Soldiers then reportedly opened fire on demonstrators in the suburb of Lekki after dark, causing the deaths of a number of people. Amnesty International confirmed it had “credible but disturbing evidence of excessive use of force” but did not confirm the number dead.
It said on Twitter: “While we continue to investigate the killings, [we] wish to remind the authorities that under international law, security forces may only resort to the use of lethal force when strictly unavoidable to protect against imminent threat of death or serious injury." The United Nations also said there had been “multiple deaths” at the scene and pictures of the reported dead circulated on social media.
On Thursday, 24 hours after the shooting, Lagos state governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu said on Twitter that "forces beyond our direct control" had “moved to make dark notes in our history”and confirmed he had visited "victims of an unfortunate shooting incident" in hospital.
But why were the protests happening in the first place and what can you do to help?
What is Sars and why is it controversial?
Sars (the special anti-robbery squad) has been in the country since the early nineties. The New York Times reports that originally the group was formed to tackle violent crime in Lagos but this meant officers often worked undercover, travelling in unmarked vehicles and not in uniforms.
In recent years the accountability and behaviour of the unit has been called into question; a report by Amnesty International in 2016 found Sars is “responsible for widespread torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment…such methods include severe beating, hanging, starvation, shooting in the legs, mock executive and threat of execution”.
The report prompted assurances from the Nigerian authorities that Sars would be reformed, yet another Amnesty report in June 2020, said it again documented at least 82 cases of torture, ill-treatment and extra-judicial execution by Sars between January 2017 and May this year. It said Nigerian authorities had failed to prosecute a single officer as a result.
Amnesty found people between the ages of 17 and 30 are most at risk from Sars. They are often accused of being internet fraudsters (known as “Yahoo boys”) or armed robbers. “Young men with dreadlocks, ripped jeans, tattoos, flashy cars or expensive gadgets are targeted,” it says.
After years of violence, a movement against Sars began growing, particularly among the younger generation of Nigerians. The country, which gained independence 60 years ago, has 60 per cent of its population under the age of 24, according to UN figures, giving the movement widespread grass roots popularity, particularly online where the #EndSars hashtag has grown since its origin in 2017.
Why is the problem worse now?
Under increasing international pressure, on Sunday 11 October President Muhammadu Buhari announced Sars had been “dissolved with immediate effect”. But the protestors made further demands for reform for wider law enforcement and accountability for former Sars members. Including assurances they would not be absorbed into the rest of the police force.
Then, on Wednesday 21 October, the simmering tensions exploded into violence, causing numerous deaths. This fully shone the international spotlight on the issue, with a number of celebrities adding their voices to support End Sars, including UK-footballer Mesut Ozil, Marcus Rashford, Rihanna, John Boyega and Chance the rapper.
The UK’s foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, also said he was “deeply concerned by the continued clashes in Nigeria” and “alarmed by widespread reports of civilian deaths”.
How can you help from the UK?
Protests on the ground in the UK have already begun in London, with crowds gathering outside the Nigerian High Commission on 21 October. If you missed that one there is still a chance to join as there are more planned for the coming weekend.
According to the EndSars UK Instagram account there are further protests planned for Southampton, Birmingham and Luton on Saturday 24, and Reading and Glasgow on Sunday 25. The events in Birmingham and Luton will be candlelit vigils rather than active protests.
Just make sure you are following Covid-19 regulations and social distancing to keep safe.
Write to your MP
You can use the Write To Them website to find out who your local MP is and send them a letter. The contents of the letter should indicate that you are concerned about the events in Nigeria and urge your local representative to put pressure on the wider government to condemn what is happening.
Write to President Muhammadu Buhari
On the Amnesty website it gives you the option to write directly to the Nigerian president and attorney general Abubakar Malami. The automatic form provided online says it will send your email directly to their inboxes from the email address you provide.
There is already a template email provided so you don’t even need to be sure what to say - although you are free to edit this as you see fit. You just need to share your first name, last name, email address and country.
Sign a petition
If you don’t want to individually write a letter then you can still lend the weight of your signature to a petition like this one, which is currently asking the UK government to implement sanctions on Nigeria as a result of the violence.
The petition is on 200,000 signatures and only needed 100,000 to be considered for parliamentary debate.
Listen and learn online
One important part about interacting with online hashtags is ensuring that you are not amplifying your own voice above other people, especially people in the region who have greater working knowledge of the situation and what needs to be done.
Here is a handy Global Citizen explainer to get you caught up on all the facts. Campaign groups such as EndSars UK aim to amplify the voices of Nigerian youth and the Slacktivists’ guide on Instagram to what’s happening gives an overview of the situation in an easy-to-digest manner.
On Twitter a great starting point for verified updates and information is the Amnesty International Nigeria account, which you can follow here.
You can find fundraising links and ways to donate via different initiatives aiming to help protesters on the ground on the EndSars resource hub.
This includes charities like Feminist Coalition (a group at the forefront of the protests) and Diasporans against Sars. You can also send bitcoin via this link to the Nigeria Feminist Coalition.