Over the past month, Nigeria has been engulfed in a sweeping wave of protests and demonstrations to abolish the country’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad, also known as SARS.
Although originally founded to reduce violence, SARS has since been widely accused of becoming the very organization it was created to stop — a notoriously ruthless agency of corruption and crime.
Thousands of miles away in Ithaca, members of the Nigerian diaspora and Cornell community have also rallied around these calls.
For three students — Barbara Oramah ’20 M.Eng’21, Chloe Chidera Ene ’20 and Latifah Dami Odunowo ’21 — the movement to end SARS has hit especially close to home.
“The three of us are Nigerian students who are passionate about our country,” Oramah said. “We felt that, even though we’re miles away from home, we could still do something to help.”
While calls to abolish SARS have been made for years, the movement exploded in Nigeria in early October. According to Prof. Sabrina Karim, government, although #EndSARS has long existed as an online campaign, the movement gained momentum in early October after receiving support from prominent Nigerian individuals, allowing the movement to grow exponentially.
In Nigeria, nationwide demonstrations to dismantle SARS erupted Oct. 20, when armed soldiers opened fire on peaceful protests in Lagos, amid reports that the government secretly cut electricity and removed security camera footage. The shooting, which killed about 38 protesters, further fueled tensions.
Although Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari pledged to disband SARS in response to the protests, his proposal — which would reassign former SARS officers to other Nigerian police units — has done little to quell unrest.
“[#EndSARS] has interesting similar parallels to the Black Lives Matter movement this summer,”Karim said, adding that the movement can be seen as part of a transnational movement for police reform around the world.
Social media has also played an important role in expanding the #EndSARS movement. From Oramah, Ene and Odunowo’s experiences, not only has social media helped raise global awareness of the #EndSARS campaign, but it has also ensured that perpetrators of violence are held accountable for their actions.
“I don’t think social media has ever been as powerful as it is now, in terms of getting the truth out there,” Ene said. “What we’re seeing in Nigeria is there’s so much corruption, and that a lot of news stations aren’t covering what’s going on, or only covering the government narrative.”
Even though there is increased global awareness of the #EndSARS movement in Nigeria, many Cornellians remain unaware of what is happening.
“For the wider Cornell community, I don’t think [SARS] is something that is on people’s radars, which is understandable since a lot of the news is just now being broadcast by more prominent figures in the US,” Odunowo said.
From covering campus with posters to raise awareness, to holding a candlelight vigil for the victims of SARS on Oct. 25 — a vigil held in solidarity with other #EndSARS vigils around the world — Oramah, Ene and Odunowo have worked to bring light to the #EndSARS movement in Ithaca.
They hope that through raising awareness of SARS, they will be able to drive change, both in Nigeria and beyond.
“Nigeria isn’t underdeveloped, it’s overexploited,” Ene said. “We want a Nigeria that we can be proud of, and that’s what we’re fighting for.”
“Nigeria is the largest Black nation in the world,” Ene said. “If Nigeria is able to get things right, then the rest of Africa can get things right, and that will have a ripple effect around the world.”