Over the past week, young Nigerians have ramped up widespread protests—online and offline—against rampant brutality by local police.
The core of the protests have included a call for the government of president Muhammadu Buhari is to scrap SARS, a notorious “special” police unit designated to combat armed robbery but is largely known instead for blatant extortion and in some cases, extra-judicial killings.
SARS officers typically target and detain young men by accusing them of being online fraudsters, simply on the evidence of owning a laptop or smartphone, and then request arbitrary and exorbitant bail fees before they regain their freedom. In more extreme cases, SARS officers abduct civilian targets and force them to make withdrawals at an ATM in exchange for their freedom, sometimes at gunpoint. The unit also targets young women as well, often claiming, again with scant evidence, they are prostitutes, which is illegal in some parts of Nigeria. There have been several reports of women being sexually assaulted while in detention.
The latest round of anti-SARS protests have morphed organically from online hashtags into street protests in what feels like a tipping point for a generation of young Nigerians.
Online and offline
One of the core components of the ongoing protests has been the seamless transition between online and offline campaigns. Mainly using Twitter and WhatsApp, young people have rallied and mobilized waves of protests to locations across the country with pretty simple formulas.