Change Around the World: Nigeria Fights Back Against SARS

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By Julia Demskie, Staff Writer

On October 20th, 2020, 3 years of unrest and mistreatment came to a head in Nigeria. Widespread, largely peaceful, protests broke out across the nation, calling once and for all to put an end to the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) that has a history of terrorizing members of the most vulnerable communities. 

These demonstrations resulted in tragedy and fear felt by all, especially when soldiers opened fire on a crowd in Lagos, Nigeria’s most populous city, killing many civilians that is still undetermined. Since then, news of the efforts of thousands of Nigerian citizens has rippled in and out of the global media cycle. But has the movement gained the attention it deserves? Or has it been neglected in the wake of Americanized media, constantly focused on the months of protests in the United States and the presidential election?

Anastasia Glover is an 18-year-old student at the University of Albany, who moved to New York from Italy this summer. When asked about her subjection to international news, she said, “Most of the news stories I was exposed to were [from] Russian, Italian, and French networks, and CNN.” She added, “Most of them were about America, except for the Italian news networks I was exposed to.”

SARS, created in 1992, was originally formed to combat a rise in violent crime in Africa’s most populous nation. Over the almost 3 decades it’s been active, the true colors of the organization have been revealed due to many occasions of brutality towards civilians. From January of 2017 to May of 2020, at least 82 cases of torture and ill-treatment, mostly of young, poor men, have been reported against SARS officers.

The outrage began following many videos of officers using excessive force surfacing on social media, but the most recent catalyst was the shooting of Daniel Chibuike. Just 20 years old, Chibuike, most commonly referred to as “Sleek”, was an upcoming musician, who was killed in a supermarket. Sleek was targeted by SARS officers, being called a “thief” before he was shot, and the friend he had been with at the time was arrested. Although Sleek didn’t nearly gain the momentum in the media that he and other victims deserved, until their fellow Nigerian citizens essentially had to beg, for both attention and justice.

Similarly, in the United States, years of built-up frustration and fear have taken hold of the nation since May of 2020. Thousands of Americans finally broke down the dam of silencing and dismissing in the aftermath of far too many black citizens being murdered at the hands of the police. Two of the most influential deaths were that of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Grief manifested into powerful movements and demonstrations across the country, all stressing the importance of a simple yet profound phrase: Black Lives Matter.

The protests against police brutality and systemic racism within the justice system led by the Black Lives Matter movement have reached people everywhere in the world, with many demonstrators standing in solidarity in European countries such as England, and even in Anastasia Glover’s hometown in Italy. But have the struggles of Nigerians been lost in the shadow of Americans engaged in such a similar fight?

Matan Ziv, 16, is a Junior at New Paltz High School. Every year, he spends an extended amount of time in Israel, and is familiar with the way news is broadcasted internationally. Speaking about the Black Lives Matter protests in the U.S, he explained, “I would say I’m pretty informed… I stay pretty updated on most of the BLM stuff.” After, he admitted to knowing a significantly reduced amount of information about the anti-SARS protests. “Unfortunately, I would say (I know) way less,” elaborating with, “…there’s so much new news coming in every day, from thousands of different sites, each with a different opinion, and it’s hard not to be overwhelmed.”

This trend isn’t exclusive to just these events. Millions of foreigners know who Donald Trump and Joe Biden are, but most Americans fall short in naming the leaders of other countries around the world.  July 4th is a well known holiday by the people of other nations, but those who celebrate it have trouble placing the days when those other nations celebrate their independence. The Americanized society of the present day isn’t limited to just media and current events.

So how is anyone in the United States learning about these events effectively? Jessica Fredericks, a Global History teacher at New Paltz High school, like many people today, gathered a summary of what is happening and why from social media posts. Seeing posts meant to bring awareness then prompted her to do her own research on the subject. BBC is the outlet she uses most frequently to read about news happening outside of the U.S.

Naturally, younger people who don’t have as much of an interest in international events don’t take initiative to investigate on their own. To combat the trend of teenagers taking stories at face value, Mrs. Fredericks believes such events belong in the Global History curriculum. “…[my department] does it all the time – we are not only trying to educate American citizens but global citizens who can think beyond the borders of the U.S,” Fredericks says.

In her classes, she tackles opportunities to connect current world events to what she’s teaching her students at a given moment. Fredericks concluded, “I would say that it is as important as informing students about the past.”

Featured Photo: Tope Ayodeji Asokere, Wikimedia Commons