A screenshot of a police truck firing a water cannon at protesters in Nigeria.
Police use water cannons against protesters in Nigeria
02:42 - Source: CNN
Lagos, Nigeria CNN  — 

US rapper Kanye West has joined a growing list of international celebrities speaking out in support of large protests against police brutality in Nigeria.

“I stand with my Nigerian brothers and sisters to end police brutality, the government must answer to the peoples cries #EndPoliceBrutalityinNigeria,” West tweeted Monday.

Celebrities including singer Trey Songz (real name Tremaine Aldon Neverson), former professional footballer Rio Ferdinand and “Star Wars” actor John Boyega are also among those showing support to those protesting the disbandment of a controversial police unit in the West African nation.

The protests in cities across Nigeria came after weeks of outcry online from young people in the country over claims of kidnapping, harassment and extortion by a police unit known as the Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS). Demonstrations continued after the inspector general of police announced Sunday that the unit was being disbanded and its officers redeployed.

Using the hashtag #EndSARS on social media, international celebrities joined Nigerians in the campaign to end police brutality in all its forms.

“Police brutality here in America often is an abuse of power driven by race. To be brutalized, extorted, and murdered by your own people is unimaginable. Prayers up and I’m researching ways I can help. #EndSARS,” Trey Songz tweeted Saturday.

Similarly, American gospel singer Kirk Franklin, using the photo of one of the Nigerian protesters, issued a message of support on Instagram: “For over 20 years, Nigeria stood with me, now I stand with you. #endsarsnow.”

Diaspora protests

Over the weekend, the Nigerian diaspora community also organized protests in solidarity with their counterparts at home.

On Sunday, #EndSARS protests took place in Canada, England, Germany and the United States.

Fakhriyyah Hashim, one of the protesters in London, told CNN that the aim of the protest was to encourage the diaspora community in England to financially support protesters in Nigeria so that they can keep their protests running.

Afrobeat stars Wizkid (real name Ayodeji Balogun) and Mr Eazi (real name Oluwatosin Ajibade) also attended the London protest.

One of the protesters in London calling for an end to police brutality

Mr Eazi, addressing the crowd with a microphone, said that he had personally been stopped and harassed by SARS officers. “None of us are safe if we continue to stay in the comfort of our homes allowing people to speak and say it does not affect them,” he said in the video seen by CNN.

Protesters similarly gathered on Sunday and Monday chanting “End SARS” at Queen Street in Toronto, Canada.

Blessing Timidi Digha, one of the protesters who was present on both days, told CNN the demonstrators’ demands included justice for those brutalized by the police unit, reform of the police and an end to all forms of police brutality.

“We hoped to share our personal experiences in the hands of SARS and the police, to join our colleagues back home in demanding for the dignity of the Nigerian life,” Digha said.

Lagos state spokesman Muyiwa Adejobi said that all complaints against its officers are carefully investigated and appropriate sanctions applied to offenders. Adejobi added that many people don’t report abuse because they fear that they may not get justice. He encouraged people affected by police misconduct to report it.

Dissolution of SARS

As protests were ongoing in different parts of the world on Sunday, Nigeria’s inspector general of police, Mohammed Abubakar Adamu, announced that SARS was being dissolved.

But protests continued in Lagos, Abuja and Kwara on Monday, with young Nigerians saying they would continue to take to the streets until the entire police force was reformed.

“This is just the beginning!! We won our fight to #ENDSARS .. now Reform the Nigerian police!! #Endpolice brutality! We deserve good governance! #Endpolicebrutality,” Wizkid tweeted Sunday.

Abayomi Akinbo, who participated in protests in the Nigerian capital Abuja, agreed. “It is not enough to end that unit and redeploy them to other places,” he told CNN. “What we want is for the unit to end, and an investigation into the conduct of the SARS unit to be conducted.”

Akinbo added that officers should be trained on how to engage with citizens to minimize the brutality they inflict on people.

Addressing Nigerians in a video on Monday, President Muhammadu Buhari said that the disbandment of SARS “is only the first step in our commitment to extensive police reform.”

He added that every police officer responsible for wrongful acts would be brought to justice.