#EndSARS Commemoration: In Search of Social Change, Justice Amid Violent Revolt

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The #EndSARS movement started off as a quest to get the presidency and the police hierarchy to dissolve the Special Anti Robbery Squad nationwide because of their acts of brutality, extra judicial killings and constant harrasment of citizens. The protest, which kicked off on October 8, 2020, started off in Lagos in trickles but gained momentum with the protesters even camping on the road to show their sheer will in ending the police unit. It soon spread to most parts of the country. However, on October 20, 2020, a clandestine shooting at the Lekki Tollgate soon changed the dynamics of the otherwise peaceful protest as it led to widespread violence, looting, deaths and unprecedented destruction of properties. One year after, Vanessa Obioha led a team of THISDAY reporters to explore the labyrinth of the #EndSARS protests and attendant repercussions in this special report to commemorate the anniversary of the watershed event

On the evening of October 20, 2020, videos and images of the alleged shooting of #EndSARS protesters at the Lekki tollgate flooded social media. Nigerian female disc jockey Obianuju Catherine Udeh, also known as DJ Switch, raised the alarm that armed men in military uniforms were shooting the protesters, who camped at the Lekki tollgate for over a week blocking access to the highbrow area of Lagos State.

She supposedly streamed the happenings live and revealed Brig.-Gen. Francis Omata was the soldier in charge of the operation. The claim would later be debunked. DJ Switch further disclosed that the soldiers killed some protesters and carted away bodies to hide their culpability. Hours before the alleged killing, the Lagos State Government announced that there would be a curfew. Earlier scheduled for 4 pm, it was moved to 9 pm to allow people to return home safely.

Within minutes, the internet exploded with ire and grief from Nigerians who deemed the attack unjust and inhumane. Some of the images and videos — later found to be unrelated to the event — looked like scenes from a spine-chilling horror movie. International bodies and world leaders were urged on social media to sanction President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration for human rights abuses.

SARS Notoriety

Initially established in 1992 to investigate and curb criminal activities by the Force Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) divagated from its mandate. It became notorious for unlawful arrests, extortion, brutality and extrajudicial killings. However, the incident that sparked a nationwide protest was a misleading video by Prince Nicholas Makolomi on October 3, 2020. In the video, Makolomi claimed that a young man who jumped out of a police vehicle in Ughelli, Delta State, was killed by the police.

Although he later verified his facts and realised that the man was not killed, the damage was already done as the narrative triggered protests against the police, particularly SARS, accused of various human rights violations in the past. By October 8, 2020, pockets of protests began spreading to other parts of the country.

The unit was officially scrapped on October 11, 2020, by the then-Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, which many thought was long overdue. But the protests carried on, as protesters saw an opportunity to bring about the necessary change the country needed.