‘We Are Able to Get Things Done.’ Women Are at the Forefront of Nigeria’s Police Brutality Protests

A demonstrator stands atop a vehicle and shouts slogans as others carry banners while blocking a road leading to the airport in Lagos on Oct. 12, 2020.
A demonstrator stands atop a vehicle and shouts slogans as others carry banners while blocking a road leading to the airport in Lagos on Oct. 12, 2020.

A demonstrator stands atop a vehicle and shouts slogans as others carry banners while blocking a road leading to the airport in Lagos on Oct. 12, 2020. Credit – Seun Sanni—Reuters

Before Tuesday, the mood among #endSARS protesters in Lagos was optimistic. For more than two weeks, protesters across Nigeria have taken to the streets calling for an end to police brutality and the dissolution of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (or SARS) police unit. But after violence on Tuesday night, which rights groups say left 12 people dead, many are afraid. “A lot of us at the forefront are terrified for our lives. We’ve never lived through anything like this in Lagos. We watched people get killed yesterday on social media,” says Jola Ayeye, a 28-year-old screenwriter based in Lagos.

An on-the-ground investigation by Amnesty International confirmed Wednesday that the Nigerian army and police killed at least 12 peaceful protesters in two Lagos suburbs the previous evening, as thousands of people protested against police brutality as part of the #EndSARS movement. Witnesses said several unarmed, peaceful protesters were shot dead at Lekki toll gate in Lagos, Nigeria on Oct. 20, as video footage emerged on social media appearing to show the Nigerian military firing live rounds at a crowd protesting as part of the #endSARS movement. Eyewitnesses at a separate protest site in Alausa told Amnesty International that they were attacked by a team of soldiers and policemen, leaving at least two people dead and one critically injured. At least 56 people have died across the country since the nationwide protests began on Oct. 8, with about 38 killed on Tuesday alone, according to Amnesty International.

Read More: The Nigerian Army Shot Dead at Least 12 Peaceful Protesters in Lagos, Rights Group Says. Here’s What to Know

The SARS unit has been the target of protests since 2017, but protesters say this latest wave is different than what came before. The movement is leaderless but driven by a younger generation of Nigerians, tired of being profiled by SARS operatives, who often carry out violent ambushes in plain clothes with little impunity. An Amnesty International report earlier this year documented at least 82 cases of torture, ill treatment and extra-judicial execution by SARS between January 2017 and May 2020, mostly targeting young men between the ages of 18 and 35. Although the Nigerian government announced that the SARS unit would be disbanded on Oct. 11, protesters are skeptical that will lead to real change—authorities have made and broken several promises regarding the disbandment and reforms of SARS over the past four years.

Protesters gather at Lagos' Lekki toll gate during a demonstration against police brutality on Oct. 15, 2020. <span class="copyright">Pierre Favennec—AFP/Getty Images</span>
Protesters gather at Lagos’ Lekki toll gate during a demonstration against police brutality on Oct. 15, 2020. Pierre Favennec—AFP/Getty Images

Nigerian DJ Obianuju Catherine Udeh, better known as DJ Switch, livestreamed on Instagram from Lekki on Tuesday evening and filmed the army

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