Footballers are showing support for the #EndSARS protests in Nigeria in numbers, amid claims the military are responsible for killing 12 citizens on Tuesday.
Following Manchester United’s Tuesday night win over Paris Saint-Germain, Odion Ighalo posted a video message to social media in which he called the Nigerian government “a shame to the world.”
It followed reports on Tuesday that Nigerian military opened fire on citizens attending an #EndSars demonstration in Lagos. The city’s state governor said there was only one fatality. However, human rights organisation Amnesty international now claim to have evidence that “the Nigerian army and police killed at least 12 peaceful protesters.”
They add that since the most recent #EndSars protests began on October 8th, “At least 56 people have died across the country since the protest began, with victims including protesters and people allegedly hired by the authorities to confront the protesters.”
Pray for NIGERIA🇳🇬✊🏿 pic.twitter.com/V7i4Ngs9qd
— Odion Jude Ighalo (@ighalojude) October 20, 2020
In his video, Ighalo said: “Sending the military to kill unarmed protesters because they are protesting for their own rights? It’s uncalled for.
“I’m calling the UK government and all the leaders in the world to see what is going on in Nigeria and help the poor citizens. The government are killing their own citizens.
“We are calling you guys in the United Nations to see to this matter. I want to tell my brothers and sisters back home to remain safe, be indoor and please don’t come out because the government are killers and they will keep killing if the world doesn’t talk about this.”
Pray for Nigeria 💔😢 pic.twitter.com/LHjOPYkdsR
— Ndidi Wilfred (@Ndidi25) October 20, 2020
What does #EndSars mean?
Launched in 2017, #EndSARS refers to the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a Nigerian police unit of which many officers have been accused of various crimes including extortion, harmful profiling and, most shockingly, torture and extrajudicial killings.
Amnesty International published a report in June of this year in which they cite 82 cases of “torture, ill treatment and extra-judicial execution” by SARS between January 2017 and May 2020. In none of those cases, they add, was a SARS member punished by higher authorities.
“The complete failure of Nigerian authorities to bring an end to the gross human rights violations perpetuated by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad or to bring any SARS officer to justice is shocking and unacceptable,” said Osai Ojigho, director of Amnesty International Nigeria.
— ASISAT M.O.N (@AsisatOshoala) October 11, 2020
#EndSARS for the safety of Nigerians… we are scared to visit home because the people who are meant to protect us are killing us. Looking good with dreads is not a crime..
— Ndidi Wilfred (@Ndidi25) October 10, 2020
— Alexander Iwobi (@alexiwobi) October 15, 2020
Nigerian youth, backed by sports stars, took to Twitter and other social media platforms to call for justice using the hashtag #EndSARS. Soon more famous Nigerian footballers like Asisat Oshoala, Wilfred Ndidi, Franny Ordega and Ighalo began using their sizable platforms to amplify the message and spread it to the world.
Victor Osimhen, Napoli’s record signing, displayed the message ‘End Police Brutality In Nigeria’ on a shirt after scoring his first goal for his new club on Saturday.
Non-Nigerian players like Marcus Rashford and Tammy Abraham have shown solidarity since the protests began, as well.
— Marcus Rashford MBE (@MarcusRashford) October 11, 2020
Outside of football, celebrities such as John Boyega and Rihanna have expressed grief over recent events while highlighting the movement.
— Rihanna (@rihanna) October 20, 2020
— John Boyega (@JohnBoyega) October 21, 2020
SARS was disbanded earlier in October but there remains scepticism as to whether the government will enact meaningful reform to solve the issue of police harassment and brutality in Nigeria, hence the further protests.
“In the past three years, the government has promised to reform SARS three times,” Nigerian historian Toyin Falola wrote for the Independent prior to Tuesday’s shootings.
He continued: “Now that SARS has been ‘disbanded,’ and its personnel is to be scattered among other police units, the protests continue in pursuance of the aspirations for a deeper commitment to an end to police brutality and not a mere repackaging and rebranding.”
While some, like Ighalo, have called for UN intervention, others have highlighted the dangers of outside interference, instead proposing support for grassroots organisations and the amplification of messages such as #EndSars.
Sanctions/intervention is not the solution. Support grassroots orgs on the ground in Nigeria… 👊🏾 https://t.co/NCBZqX8TEZ
— Akala (@akalamusic) October 21, 2020
That amplification is only likely to continue growing as more and more footballers begin supporting the cause.