In October, protests erupted in Nigeria calling for the government to #EndSARS. The Special Anti-Robbery Squad was a federal policing unit established in 1992 to respond to a wave of crime that came about in Nigeria’s largest cities like Lagos and Abuja. But, increasingly, these officers (who did not wear uniforms but operated in plain, civilian clothes), became accused of harassment, torture, and extrajudicial killings, starting to mirror the thugs and gangs they were supposedly meant to be targeting, but instead being fond of brutalizing Nigeria’s urban youth.
Although Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari disbanded SARS on October 11, the demonstrations have persisted and have come to represent more than simply opposition to police violence, but a deep frustration with the status quo and the political class defending it. Driven by Nigeria’s youth, the protests are a seminal moment for discrediting widespread stereotypes that they are lazy and complacent, and reflect the disillusionment of young people globally who see the post-Cold War political-economic settlement as delivering nothing but inequality, joblessness, climate catastrophe and downright misery. They want something better.
Joining us to discuss these demonstrations and where they’re next headed, are Sa’eed Husaini and Annie Olaloku-Teriba. Sa’eed is a political scientist based in Lagos and contributing editor to Africa Is A Country, and has previously appeared on the show to discuss Nigerian politics, where he touched on some of the mobilizations which have preceded this moment such as Occupy Nigeria in 2012, the Take It Back Movement of 2018, as well as the #RevolutionNow movement started in 2019. How do these protests movements inform what we are seeing today? Considering that the #RevolutionNow campaign had protests as recently as August and is co-ordinated by a party platform, the Coalition for Revolution (CORE), how does its existence and efforts compare with the rapid growth of #EndSARS, which for now steadfastly remains a decentralized movement?
Annie is a British-Nigerian independent researcher based in London, working on legacies of empire and the complex histories of race. On a recent op-ed for Al Jazeera, Annie wrote that “The movement is being supported financially not only by the large diaspora and Nigeria’s biggest stars, but also by foreign celebrities, such as American rapper Noname.” Adding to this list are Cardi B, Rihanna, Drake, Trey Songz, Kanye West, Lewis Hamilton as well as football stars like Marcus Rashford, Odion Ighalo and Mesut Ozil. How do we make sense of this level of global attention, rare for protests happening in Africa? Does this express a newfound global consciousness around issues of police violence on the heels of #BlackLivesMatter international, or does their susceptibility to celebrity and corporate attention also make them easy to co-opt?
The protests are still happening, and scores of protestors have been arrested, injured or killed by law enforcement. If you are able to contribute to the fundraising for bail and hospital fees, food, water, and other expenses, please do so.
Last week, we had on Benjamin Fogel and Wangui Kimari to discuss the emptiness of anti-corruption politics, and then Sabatho Nyamsenda and Elisa Greco to zero in on the particular case of Tanzania as well as discuss its upcoming election (happening this coming Thursday!). If you missed the episode, you can watch clips from that show on our YouTube channel, and the whole thing on our Patreon along with all the episodes from our archive.