In this report, IMOLE OYEDEYI captures the weaves and turns, including the tragic moments of the #EndSARS protest, before calm was restored nationwide.
It was roughly two weeks of rage, killing, arson, jailbreak and attempted jailbreak, looting and of course total madness as the #EndSARS protest took the shape of the Jimmy Floyd protest in the United States, capturing international attention.
The protesters had a simple message – abolish the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a police unit which had become a death squad. Though it was set up to combat armed robbery across the nation, SARS had since abandoned that responsibility becoming notorious for alleged extortion and extra-judicial killing, including pursuing ‘Yahoo boys’ all around town with the aim of extorting money from them.
SARS men, it was alleged, more often than not, were taking some of the arrested ‘Yahoo boys’ to ATM points to force them to withdraw money for them so they could be left off the hook. Others allege that SARS men had their own point of sales (POS) machine with which they extort money from the ‘Yahoo boys’. The allegations are endless.
Many Nigerians have bitter tales to tell. Nollywood actor, Ken Erics Ugo, swallowed a bitter pill forced down his throat by SARS men some years back. Many years later he is still pained that the same SARS was still as notorious as it was then.
“A couple of years ago as a youth corps member, I was a victim of SARS brutality. I was whisked away from my bed in the middle of the night, labelled an armed robber and was almost shot dead at about 3:00am same day with no evidence of any criminal activity against me. I was then thrown into a cell where I spent the next one week. My work entitled ‘Cell 2’ is my first-hand documentation of that horrible experience. I never knew I would survive the trauma and torture I was subjected to in the course of trying to force me to make ‘confessional statements,’” he said.
While Ugo was lucky to have escaped death, the likes of Tina Ezekwe, Ifeoma Abugu, Kolade Johnson, Onovo Mathew, Ayomide Taiwo, Tiamiyu Kazeem, Jimoh Isiaq and Chibuike Anams did not survive their ordeals.
Twenty-three-year old Anams was shot and killed on July 24, 2009 while sitting with two friends at a guest house in Elimgbu area of Rivers State. Exactly a year before this incident, Onovo too was murdered in cold blood. Just for appearing with tinted haircut and polished dress, Johnson, father of one, was allegedly killed on March 31, 2019 by another F-SARS operative while watching an English Premier League fixture between Liverpool FC and Tottenham Hotspur FC in Lagos. Johnson’s death sparked national outrage but barely a year after, operatives of the ill-reputed police unit struck again in 2020.
This time, it was Kazeem that first tasted their fatal blow. On February 24, he was reportedly waylaid by SARS men in Sagamu area of Ogun State and while they were taking him to a police station on allegations of being a ‘Yahoo boy’, he suddenly fell off their vehicle and an oncoming vehicle crushed him to death.
Three months later on May 26, 16-year-old Ezekwe was reportedly hit by a stray bullet at Iyana Oworo area of Lagos when an alleged drunken SARS officer shot to disperse a crowd that had gathered after he opened fire on a bus driver who refused to give him a bribe.
In another tragic event, 20-year-old Ayomide was not allowed to finish his fashion designing apprenticeship before sending him to an early grave as a SARS operative, Ago Egharepbe, attached to Ibokun Divisional Headquarters in Osun State hit him with the butt of his rifle at a checkpoint in Ilahun area of the state for failing to give him a bribe at about 10:00 am on Sunday, August 9. The young Ayomide, who had lost his father untimely before the incident, eventually gave up the ghost six days later having been in coma at the hospital.
As if that was not enough, a few days after, exactly on September 10, 20-year-old Abugu was killed while serving her fatherland as a corps member in Abuja. She was arrested in place of her fiancé at his residence in Lokogoma area of the FCT capital. After being allegedly raped by SARS operatives, she unfortunately died in custody a day after her arrest.
Incensed by these continuous killings with impunity, the youths of the country decided that enough was enough and decided to stand up to tyranny with the slogan, #EndSARS which later on spiraled into other demands such as #Endbadgovernance, #endcorruption among others.
Initially led by musician and lawyer, Folarin Falana popularly known as Falz, alongside other artistes when the protest began on October 8 in Lagos, the demands from the youths were clear: immediate release of all those arrested during the protests as well as justice and compensation for all who died through police brutality in Nigeria; setting up of an independent body within 10 days to investigate and prosecute all reports of police misconduct, provision of psychological evaluation and retraining of SARS operatives before they are deployed to any other police unit and adequate remuneration for Nigerian police.
However, few days into the protest and after SARS had been scrapped and replaced with Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team, other purposeful demands emerged from the movers of the protest and the tag changed accordingly.
Speaking on the ongoing protest and why the demands became heavier, one of the leaders of the protests in Lagos who spoke to Sunday Tribune on the condition of anonymity, said, “Right now I am not happy. When we started #EndSARS protest, it was with clear mandate and justifiable cause. It is partly to make the police unit to stop killing people unjustly. But later, greater demands rose up. But before I explain what triggered them, let me share my personal experience at the hands of SARS”.
“I am a cartoonist and a fine artist and people like us like to be creative and aesthetic even in our dressing. But in Nigeria, it has been a crime to do this. Personally, I have had two experiences with these SARS people. One time at Agege, thank God I had my identity card then; one of them just came to block me. Probably he had seen me with my briefcase containing my laptop. He came around, wanted to start creating a scene and I showed him my ID card. Then, he reluctantly allowed me to go.
“The second time, it was at Abiola Garden. That day, I was very mad at them. About four of them just blocked my way and started harassing me. They said they want to check my briefcase. I said, ‘for what, can’t you see I am going to work? What’s the meaning of all these?’
“They insisted they must check the bag. I said I wasn’t going to allow them and one of them cocked his gun. I said, ‘do you want to shoot me? Shoot me now’. We started arguing and I showed them my card. When they saw that people were already gathering, they released me. That day, I was putting on a pair of ‘crazy’ jeans. So one doesn’t have the freedom to dress as one likes? Even when I tucked in my shirt and held my bag nicely, they still accosted me.
“The truth is that this ongoing protest has gone beyond SARS. Though to disband the police unit was the first reason, new motives have cropped up and the need to deliver the country from the spell of bad governance is one of them. For so long in this country, people were scared to talk, especially during this Buhari era. But that has got to stop. We want Nigerians to live without undue threats to life and that was what led to the #EndSARS movement. But it has given birth to #EndBadGovernance, #StopCorruption, #ReformNigeria, #ReviewTheConstitution and give Nigerians a better economic climate to live and survive”, he emphasised.
Another leader of the protest, Opeyemi Akiode who resides in Jos, Plateau State, said: “We are asking for a better Nigeria; we are asking for the status quo to change. We understood the need to liberate ourselves from what the elite class has subjected us to. We have realised we are far better than what we are getting; we suddenly woke up to the reality that the current state of affairs does not deserve good people that are coming up. #EndSARS was just the best way to start because of the need to prevent the country from completely sliding into anarchy and dictatorship. The protest is an explosion the world was expecting and it came!”
Speaking further, he said beyond the call for an end to the reign of the notorious anti-robbery squad, the youths are also “agitating for leadership void of sentiments, religious, tribal or regional colourations.
They are agitating for value for human lives, dreams and aspirations of the future generation. They want things done in proper sense of it. The activism is apt and timely, we have gotten the perfect time; the world is listening now because it is the time to act. Beyond an end to SARS which we have succeeded in having, the people want balance in government policies and programmes,” he added.
Francis Ofoegbu is one of the campaigners of the protest in Ibadan, Oyo State. Speaking to Sunday Tribune, he said, “The #EndSARS protest is in order, and is long overdue. The police are a crucial societal institution that should maintain civility by apprehending crime. Instead, it is now the avant-garde of incivility and lawlessness.”
He noted that, “According to Amnesty International, over 120 people have been killed by the police in the last nine months! This is not something that any sane society should take for granted. So, the protests are in order. The truth is that, our law enforcement agencies have been very indolent when it comes to diligent investigation. This is why media trials and arrests based on whim and caprice is the order of the day in Nigeria. A ‘Yahoo boy’ may be wearing dreadlocks, but that isn’t a definite proof that one is an internet fraudster.”
He stressed that, “The #EndSARS protest is just an outlet to vent anger against the general maladministration of this country by those in power. What young Nigerians are out to achieve by this agitation is a country that works for them; a country where the only option to be successful won’t be through fraud or escaping to foreign lands”.
“Nigerians want a country where their aspirations can be fulfilled without having to be bootlickers to anybody or wishing they belonged to a particular tribe or religion, in order to be successful. The demand of this protest is generally aimed at bringing bad governance to an end”, he emphasized.
Meanwhile, aside metamorphosing into calls for an end to bad governance and poor leadership in the country, the #EndSARS hashtag later became an acronym, which according to clips being disseminated on social media, stood for E-education and economy reforms, N-national constitution reform, D-debt accountability, S-security reform, A-anti-people policies cancellation, R-restructuring and S-save cost of governance.
Another popular picture clip that circulated online revealed that the SARS in the trending hashtag stood for S-senate A-and R-representatives S-salaries, which called for an end to the legislative chambers’ income which for each lawmaker according to the photo clip included N700,000 monthly salary, annual N200 million constitutional allowance and a monthly sitting allowance of N13.5 million.
Aside giving rise to subtle acronyms after the anti-robbery squad had been scrapped, the protests thereafter degenerated into violence leading to the massacre of many young Nigerians and destruction of many public and private properties.
Of all the days of the protest, Tuesday and Wednesday, October 20 and 21 were the bloodiest and will ever remain two of the darkest days in Nigerian history. From Lekki Toll gate in Lagos to Benin City, the Edo State capital, no fewer than 20 protesters and six policemen died in cold blood allegedly by men of the Nigeria police. During the two days, places like Mushin, Orile, Ketu, Ikorodu and Lekki toll gate became hotspots of the carnage.
Ibadan, the Oyo State capital was also a theatre of war as no fewer than two policemen and three other persons were killed at Ojoo area of the city as security operatives engaged in bloody clashes with some hoodlums who had infiltrated the #EndSARS protest. Casualties were also recorded in other thirteen states of the federation, including Ogun, Kano, Edo, Abia, despite the imposition of curfew by the concerned state governments.
As if that was not enough, the protest also later slipped into ceaseless burning and looting of properties worth billions of naira. The entirety of the popular Lekki Malls which housed Shoprite and other shopping outlets were besieged by a mammoth crowd and burgled that Wednesday after which thugs razed the entire properties.
In the ensuing rage, the mob also set fire to the popular television station, Television Continental (TVC) at Ketu and branches of Polaris Bank, Access Bank, Guaranty Trust Bank, including Oriental Hotel, after they had similarly razed the family home of the Lagos State governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, located in Surulere, the state BRT terminals and buses as well as many police stations, including those at Ojo, Amukoko, Orile, Cele outpost, Ajegunle, Ajeromi and Ifelodun area of the state in addition to several police vehicles.
In apparent displeasure at the spirited violence and carnage of sorts that have become the face of the protests nationwide, the Feminist Coalition, which has been coordinating the cash inflow for the #EndSARS protests, being a top frontrunner of the demonstration, decided to stop the donation inflows and urged the Nigerian youths to stay indoors and temporarily end the agitation as ordered by President Muhammadu Buhari in his national presidential address read on Thursday, October 22.
The group, which condemned what they described as “senseless violence, killings and destruction of properties” in a statement revealed that since the protest began two weeks back, a total of N147.8 million has been generated, out of which a total of N60.4 million has been disbursed while the remaining N87.4 million “will go towards funding medical emergencies, legal aids for wrongfully detained citizens and relief for victims of police brutality and families of the deceased”.
Even as many Nigerians were disappointed by President Buhari’s address on Thursday, the youths’ demands only started with #EndSARS, but ultimately what they want is a total overhaul of the entire system – a daunting demand which would take another generation to deliver.
YOU SHOULD NOT MISS THESE HEADLINES FROM NIGERIAN TRIBUNE
The Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu, has convened a meeting with stakeholders and has agreed to meet all demands raised by the #EndSARS protesters, which include halting use of force against protesters and unconditional release of arrested citizens.
Lagos State governor, Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu, has said the state government has earmarked N200million as compensation for families of victims of #EndSars protest.
Oyo State deputy governor, Mr Rauf Olaniyan revealed that members of the Nigerian Police Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) have attacked him twice.
#ENDSARS protesters, on Tuesday, blocked the main gates leading to Oyo State government secretariat, demanding the total end to Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS), saying no reformation of the disbanded police units should be carried in the Nigeria Police Force.
President Muhammadu Buhari has nominated his Special Assistant on Social Media, Lauretta Onochie and three others as National Commissioners of the Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC).