May 28, 2022

Opinion | A year after #EndSARS in Nigeria, we must remain committed to the global quest for justice for Black people – The Washington Post

  • November 12, 2021
  • 5 min read
Opinion | A year after #EndSARS in Nigeria, we must remain committed to the global quest for justice for Black people – The Washington Post

Ayọ Tometi is a co-creator of Black Lives Matter and founder of Diaspora Rising.
A year ago, on Oct. 20, social media was splattered with the blood of Nigerians. Demonstrators had gathered at Lagos’s Lekki toll gate to protest the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a violent and abusive arm of the police. Then we saw the live stream of Obianuju Catherine Udeh, better known as DJ Switch, when day turned to night and Nigeria gunned down its own citizens for peacefully protesting police brutality.
Not long before, the West had faced its own reckoning with police violence and racism, as Black Lives Matter protests spread globally following the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor.
But the idea that anti-Black racism was only an issue for nations with White dominance was shattered by the reality of the #EndSARS protests in Nigeria. For me, a Nigerian American woman who in 2013 had helped popularize Black Lives Matter and build a network for activists, it was clear that the struggle for justice for Black people was global, and it starts with our right to free speech.
Black activism is not new, and Africans have been mobilizing for justice for generations. Corruption and the violent suppression of dissent in many Black nations remain one of the many vestiges of colonialism. The tentacles of Western influence continue to allow injustice to prevail. The British military has trained Nigerian forces, and the United States has sold the country millions in arms. The laws around policing are colonial in nature, and efforts at reform had failed before the Lekki massacre.
However, when Nigerians mobilized last year during their independence month and used their bodies to create a new narrative about what was possible for their country, something profound shifted. They had spoken out before (many of us are familiar with the activism and music of Fela Kuti), but this time, with #EndSARS, we saw a unified voice. This was what captured the attention of the diaspora and allies around the world.
Crowds of hundreds of thousands of Nigerians –– ignorant of class, tribe, gender, religion or sexual orientation — showed a harmony not seen in decades. They danced and chanted together. Seeing Africans mobilizing in 2020, in the middle of a pandemic, was deeply moving and inspiring. Then it was deeply heartbreaking.
Many lives were lost at Lekki. We don’t know exactly how many or who exactly within President Muhammadu Buhari’s government, and within the Lagos state’s leadership, should be held responsible. But the power of #EndSARS never dissipated.
Nigerian people are still speaking out. Their resilience — following the chants “Soro soke,” or speak louder — became clear after the repression. The #EndSARS movement understood that the victims and perpetrators are deeply intertwined, and they wanted to see changes to society that reflected the harmony that the demonstrations showed us was possible.
In solidarity, we used the BLM social media platforms to share updates and content to ensure the diaspora understood what was happening. At Diaspora Rising we took it a step further and kept eyes on #EndSARS for International Human Rights Day. On Dec. 10, we mobilized 60 prominent Black leaders and allies (60 because Nigeria celebrated its 60th year of independence) to call on Buhari to stop the abuse of his citizens for having the audacity to speak out.
Buhari and his government have attempted to lie and even gaslight the hundreds of families who lost loved ones during last year’s uprisings. Many prominent activists have lost their livelihoods, and others have been forced to flee. Twitter — which played a crucial role in the demonstrations — is now banned in the country.
But people have found other means to keep speaking loudly — soro soke. On Oct. 8, I watched Burna Boy perform in Los Angeles. The Nigerian artist’s song, 20:10:20, about the Lekki massacre, moved the crowd. “We give them many chances/dem fail my people/And when we cry for justice/Them kill my people,” he sang. He then called for a moment of silence to honor the lives of those who were taken. In Nigeria, organizations, including Amnesty International and Enough Is Enough Nigeria, are now officially collaborating to ensure well-documented injustices do not go unaddressed. And on Wednesday, many mobilized — at public spaces and with car memorial processions, declaring that they will not be silenced. What felt like a devastating and irredeemable blow to the human rights movement a year ago now looks like the beginning for a new Nigeria, and its diaspora, which is now watching closely.
There’s a lot of work ahead. Violence at the hands of the Nigerian government continues, in a nation where only 1 percent of the population is fully vaccinated against covid-19 (the entire continent is only 5 percent fully vaccinated). We must keep working alongside our Nigerian and African siblings for justice in their lands. As Malcolm X once said, “As long as we think that we should get Mississippi straightened out before we worry about the Congo, you’ll never get Mississippi straightened out.” There is enough compassion and connection between our vibrant cultures that we are compelled to remain committed to justice in every context.
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