Protest against SARS in Nigeria

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Following the recent protests against the ‘special anti-robbery squad’ and the horrific Lekki Massacre, BLM Leeds held a socially-distanced demonstration in Millennium Square to raise awareness of police brutality, corrupt leadership, and to show solidarity with the youth of Nigeria. 

Although we are in Tier 3 and due to enter another national lockdown, a significant number of supporters attended the demonstration regardless.

People of all ages from all backgrounds stood together, maintained their distance, and chanted ‘end SARS now!’. 

The End SARS movement began in 2017 and was revitalised in October this year by young Nigerians. The protests began with calls to disband the corrupt Nigerian Police Force unit, SARS.

SARS is notorious for their illegal activities and for torturing Nigerian citizens with extortion, harassment, theft, kidnapping, murder, and rape. Despite this, the Nigerian government has failed to act. 

Within just a few days of renewed protests, President Buhari dissolved the unit on the 11th October. Since then protests have continued calling for serious reform to Nigeria’s police force and government. 

On the 21st October, Nigeria’s police force opened fire on peaceful protestors at the Lekki toll gate in Lagos State, Nigeria. Witnesses report up to 12 people were killed and several wounded. President Buhari has failed to comment on the massacre and instead asks protestors to stop demonstrating and engage with the government. 

Vice President of LUU’s Nigerian Students Society said, “The University of Leeds has so many international students from Nigeria so it was only right we came here…at least half of the people here can identify with someone or several people that have been affected by what’s going on. It’s not just something on the news.” 

“We talk about corruption but I don’t think people actually understand the gravity of corruption.”

“It’s so important for us to keep the momentum going so people back home know that we’re not leaving them alone…”

I also spoke with Leeds Socialist Students; “I think its outrageous what the SARS unit are accused of…we were welcomed when it was announced that they were going to abolish SARS but in reality, the Nigerian government is replacing it with the SWAT unit instead and continuing that.” 

Socialist Students are currently working with the Youth Rights Campaign, a group in Nigeria providing support to young protestors on the ground. 

“Ultimately when people are oppressed in one side of the world, that affects people elsewhere. It gives the greenlight for those sort of abuses to take place elsewhere, and that’s why we’ve got to stamp it out and work together to do that.”

The demonstration was led by Co-Founder and Project Director of BLM Leeds, Marvina Newton.

I met Marvina a few weeks ago at the Mahogany Market where we talked about the importance of supporting Black-owned businesses. She messaged me about this demonstration and asked if I could do a report on it. I wasn’t able to speak with her until the very end, and the first question I asked was “How are you feeling?” to which she responded:

“I’m perplexed, I’m drained, I’m mentally exhausted. It’s like everyday a different story, a different pain, a different fight.

I’ve been protesting for nearly 20 weeks and just when you think you’re able to breathe again, something else happens. That statement ‘I can’t breathe’ means so much now than ever. I can’t. Can I get a break?”

“For BLM protests we have 15,000 – 20,000 people attending. Our protests are phenomenally big! But when it’s African lives, people just don’t turn up. And that makes me feel sad. That makes me feel heartbroken, that makes me feel lost. Even though I’m leading Black Lives Matter Leeds, it makes me feel that I don’t really matter because I’m not the kind of black that matters.” 

Marvina is currently organising, Nigerians United in the Diaspora, a network of Nigerian allies dedicated to supporting the voices of young African people. She also would like to thank the Gryphon and asks if any Black creators including writers, artists, designers would like to work with her, please feel free to contact.

“Leeds University has so many Nigerian students and has benefited so much from them over the years…we owe it back to them.”

Report and all photos by Maariyah Fulat