'End SARS': Nigeria in peril as global calls to cease police brutality rise

Protests calling for an end to police brutality in the West African country of Nigeria turned deadly after soldiers in Lagos opened fire on demonstrators Tuesday, killing at least 12 people. Soldiers from a police unit called the Special-Anti-Robbery Squad, or SARS, shot at protesters who had gathered in the Lekki toll gate area of Lagos, according to Amnesty International. “[There was] no provocation whatsoever,” Chioma Agwuegbo, an activist in Nigeria, told Yahoo News. “People were just singing the national anthem and holding the flag. I have never, ever seen anything like this in my entire life.”

Video Transcript


- This is beyond end SARS and bad governors! This is Nigerian independence!

- Yes!

- We've just [INAUDIBLE]. We are sick. We are worried. This time around, we will get our independence.


- End SARS! End SARS! End SARS! End SARS! End SARS! End SARS! End SARS! End SARS! End SARS!

CHIOMA AGWUEGBO: My name is Chioma Agwuegbo. I've been an advocate in Nigeria for a few years. People have been calling out police brutality, specifically around a unit called SARS, which is a Special Anti-Robbery Squad. It's a rogue unit, right? And they stand on the streets. They extort people.

They stereotype young men with tattoos or, you know, braids or dreadlocks. And they extort them. And sometimes they see a young man in a flashy car, they question their money.

And people are kidnapped. People are disappeared. Stories are all over social media in the press of parents.

A particular father had to look through a sea of bodies trying to find his son. This is after paying 3 million naira. And when he paid this money, they told him that it was chicken change. I watched an interview his sister did. And she said, after a few years, they had to clear out his room because his mother said she knew he wasn't coming back.

- End SARS!

- End SARS!

- End SARS!

- End SARS!

- I am tired!

- End SARS!

- I am tired!

CHIOMA AGWUEGBO: Enough is enough. And so for about 12 days, we've been marching across the country, about 23 or 24 out of the 36 states of Nigeria.

- End SARS! End SARS!

CHIOMA AGWUEGBO: Marching to the offices of the commissioners of police, to the governors offices, wherever, really, just, you know, peaceful acts of civil disobedience, people sitting down at junctions, you know, and just educating commuters. In Abuja, where I live, I have not seen our young men behave better.

- I'm not a criminal. I'm a legal practioner. End SARS!

- Yes!

- End SARS!

CHIOMA AGWUEGBO: And the government said they had heard us and they were going to end SARS. But we said, you've ended SARS before. It's not the first time, you know? 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, as a matter of fact, the social media handle of the president, people took screenshots of his tweets these four years, you know?

And now saying the president has just done this, has just done that. And so we said, you're going to have to do a little more than just announce that you're disbanding this, right? Because every time you announce this, you know, then we have so many stories.


CHIOMA AGWUEGBO: But today, you had people at Lekki toll gate sitting and holding the Nigerian flag-- oh god-- and singing the national anthem. Earlier in the day, people came and took out the cameras, the CCTV cameras. The lights at the toll gate were turned off. And then the military rolled in and started shooting.

No provocation whatsoever, people were just singing the national anthem [GUNFIRE] and holding the flag. I don't know what else shows patriotism than that. The military showed up, we're not at war.

Yes, the governor had declared a curfew, but what's a civil disobedience if not people disobeying orders? And even if they flouted the curfew, does that mean death? They're counting bodies at Lekki toll gate even as we speak.

Someone had it on her live on Instagram. And young people were trying to remove bullets from the person who was shot. That person died live on Instagram, you know?

How do you answer calls to end police brutality with more brutality, you know? And this is the legacy they want, right? I hoped that we could shift something, you know?

Young people have organized everything from legal for when protesters gets arrested to medical to when people faint or have issues or even when people get shot or brutalized by the police. They've organized media, coordinating media across the country. They've organized donations. This movement has raised more than 74 million naira.

We were on the cusp of something. But just opening fire on people sitting down on the floor with flags in their hands singing the national anthem? I don't know what to hope for. Should be speaking up, should be calling for justice for Nigerians who have been killed. That's what everyone should be doing, should be calling for justice.