Activism

Rihanna, Beyoncé & Other Celebs Are Amplifying #EndSARS, The Nigerian Protests Against Police Brutality

At least 56 people have been killed in Nigeria in protests against police brutality, according to multiple outlets. Celebrities and individuals around the world are calling attention to the ongoing crisis.

A demonstrator holds a sign during protest over alleged police brutality in Lagos, Nigeria October 17, 2020. Picture taken October 17, 2020. | REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja
A demonstrator holds a sign during protest over alleged police brutality in Lagos, Nigeria October 17, 2020. Picture taken October 17, 2020. | REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja

Celebrities including Rihanna, Beyoncé and Lizzo are using their platforms this week to support  Nigeria's growing #EndSARS movement, as news has spread of an increasing death toll during protests against police brutality According to Amnesty International, “At least 56 people have died across the country since the protest began, with about 38 killed on Tuesday alone.”

In early October, a disturbing video surfaced of federal police officers from Nigeria’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) dragging two men from a hotel and shooting one of them outside, prompting protests in the West African country and public outcry online. 

The grassroots movement #EndSARS was created to push for the abolishment of SARS. Critics of the unit, which was created in 1992, say that it has historically abused its power and been linked to dozens of beatings, hangings, torture and sexual assault. 

“I am heartbroken to see the senseless brutality taking place in Nigeria. There has to be an end to SARS,” Beyoncé wrote on Instagram Wednesday. “We have been working on partnerships with youth organizations to support those protesting for change. We are collaborating with coalitions to provide emergency healthcare, food and shelter. To our Nigerian sisters and brothers, we stand with you.”

She also urged fans to learn more about organizations supporting the movement on her website.

Rihanna spoke out in support of the movement earlier this week, saying on Twitter, "I can't [bear] to see this torture and brutalization that is continuing to affect nations across our planet! It's such a betrayal to the citizens, the very people put in place to protect are the ones who are most afraid of being murdered by! My heart is broken for Nigeria man! It is unbearable to watch! I'm so proud of your strength and [for] not letting up on the fight for what's right! #EndSARS."

Other notable individuals who have spoken out in support of the movement include Missy Elliot, Ava DuVernay, PJ Morton, and Lizzo, who implored followers on Instagram to follow the #EndSARS hashtag to learn about more ways to help.

The #LekkiMassacre

On Tuesday, the conflict between authorities and demonstrators intensified, when witnesses say Nigerian security forces opened fire on a demonstrating crowd singing the country’s National Anthem at the Lekki toll gate plaza in Lagos. 

According to a tally by Amnesty International, 12 people were killed and hundreds of others were injured. The hashtag #LekkiMassacre began trending online with individuals around the world criticizing authorities’ brutal actions. The United Nations Secretary General issued a statement Wednesday, condemning the violence, offering condolences to affected families and calling for Nigerian authorities “to investigate these incidents and hold the perpetrators accountable.”

The Nigerian government responded to the initial protests by announcing on October 11 that it would immediately dissolve the SARS unit, but demonstrations have continued, demanding further police accountability and changes for offenders in the unit.

Authorities and officials including Lagos state governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu have claimed that there have been “criminal elements” to the demonstrations including torching, looting buildings and “unleashing terror on citizens.” Amnesty has said of those who have been killed, “Victims include protesters and thugs who were allegedly hired by the authorities to confront the protesters. In many cases the security forces had used excessive force in an attempt to control or stop the protests. 

What Has Happened Since? 

Nigerian Vice President Yemi Osinbajo said on Twitter Wednesday, “The pain of these terrible events is palpable in our towns and cities, and some losses are irreplaceable, but we can and will get justice for all of them. I stand with Lagos & all other affected states in these trying times.”

President Muhammadu Buhari spoke on Thursday, urging citizens to end demonstrations, and asking them to “resist the temptation of being used by some subversive elements to cause chaos.”

He also said he was “deeply pained that innocent lives have been lost” but didn’t mention if the brutal events that had occurred earlier in the week were being investigated, according to The Guardian.  

Movement protests have continued in Lagos, as have solidarity protests around the world, including in the United States. Writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie penned an op-ed for the New York Times Wednesday about how “Nigeria is murdering its citizens” and expressed her support of the demonstrators.