Tear gas floods from canisters propelled by officers outfitted in bullet proof vests. The target? Thousands of demonstrators marching through the streets armed only with hand-painted signs. While unique tragedies and trauma forge the fury in each voice, their message is the same: “Our lives matter.”
No, we’re not describing the local Black Lives Matter protests that took place in the United States this spring. This is the reality now in Nigeria, as the #EndSARS movement reignites Nigeria’s four-year struggle against police brutality and the nation’s young people resist government efforts to suppress their renewed strides toward justice.
The fight to end police brutality does not end at the U.S. borders; and it requires global collaboration.
Fed up with its reputation for excessive and unlawful force, #EndSARS demands elected officials abolish the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, a unit of Nigeria’s police force created in 1992 to deal with crimes involving armed robbery, vehicle theft, and kidnapping.
In the tradition of Black Lives Matter, university-aged students and activists are #EndSARS’ nucleus. They employ social media as a mobilizing force, attracting global attention after #EndSARS trended on Twitter featuring countless posts recounting stories and sharing videos of intimidation, extortion, sexual assault, kidnapping, and extrajudicial killings. Nigeria’s youth continue to block major roads across the country and combat government officials who act as a hindrance to the development of better institutions that actually work for the benefit of the people.
As an attempt to subdue protestors, Nigeria’s Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar Adamu, announced last week that SARS would be dissolved and replaced by a pre-existing patrol force, the Special Weapons and Tactics team. However, the move, which merely disperses former SARS officials into the larger police force, is not enough to satisfy the appetite of protestors who have spent weeks reclaiming their agency on the same streets where most have been victims of violent harassment. Protests across Nigeria continue to rage in pursuit of greater progress and restorative justice.
Nonetheless, #EndSARS should not be misdiagnosed as a conflict simply between Nigerians and their leadership. Its significance extends far beyond Nigeria’s borders. It is a call not only to abolish a unit of Nigeria’s police force, but also to fundamentally repair the broken global systems and cultures that normalize state sanctioned violence and foster law enforcement’s long-standing reign of terror.
#EndSARS and its successes are inextricably tied to our own.
After George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless other unarmed Black Americans were murdered by police officers, the United States saw a very similar outcry against police brutality that brought organized protests to nearly every major city and conversations about systemic racism to many kitchen tables.
U.S. policing has historically racist origins, and police brutality, along with the white supremacist institutions and attitudes that enable it, directly descends from the criminalization of Black people beginning with our enslavement. Policing in Nigeria, however, finds its inception in colonialism, introduced by the British as a tool to facilitate the exploitation of African nations. Corruption, lack of regard for human rights, and stifled democracy are contemporary residuals of this white supremacist intervention.
#EndSARS and its formation complicate a predominant American narrative in which racism is centered as a catalyst for police brutality. After all, despite being citizens of the world’s most prosperous Black nation, Nigerian’s still find themselves needing to remind their government that Black lives matter.
From a very young age, Black people in the U.S. live with a heightened awareness that their skin color is perceived as a pretext for criminality, leaving them subject to undue interactions with racially-biased law enforcement. Unlike the U.S., Nigeria is predominantly Black, so police officers select alternative criteria for profiling such as perceived affluence and sexual orientation, among other identifiers. SARS’s liberal use of profiling and violence — though not race-based like in the U.S. — creates a similar culture of instability and fear for Nigerian youth that parallels the Black experience in America and demonstrates how Black people worldwide are being robbed of their power and agency.
Nigerians and Americans are not strangers. Our struggles should not be either. U.S. literature is filled with cultural references to Yoruba Gods, and Burna Boy is commonplace on many Black American playlists. However, American allyship with Nigeria must go farther than a romantic association with their culture. Nigerians and Americans need to unify in our fights against police brutality while acknowledging the nuances of how it manifests in each of our countries. Even though Nigeria’s narratives about, manifestations of, and history with policing fundamentally differ from ours, Black Lives Matter and #EndSARS are intertwined and cannot be isolated movements.
Over the summer, when U.S. demonstrations against police brutality peaked, the international community responded with overwhelming displays of support for Black people in America. By virtue of the U.S. position within the larger world, we had the privilege of assuming relevance and visibility. If Americans do not return the support we received and actively engage in the fight against police brutality taking place outside of our borders, we risk achieving our goals for liberation through the hegemonic structures that actively harm Black people globally. To fight for an end to police brutality at home and ignore police brutality perpetuated abroad would be hypocritical.
At Harvard, students rallied around Black American students and led collective efforts to aid the struggle against police brutality and racism. Despite many on campus largely claiming to be against police violence, there has been little attention given to End SARS outside of the Harvard’s Nigerian Student Association and African Students Association. We are calling on Harvard’s police abolitionists, reformists, allies, and activists to both educate themselves so they can adjust their discourse to reflect Nigeria’s nuances and apply the same urgency for End SARS that we gave Black Lives Matter. There are ample resources online that outline ways to take action by donating, emailing the International Criminal Court, and elevating #EndSARS on your social media. Use them because Black lives around the world deserve just as much protection as Black lives in America. All Black Lives Matter.
Marissa J. Joseph ’23, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Kirkland House. Tolulope K. Olasewere ’22 is a Government and Philosophy concentrator living in Leverett House.