H.E.R. Performance on SNL Turns the Spotlight to the #EndSARS Movement

Protesters at the endSARS protest in Lagos, Nigeria. Photo by Kaizenify/WIkicommons.

By Jessica Grider, Howard University News Service

The Grammy-winning American singer and songwriter H.E.R. used her Saturday Night Live musical performance on Oct. 24 to raise awareness for the #EndSARS movement.

The #EndSARS movement is part of a worldwide campaign for people to voice their solidarity with the thousands of Nigerian protesters rallying against police brutality. 

During her intimate SNL performance, H.E.R. — whose real name is Gabi Wilson — stood in front of a band of black musicians who wore #ENDSARS t-shirts. She performed a simple set consisting of her new single, “Damage.” She also debuted her new song, “Hold On.”

“It’s encouraging to watch celebrities support Nigeria’s police reform,” said University of Texas business graduate student Ami Ngwakwe. “It gives me hope that the Nigerian government will be held accountable soon.”

Ngwakwe is the daughter of immigrant parents and identifies as Nigerian American. She says that she sees a growing amount of support around the #EndSARS movement in her friend and professional circles and on social media as it generates awareness and acknowledgment of Nigerian police brutality.

Ngwakwe also says the social unification around #EndSARS is similar to the unity surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement.

“A problem that isn’t widely acknowledged won’t be changed,” Ngwakwe said.

Saturday Night Live continues to be a popular space for public figures to exercise their voices and add to complex ethical conversations such as #EndSARS.

The SNL performance by H.E.R. came days after security forces reportedly opened fire during demonstrations in Lagos, Nigeria, allegedly killing 12 unarmed protesters.

They were peacefully protesting to end police brutality across the country.

Since 2017, Nigerian citizens have actively voiced their concerns about the federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) task force. The unit has maintained a reputation for committing extrajudicial acts against the citizens, including rape, torture, kidnapping and murder.

The #EndSARS movement’s recent resurgence quickly gained momentum when protests in Nigeria began on Oct. 8 after a chilling video surfaced. The footage showed officers (thought to be from the SARS unit) shooting and killing a man in Nigeria’s southern Delta State. 

On Oct. 11, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari announced an immediate disbanding of the SARS police unit. 

While dissolving SARS, Nigeria’s Inspector General Mohammed Adamu also announced that he would redeploy the SARS police officers to other police units. He says the “new policing arrangement,” will be announced soon.

In an address to Nigeria following the recent killings, President Buhari admitted for the first time that police have killed over 50 civilians since the anti-police brutality protests began. 

He did not directly mention the 12 civilians killed by police earlier the same week. 

 After the president and the inspector general’s announcements, protests increased despite strict 24-hour curfews and government warnings. The killings of Nigerian civilians by police after the SARS task force was disbanded increased the alarm and anger across the country and beyond.

Numerous high profile celebrities — like H.E.R., musicians and businesswomen Beyoncé and Rihanna, and Manchester United player Odion Ighalo — displayed their public support of the fight against Nigerian police brutality and government corruption.

“I’m not the kind of guy that talks about politics, but I cannot keep quiet anymore for what is going on back home in Nigeria,” the professional footballer Ighalo said in a recent video. “I am ashamed of this government, we are tired of you guys and we can’t take this anymore.”

The #EndSARS messages that H.E.R., Ighalo and many others deliver to the public are simple and straightforward. Still, with no further actions articulated by the Nigerian government to offer solutions for the country’s police brutality, the international fight for reform continues to grow.