End SARS; the viral Twitter movement from nigeria


Jaden Welborn, Author

Social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram carry the torch in advocating for social justice; attempting to bring attention to and reprimand disparate treatment and societal inequalities. Instagram and Twitter are full of posts and user stories disseminating social justice causes, and it’s the first place that many learn about these plights and movements. One of the more recent, large-scale Instagram movements brought to light is the “End SARS” movement in Nigeria. Like what we saw in Ethiopia, we can again see social media tapping into the least developed but fastest growing area in the world.

So, what’s all this “End SARS” about?

The Nigerian SARS (Special Anti-Robbery Squad)– not to be confused with the viral respiratory SARS– is a police unit to prevent robbery, carjacking, and other miscellaneous illegal activities. As we have seen in the United States, with great power comes great responsibility, and people are upset with the police abusing their power in some instances. SARS has been accused of brutality, illegal search and seizures, and in extreme cases rape and murder.

It’s important and relevant to note that Nigeria has a top ten highest crime index in the world, consisting of mainly theft, drugs, and street violence. SARS was implemented to prevent the rampant crime throughout Nigeria’s cities. There is an obvious need for law enforcement in the country, but it’s prone to corruption due to widespread poverty and the lack of accountability and training.

SARS was called out in 2017 for unlawful arrests and extortion which lead to protests throughout Nigeria. In October 2020, there was a resurgence of the movement as people became increasingly frustrated with the SARS police unit.

There were many more instances that set people off, but like Hachalu Hundessa’s killing in Ethiopia, a popular and up-and-coming musician was murdered (in this case by a SARS unit). This, among other events, caused the youth, many celebrities, and people from surrounding countries to explode with emotions. Tensions grew, people on both sides were murdered, government and private buildings were burnt down, and young people played a large role in this.

Just like here in the states, youth commit the majority of these crimes and are more likely to be gang affiliated. Through social media, Nigerian teens have made it known that they feel profiled by SARS for the way they look, dress, and the things that they own. This trend of awareness through social media exists all over the world, and a lot of it is for good but also does a really good job of fanning the fire through the telephone game that is Twitter, Instagram, whatever.

Nigeria is one of the most isolated countries; being one of the hardest places for visitors to get visas to enter. Through these social media applications, the youth of the country have somewhat broken down these walls of solidarity and paved the way for the voices of Nigeria to be heard by outsiders. It is unlike anything the country and much of Africa have ever seen before.

Demonstrators have been gunned down and arrested, and the videos have been shared for the world to see, resulting in protests and civilian versus government clashes. The government’s response to the exposure and violence was not lenient.

Supporters of the “End SARS” movement have had their bank accounts seized and suspended to stop them from accessing their funds. There are legitimate financial and physical implications of supporting this cause. Active supporters of “End SARS” have been deemed as terrorists, due to the amount of violence that occurred this October, and de facto as financers of terrorism.

Bringing attention to issues is the first step, but the movement has called for legitimate reforms.

Petitioning for retraining, evaluations, and better pay for members of SARS have been presented to the government, as well as the complete disbandment of the special unit. Nigerian police have ultimately dissolved the unit, but lack of trust for the government to follow through on the people’s requests remains.

Social media plays such an integral part in the way that we gather news, form opinions, and network with others. For ages, suppressing people was as simple as not publishing what they had to say. For the masses now, it’s as easy as tweeting or clicking the share button, and third world countries are no exception. Nigeria is an old-fashioned country that is definitely rough around the edges, and the youth there have formed a coalition to expose their frustrations by the progressive means of social media applications. This trend is not over and it’s just a matter of time before the rest of the world follows suit.