from protesters, officials have made empty promises to disband SARS on at least three separate occasions prior to this one. Video footage posted by Lagos-based media organization Akpraise shows SARS officers still on duty as of October 28. Even if the government follows through on their promise to disband the unit, Inspector General of Police Mohammed Adamu has stated that SARS will be replaced by another police unit called SWAT. This is not the reform or abolition that protesters have been advocating for, but rather a continuation of the police state and its inherent problems. It’s clear that in spite of superficial government responses, the problem of state violence remains.
#EndSARS protesters have issued five official demands, including various suggestions for police reform and compensation to those who have been harmed.
The #EndSARS campaign has developed into a broader call to end government corruption and police brutality throughout Nigeria, and it has maintained a persistent and vocal presence both on the streets of Nigeria, as well as on social media. Kazeem Balogun, a university undergrad living in Lagos, stated that, “this is now more than SARS because Nigerian Youth are fed up with the way this country has been running.” The military attack on October 20, which President Buhari blatantly denied in a speech on October 22 – contrary to live video footage, which he maintained must have been faked – exemplifies the relationship between government corruption and police violence. The Nigerian government has responded to the protests with increased police presence and curfews throughout Nigeria, for reasons described by the inspector general as “reclaiming the public spaces from criminal elements masquerading as protesters.”
The police force in Nigeria are also directly linked to the legacy of British colonial occupation. Damola Aluko, a Howard University alum based in Washington, DC, points out that “police forces were created to force Nigerians to work in agriculture, mining and other forms of hard labour… Though SARS is not working as an entity of the British empire, it is a vestige of the British empire colonial regime. Ending SARS brings Nigeria closer to breaking the chains of colonisation.” OluTimehin Adegbeye, a Nigerian Feminist and activist, adds that, “Policing as it exists today is the result of the capitalist colonial project, so we must approach abolition knowing that it requires us to rethink not only policing but our entire social economic order.”
As explained by Panthera Odum, a Nigerian US-based scholar, “Police abolition is a process of decolonisation […] by getting rid of the police we are rejecting the colonial notion that we as Africans are savage people who require harsh punishment and abuse to get ourselves ‘in line.’ It is moving away from individualistic philosophies that exacerbate violence and crime and moving towards holistic ideologies that emphasize the importance of community effort in public safety.”
British Minister James Dudridge recently admitted to training and supplying equipment to SARS, as recently as March 2020. Though any direct connection between Britain and SARS was previously denied, it has now come to light that funding and training was relegated through the Foreign office’s conflict, stability and security fund (CSSF). Neo-colonialism and imperialism are persisting forces; they continue to negatively impact colonized countries, and movements like #endSARS are critical to full decolonization.
#EndSARS extends beyond the borders of Nigeria. There are many Nigerian-Canadians who express concern for the police brutality and stand in solidarity with the people of Nigeria. In Toronto for example, #EndSARS demonstrators gathered on October 18 to show their solidarity. Due to the movement’s strong presence on social media, #EndSARS has garnered international attention.
“I would like people unfamiliar with the situation to know that #EndSARS is a movement which, while specific to Nigeria, is part of a larger global issue of police brutality, anti-Blackness and state violence and it affects us all no matter where we are. Our freedoms are all intertwined and as people existing in a world filled with injustices, solidarity is necessary in creating liberated futures for us all. It is our responsibility to resist apathy and refuse the privilege of ignorance and learn more and care for each other.” – Amarachi Chukwu, graduate in Nation, Gender, Feminist and Women’s studies from York University
In supporting the #EndSARS campaign, it is important to uplift the voices of Nigerians who are directly impacted. Spreading awareness is a key part of this support, but it’s also important to be cognisant of one’s own positionality, especially if you are white and/or non-Nigerian. As Bola Rahman, a Nigerian-Canadian human resources professional and filmmaker, states, “Please don’t try to save the country. International interference anywhere in the world has only made a bad situation worse.” She suggests instead that non-Nigerian Canadians should “focus on cutting off visas to politicians so they are forced to stay in the country. Speak out online in support of Nigerians, educate yourself on the issues and join Nigerian-Canadians in protests.” Similarly, Chinedu Ukabam, Creative Director/Cultural Programmer of Supafrik, highlights how economic sanctions, which are often called for, are ineffective and dangerous. “Economic sanctions will only punish the poor and most marginalized. It is more effective to implement targeted visa restrictions on Nigerian government officials until the #EndSARS demands are met. […] Canadians can amplify the message of Nigerian youth and donate to help the protesters. […] The political will of Nigeria’s youth should not be tampered with. Their time is now and they have the right to decide their destiny.”
Look out for upcoming protests in your area, at which we can show solidarity. In the above mentioned post, MASS states: “we encourage you all to do your research and understand what is happening, use your voice to spread awareness and show your support and show up for protests when you can.” If you need support at this time, you can reach out to MASS at firstname.lastname@example.org. Police abolitionism is a global project. Though we must avoid conflating different experiences of oppression, it is still important to support local movements and show our solidarity for those fighting police violence across the world.