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How Black Lives Matter Co-Founder Opal Tometi Is Continuing the Fight to #EndSARS in Nigeria

News Activism
by Diana Modupe Dec 14, 2020

While Black Lives Matter protests have reignited throughout 2020 to fight against police brutality after George Floyd’s death, another global movement against police brutality shook social media in October. The #EndSARS hashtag began as a call to action from Nigerian youth to hold the Special Anti-Robbery Squad accountable for their violent and brutal treatment of Nigerian citizens. Some of the stories from victims of SARS violence over the years have included being kidnapped and held hostage, being tortured, being extorted for money, and suffering additional human rights violations.

While Nigerian President Buhari announced on Oct. 11, 2020, that he had plans to dissolve SARS, Nigerian youth were not convinced, as similar promises have been made in previous years to no avail. The announcement, which stated that SARS would be dissolved immediately, actually meant that SARS officers would be redeployed into other units of the Nigerian police instead of being held accountable for their actions. As protests continued shortly after the announcement, the Lekki toll gate massacre took place on Oct. 20, 2020, in which the Nigerian Army and police unit violently killed and wounded dozens of peaceful protestors. Following the incident, some activists have either gone in hiding or fled the country out of fear for their lives.

Since then, social media posts have slowed down. Originally meant to be the outlet that could not silence Nigerian youth, social media could now become even more censored in the country with the introduction of the National Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speech bill and the Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulation and other Related Offenses bill. While these bills date back to 2019, the passing of the bills could be detrimental to Nigerian activists on social media. To ensure that Nigerian stories are heard, Nigerian-American co-founder of Black Lives Matter Opal Tometi has launched several initiatives to emphasize that Black Lives Matter worldwide.

As the founder of Diaspora Rising, a media and advocacy organization “dedicated to strengthening the bonds among members of the global Black family,” Tometi has used this platform to start a series of conversations with citizen who are currently in Nigeria, to amplify their voices and to share their stories of the current conditions with the public. Each episode of Rising Together features notable figures in the Nigerian community to discuss possible solutions to the issues at hand and how to work toward a new Nigeria.

In the debut episode, Tometi sits down with the executive director of Amnesty International Nigeria, Osai Ojigho, to highlight the extent of the movement. Osai shares the history of Nigerian police and how SARS, initially founded to focus on robberies, has abused its power over the years, leading to the current movement. The latest episode of Rising Together features Aisha Yesefu, one of the leading forces behind the #BringBackOurGirls campaign. In this episode, Aisha reveals that young protestors are still being targeted and shot by police and mentions that demonstrators were also tear gassed, shot, and arrested for protesting at the National Assembly on Nov. 6, 2020. She goes on to share her encounter with the police on the front lines and discusses the role of women leaders in both the #BringBackOurGirls and #EndSARS movements.

Along with providing a platform for Nigerian activists, Opal has also been using her social media to share additional ways people can support the movement and has partnered with other Nigerian public figures for calls to action. As Dec. 20, 2020 will mark the two-month anniversary of the massacre, the public can continue to advocate for change in Nigeria through amplifying Nigerian voices, spreading awareness, and donating to the #EndSARS solidarity campaign. You can also sign the open letter to Nigeria’s President Buhari.

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