The #EndSARS movement is about more than ending police brutality in Nigeria

By:

Nov 10, 2020

Image source: Flickr, Steve Eason

If a government chooses to fire live ammunition at citizens who are peacefully protesting, then the social contract between citizen and State is fundamentally broken. That was the case in Nigeria on October 20, 2020, when armed forces shot at #EndSARS protesters in Lagos, the country’s commercial capital. That day, now commemorated as “Black Tuesday,” 48 people are estimated to have lost their lives

The #EndSARS protests grew as an organic movement in response to the brutalization, abuse, and extrajudicial killings perpetrated by the notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). Created in 1992 as a response to rampant crime in the country, especially in major cities such as Lagos, the Nigerian government sought to build an elite police force that would go after armed robbers. Soon after creating SARS, the abuses began. 

Unfortunately, the practice of illegally apprehending and torturing young people in an effort to make them confess to crimes went relatively unchecked for almost 30 years. As a result, the practice has become a pattern that has led to kidnappings, extortion and, sadly, murder. On October 4, when a video of a young motorist getting shot by a SARS official, who drove off in the motorist’s vehicle, went viral, Nigerians finally had enough. The #EndSARS movement was born. 

On the surface, the #EndSARS movement is simply calling for an end to police brutality and the dissolution of the SARS unit in Nigeria. But when the Nigerian President disbanded SARS a week after protests erupted, the protests not only continued, but they also grew larger. Protesters are not only disillusioned by the fact that the social contract between Nigerians and their government has been broken after years of failed promises, but are also calling for something larger: the space to create prosperity, first for themselves, and ultimately for the country.

Why creating prosperity matters

To say the Nigerian government has limited financial resources to devote to security is a gross understatement. Whereas the United States spends approximately $359 per person annually on law enforcement alone, the Nigerian government spends approximately $150 per person annually on everything, including education, healthcare, institutions, infrastructure, and security. And so, even though questions abound about the Nigerian government’s commitment to serving its people, it’s clear that the government is severely handicapped financially. 

It’s important to note that resources alone won’t solve this problem. As my colleagues explain in their recent report, most barriers to change stem from processes that are deeply embedded in how systems operate; reform is only possible when new resources are used to power new processes. Transformation hinges on both—if the government doesn’t increase its resources, it’ll never be able to reform its police force in a meaningful enough way to provide security for Nigerians. 

The critical missing piece in the prosperity equation

There are no easy ways to fix Nigeria’s decades’ long problem with the police, however, supporting an innovation-led development agenda that focuses on economic growth is a good start. 

Our research suggests that a specific type of innovation—market-creating innovation—offers countries a powerful and sustainable path to prosperity. Market-creating innovations transform complicated and expensive products into simple and affordable ones so many more people in society can access them. Because they address problems people desperately need solved, consumers have a vested interest in ensuring the markets endure. Examples of market-creating innovations in emerging economies are the proliferation of low-cost flooring, economical financial services, and affordable food for millions of people

Market-creating innovations are powerful because they require innovators to build the infrastructure to deliver their products to market, strengthening local economies in the process.  And because they serve vast new populations of people, they need to hire many people to make, market, distribute, and sell their products. This not expands local job markets, but also generates powerful new sources of taxes for governments as local spending increases. For example, in Africa, the proliferation of affordable mobile phones supports around three million jobs and generates billions of dollars in taxes annually. 

The Nigerian government can take steps towards increasing its revenues and repairing its social contract with citizens by supporting innovations that lead to inclusive prosperity. This is the wide-sweeping change Nigerians are calling for—not empty promises, but rather systemic change that lifts up all Nigerians. There’s hope for Nigeria, but the government must act to not only #EndSARS, but also to #CreatePROSPERITY.

Efosa Ojomo is a senior research fellow at the Christensen Institute, and co-author of The Prosperity Paradox: How Innovation Can Lift Nations Out of Poverty. Efosa researches, writes, and speaks about ways in which innovation can transform organizations and create inclusive prosperity for many in emerging markets.