Sat, 28 Nov 2020

On 11 October, Angela Christian was in a throng of more than 200 people marching to Louis Edet Building, the police headquarters in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, when the protesters came face-to-face with a roadblock of water cannon and police.

It was the 24-year-old's second protest - the first was against sexual violence back in June - and here she was again, on a Sunday blighted with heat, holding a haphazardly cut carton inked with "END SARS" to protest against police brutality.

The same words - calling out Nigeria's Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) - echoed through the crowd; protesters chanted it even when blasts of high-pressure water from the cannon hit them. Brought to her knees, Christian's mind told her things could get worse but, inspired by those around her, she raised a defiant fist.

She said:

I was scared for myself because I also heard the police firing warning shots and using tear gas.

"The police tried to disperse us because we were growing in number. We were peaceful and yet they attacked us just after it was announced that SARS has been dissolved."

Three days after protests began on October 8 - a chain reaction after a video showed SARS officers driving away after shooting a young man and leaving his body by the roadside - the police chief announced the dissolution of the unit. But this is the fourth time since 2017 the government has promised to disband or reform SARS.

Set up in 1992 to tackle armed robbery, car theft and kidnapping, SARS has become a widely-loathed police unit, notorious for unlawful arrests, extortion, brutality and carrying out extrajudicial killings. In 2017, the #EndSARS social media campaign began. But the unrest has reached a flashpoint over the last two weeks, triggered by continued acts of police brutality.

Christian said:

We will never stop protesting until SARS are no more and the police is reformed.

That same sentiment can be felt in Lagos, where youth-led demonstrations have crippled vehicular movement and turned the Lekki toll gate - where several protesters were shot and killed on Tuesday - into a nexus of rebellion.

"I have been at two protests in Lagos but the one in Surulere is still in my memory because we were attacked by state-sponsored thugs," said Kazeem Balogun, a 21-year-old university undergraduate. "They arrived in mass transit buses and some of us were beaten and wounded and the police around did nothing to help us."

"This is now more than SARS because the Nigerian youth are fed up with the way this country has been running. Overpaid politicians, lack of security and social amenities. We want change."

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Source: News24

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