Written by
Amos Oluwatoye
Director for Research, BBFORPEACE

For over a decade, young Nigerians have been faced with the challenge of police cruelty. A report by Amnesty International examined the use of torture in Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) stations in Enugu and Anambra states, and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja and also scanned the lack of accountability by the Nigerian police. This report confirms the police use of torture and other ill-treatment as well as the poor and inhumane detention conditions in SARS stations in Enugu, Awkuzu and Abuja, and argues for effective external and independent oversight and accountability of police officers.

In 2017, Nigerian youths adopted a campaign against police brutality. The objective was to campaign against the exploitation of Nigerians by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a unit of the Nigeria Police Armed Force established to ameliorate armed robberies across the country. Nigerians signed a petition of over ten thousand signatures and submitted it to the National Assembly calling for the disbandment of the police unit, citing various abuses against Nigerian youths. There were responses from major stakeholders such as the National Assembly, the National Human Rights Commission, the Police Chief, and the Vice President, but the efforts did not bring much change.

Punch Newspaper reported in October 2021 a series of abuse perpetrated by some officers. One of the cases happened In Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital. A young man reported that he was on his way to his office and had his two iPhones with him and was asked by some police officers to alight from the tricycle he was in and prove that he was not a fraudster. They handcuffed him, put him in their vehicle, drove a few meters and threatened to kill him. He maintained composure. When they saw that he did not budge, they let me go. He could have been killed.

Although campaigns, most especially through the mass media, has been carried out to eradicate the societal menace, exploitation of citizens by some members of the Nigerian Police Force (NPF) still exist.

Police Brutality and Civil Resistance

Police brutality generally refers to various human rights violations by police, which might include beatings, racial abuse, unlawful killings, torture, or indiscriminate use of riot control agents at protests. Police brutality of unarmed youth is a human right issue because unlawful use of force by police on young ones can lead to the deprivation of their fundamental human right to life. Unlawful force by police can also violate the right to be free from discrimination, the right to liberty and security, and the right to equal protection under the law.

Civil resistance is a powerful way for people to fight for their rights, freedom, and justice — without the use of violence. When people wage civil resistance, they use tactics such as strikes, boycotts, mass protests, and many other nonviolent actions to withdraw their cooperation from an oppressive system.

Throughout history and in the present day, civil resistance movements have forced change to happen, even against powerful opponents who are willing to use violence. Nonviolent or civil resistance has been a useful tool for the oppressed in several societies to cause social change such as holding the government accountable, achieving fundamental human rights, the campaign against corruption, the campaign against police brutality, and other issues undermining the right and freedom of citizens of a nation.

There are key examples on the success of nonviolent or civil resistance that has helped to install justice and peace in several societies: after a decades-long nonviolent struggle by the Indian population against the British led by Mohandas Gandhi, the British gave up their occupation of India; in the 1950s and 1960s, African Americans used various nonviolent methods of action to meltdown racial segregation in the United States; boycotts and other nonviolent sanctions was used by the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa for decades, and the result was that the white-dominated government was forced to negotiate a transition; in 2002, the people of Madagascar organized nonviolent campaign to enforce their presidential election results; Georgians used nonviolent methods of action to corruption and enforce election results in their country in 2003; In 2005, vast protests in Lebanon brought an end to Syrian military control; In 2006, democratic rule was restored in Nepalis through nonviolent methods; In 2014, citizens of Burkina Faso rose up and ended the autocratic rule of Blaise Compaoré who had ruled the country for 27 years.

On several occasions, civil resistance against police brutality has worked in winning justice for the exploited and oppressed. The recent #EndSARS campaign in Nigeria shows the power of using nonviolent campaigns to end police brutality in a nation.

Civil Resistance; Still the Only Solution to Police Brutality in Nigeria

In their book, “Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict,” Maria J. Stephan and Erica Chenoweth argues that major nonviolent campaigns have achieved success 53 percent of the time, compared with violent resistance campaigns with 26 percent. The rate of success recorded with nonviolent resistance is due to the application of various nonviolent methods of actions which include the following: Public speeches; Signed public statements; Group or mass petitions; Slogans, caricatures, and symbols; Banners, posters, and displayed communications; Leaflets, pamphlets, and books; Newspapers and journals; Records, radio, and television; Picketing; Prayer and worship; Humorous skits and pranks. These methods are part of the 198 methods of nonviolent action mentioned in Gene Sharp’s book, The Politics of Nonviolent Action.

The October 2020 EndSARS movement is a key example of how the youth mobilized themselves in mass in a campaign against the inhumane act of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, a unit of the Nigerian Police Force. The campaign was a result of the alleged killing of a young Nigerian in Delta State, which triggered the movement from the street of Twitter to the streets of Nigeria.

Unfortunately, the nonviolent campaign became violent due to some agents provocateurs targeted to disrupt the goal of the movement and the inability of the movement leaders to coordinate the protesters in maintaining nonviolent discipline. Consequentially, some protesters violent acts legalized government violent repression, and the movement lose credibility from sympathizers whose properties were destroyed and stolen by some violent protesters.

Social media has been a powerful tool for the nonviolent campaigns against the inhumane treatment of young Nigerians by some members of the Nigerian Police Force (NPF). In April 2014, a police officer identified as Tafa Mohammed was arrested by the Lagos State Command of the force after a video showing how he was trying to drown one of his victims in a muddy pond while a crowd watched went viral on social media. In December 2021, The Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Police Command arrested four officers extorting money from a commuter at Area 11, Abuja, after the viral extortion video caught the attention of the police command. Jude Ogudu, a police sergeant, shot an unarmed woman in Edo State. Concerned Nigerians took to social media in a campaign for justice for innocent woman. In January 2022, the police officer and his colleagues spotted in the viral video were arrested.


Nonviolent or civil resistance has been a saving grace available to the ordinary people in any society to campaign against any form of political abuse. The October 2020 EndSARS movement exposed that power does not flow through the barrel of a gun; power lies with the people’s decision to nonviolently campaign against oppression. The masses are becoming greatly informed on how to leverage the resources available to them to continue to campaign against the inhumane treatment of some members of the Nigerian police force against vulnerable citizens. Even though it is not generally accepted that nonviolent resistance is the answer to police brutality and the reformation of the police force, we need to note that violence against the system is very costly and does not bring a logical approach to resolving the challenges. Civil resistance has brought about justice and peace, and it is still working.



Building Blocks for Peace Foundation

Building Blocks for Peace Foundation (BBFORPEACE) is a youth-led NGO working on conflict prevention, peacebuilding and sustainable development in Nigeria.