On October 20, 2022, Nigerians will commemorate the two-year anniversary of the EndSARS protests which ended in Nigerian security forces shooting and brutalising unarmed Nigerians.
As we remember them, we take a look at the timeline of events leading up to the tragic events of October 20, 2020.
A brief history of SARS
The Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) was created in 1992 as a unit of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) to combat a worrying trend of armed robbery and kidnapping. However, SARS eventually became the monster it set out to destroy as officers tortured, blackmailed, kidnapped and extrajudicially murdered Nigerians.
For 10 years, SARS operated in Lagos, but by 2002 it had spread to all the states in Nigeria. The rest of the country was about to see the shege Lagos people were seeing.
SARS gone rogue
SARS gained international notoriety in 2010 when Amnesty International rebuked Nigeria over its poor human rights record. The organisation singled out SARS for its unlawful killings and enforced disappearances of citizens, but that didn’t dissuade them.
In 2016, Amnesty International again released a strongly-worded report, condemning SARS for its “widespread torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” of detainees. The organisation noted that officers subjected Nigerians to various methods of torture and ill- treatment in order to extract information and bogus confessions.
Still, SARS continued with impunity, and young Nigerians, fed up with the government’s inaction over the rogue agency, took their grievances online.
The seeds of EndSARS
It’s not clear exactly when the #EndSARS hashtag was first used, and by whom. Despite disputed claims over its origin, by 2017 the hashtag became frequent on Twitter.
By December 2017, there was an #EndSARS rally staged in Freedom Park, Lagos. Although it recorded a low turnout, the seeds that would inspire a global protest had already been sown.
Weak government and police response
In December 2017, then Inspector General of Police (IGP), Ibrahim Idris, ordered the “reorganisation of SARS” — a cosmetic response that was, in essence, the same thing as asking a rabid dog to stay quiet. By 2018, following public outcry, the acting president, Yemi Osinbajo, ordered the IGP to “review the operations of SARS”. In January 2019, a new IGP, Mohammed Adamu, ordered the “disbandment of SARS”.
Police reform in Nigeria typically followed this template for years — a press release here, photo op there, and empty promises all over the place.
In June 2020, Amnesty International released yet another report faulting Nigerian authorities for failing to prosecute a single police officer in three years over the use of torture, despite laws being passed against it. The warning signs were there but the government ignored them as usual.
On October 3, 2020, a trending video that accused SARS officers of shooting a man and throwing him off a speeding vehicle in Ughelli, Delta State set off the chain of events that became the EndSARS protests.
It was at this point Nigerian youths had enough and took their complaints to the streets.
Timeline of the EndSARS protests
October 3, 2020
Protests began over footage of SARS officers shooting a young man in Delta state.
October 8, 2020
Youths converged at the Lagos State House of Assembly complex to protest against police brutality. They stayed over till the next day.
October 9, 2020
The Lagos State House of Assembly held an emergency session to address the grievances of the protesters. Young people also protested at the police headquarters in Abuja and protests started popping up in other states across Nigeria.
October 10, 2020
Protests continued with police using water cannons and teargas to disperse protesters in Abuja. In Ogbomosho, Oyo State, police officers fired gunshots to disperse a protest and killed Jimoh Isiaka.
October 11, 2020
October 12, 2020
The governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, outlawed protests in his state. In Surulere, Lagos, stray bullets from the police killed a bystander but they blamed the protesters.
October 13, 2020
Delta State governor, Ifeanyi Okowa, announced the formation of a complaints committee to deal with the grievances of protesters. The IGP announced the setting up of a Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) unit to replace SARS but protesters didn’t welcome the idea.
The Lagos State government announced a ₦200 million fund for victims of police brutality, and the presidency said it would accept the five demands of EndSARS protesters.
October 14, 2020
In Lagos and Abuja, hoodlums and pro-SARS individuals attacked protesters and burnt vehicles.
October 15, 2020
The Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Muhammad Bello, banned protests in the capital city.
October 16, 2020
An activist group, Anonymous, hacked the Twitter account of the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) to post a solidarity message for protesters. Candlelight vigils held across the country.
October 20, 2020
Governor Sanwo-Olu announced a state-wide curfew in Lagos but some protesters remained at the Lekki Toll Gate. As night approached, officers of the Nigerian Army arrived at the toll gate and opened fire on unarmed protesters who were singing the national anthem.
The defining image of that night is the Nigerian flag soiled with the blood of its slain youth.