Protests against a Nigerian police unit have received a boost from celebrity support and viral campaigning.
For more than a week, the #EndSARS hashtag has been trending on social media in Nigeria. It has now spread to other countries, with the hashtag becoming the worldwide top Twitter trend on Friday.
The hashtag is a public cry for the Nigerian government to disband the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a unit repeatedly accused of corruption and brutality. This week, fresh protests erupted over the alleged killing of a man by SARS officers last Saturday.
In an open letter to Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, actress, producer and director Genevieve Nnaji urged the president to end the violence perpetuated by SARS.
“We are not all criminals and shouldn’t be treated as such,” Nnaji wrote. “We honestly do not know the difference between the criminals and the law enforcers anymore. While there are good people in the force, the bad people are overshadowing them. The lack of value for human life in our country is disheartening and heartbreaking.”
“Mr. President, you are our Commander in Chief. I plead with you to command your troops to stand down.”
British-Nigerian actor John Boyega voiced his support for the campaign, as did popular actress Genevieve Nnaji and musicians Davido and DJ Cuppy.
“The youth in Nigeria deserve good leadership and guidance. This situation is tied to many other issues. Please lend your attention to this pressing problem!” Boyega posted on Twitter. “Three years ago Nigeria’s police chief re-organised SARS after public condemnation about the violence that came with their operations. That change has done nothing for Nigerians and today many are still in danger,” Boyega continued.
Chart-topping musician Davido tweeted: “My people need me …. #EndSarsNow,” while Wizkid tweeted a simple #endsars #endpolice brutality. He has hinted that he will join a planned protest in London on Sunday.
Meanwhile, after receiving pressure from fans to publicly back the protests, DJ Cuppy wrote: “I would (be) lying if I said I’m DIRECTLY affected by SARS but a lot of my Cupcakes are and that’s enough for me to care. I stand behind the movement to #EndPoliceBrutality AND #EndSARS.”
Nigerian artists such as Tiwa Savage, Runtown, Falz, Wulrd and DJ Spinal joined protests in Lagos on Thursday.
Footage emerged on Friday of police using tear gas at a protest against police brutality in the capital Abuja. Similar protests have taken place in other cities across the country, including Lagos and Ibadan.
Nigeria’s Inspector General of Police Mohammed Adamu banned the unit from carrying out stop and search duties and setting up roadblocks. He also promised the unit would be investigated.
But protesters want the unit disbanded completely.
Amnesty International has said the authorities have failed to diminish the unit’s “impunity” and that brutality and corruption is getting worse, “despite repeated pledges to reform the police squad and investigate violations committed by its officers.”