Two years ago, on October 20, 2020, security forces marched to the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos and shot unarmed Nigerian youths protesting against police brutality. No one has been held accountable for the tragedy the government insists didn’t happen.
That night continues to be the defining moment of a movement young Nigerians remain proud of. But there are still questions about if it was worth the sacrifice and if it changed anything.
We spoke to Nigerians who’ve been vocal about the movement for their thoughts.
Obianuju Iloanya — social justice campaigner
“Being a survivor of police brutality, I can assure you nothing has changed for most families — and I’m in contact with most of them. It’s still business as usual. We went to the judicial panels, but some states didn’t even release their reports.
They say they disbanded SARS, but what happened to the people working under SARS? Were there psychological evaluations for them or were they just added back to the Force? I don’t think there’ve been any marked changes within the Police Force or the government.
Is it that the Nigerian Police is unchangeable and cannot be reformed? Is it the leadership or the junior officers not getting the memo from the top? We need the police to be overhauled, and maybe we do need community policing. We need the police to be responsive.”
Olubiyi “Oli Ekun” Tobiloba — actor, influencer
“The EndSARS protest was successful, but not all the way. When everybody came out, it was more like, “We really have to come out for this, and they have to hear our voice”. Unfortunately, the protest was disrupted by the massacre in Lekki.
The protest wasn’t fruitless because they know what we can do now. As a result of our actions, police officials are more responsive to complaints from the public. I’ve seen them bring rogue officers to book and show them to the public. That wasn’t happening before.
But more can be done. I’d love to be able to dial an emergency number to report crimes in progress. And officers should be paid well.”
Eromosele “Eromz” Adene — activist
“One can’t ignore that the police force have put a lot of PROs online just to show people, “We’re here, and you can talk to us.” To an extent, police issues are easier to deal with because a lot of people who would naturally message me, or other civilian activists, now message these PROs. From the feedback we get, most of them have their issues resolved. The PROs’ numbers are also out there online, and you can call them at any time of the day.
Has the harassment reduced or stopped? I’d say, for me, it’s reduced because of fear on the side of the police that the youths may organise a bigger EndSARS, not because they really want to. The police still physically abuse many people. I still get complaints about harassment and extortion by the police. It may not be of the same magnitude as before the protest, but it’s still there.
EndSARS didn’t need to happen for the police to stop killing people — it’s basic empathy and respect for human lives. There are so many things the government can do to reform the police. Once you pay well, half of the issues will go. You don’t pay them well, their houses are nothing to write home about, their kids go to subpar schools and they’re not even on scholarships. These guys have to feed. It’s not hard to pay them well and stop stealing their money.
Generally, EndSARS was more than successful, and we’ll continue to benefit from it. If you check the attitude of the youths, it was the first time we came together, putting everything aside, to make demands for better leadership. EndSARS was a catalyst for a lot of things.”
Rinu Oduala — activist and social justice advocate
“After the Nigerian government dissolved SARS in October 2020, the Police Force continued to extort and brutalise innocent citizens. The reports of the judicial panels have not met expectations.
Police reform should be about building trust between the police and citizens. We’re supposed to have the NPF working with technology and social media. I’ve seen a lot of PROs of state commands on social media, but it looks as if their only function is to launder the image of the police force without actually treating the main causes of why they’re there — to make sure citizens regain trust in the Police Force.
The biggest stumbling block to police reform is political will. The Nigerian state isn’t interested in police reform. The police as an institution in Nigeria currently serves the interest of politicians. Why end police brutality if the police are being used to oppress the citizenry? Like Mr Femi Falana (SAN) says, Nigeria has some of the best laws in the whole world, but there’s no implementation. There have been recommendations, reports, committees and panels, but the Nigerian government isn’t interested in them.
What citizens can do is keep using their voices to ask for accountability. As long as the criminals in uniform don’t stop killing us, we need to keep voicing out. There has to be more citizen action.
The EndSARS movement is a success because it’s still alive in our hearts. One of its successes is it unified Nigerians across platforms — we all called for an end to police brutality together. It showed that we could put aside our differences to come together for a common goal.”
Ajibola Grey — influencer
“We had many unspoken goals for EndSARS. We didn’t get to achieve all of them, but the world heard us. We fought, shook the government and passed our message. To an extent, police brutality has reduced. Even in cases where there’s police harassment, the institution swings into action very fast to attend to the situation. We’re now aware of our rights and what’s going on in the country.
But police reform will never be enough until every single policeman in this country respects the rights of citizens. People are more scared of policemen than of thieves.
We need an entire re-orientation of the Police Force. We can’t deny these people need to be taken care of — they’re badly paid and don’t live in good conditions. A hungry man can do almost anything — the government needs to stop making these people suffer because their job is risky.”