Nigerian internationals Alex Iwobi, Victor Osimhen, Asisat Oshoala, Leon Balogun, Maduka Okoye and John Ogu have lent their voices to a nation-wide movement of Nigerians calling for the proscription of rogue police unit Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (F-SARS).
Super Eagles captain Ahmed Musa and vice captain William Troost-Ekong also weighed in with calls to end police brutality as did Moses Simon, Shehu Abdullahi, Joshua Akpudje and France U21 international Malang Sarr.
Manchester United striker Odion Ighalo and Leicester City star Wilfred Ndidi also added their voices to the cause online.
The football stars through their social media platforms, showed solidarity with thousands of young Nigerians who are taking to the streets in peaceful protests with demands on the federal government to scrap the renegade police unit after years of bearing the brunt of the unit’s shocking illegalities and wanton disregard for the law in the course of carrying out their functions.
Over the years, scores of Nigerians have been killed extra judicially, illegally detained, kidnapped, harassed and extorted by police officers attached to SARS who have come to be inseparable from the criminals they purport to fight.
While citizens have called for an end to SARS in the past, such calls have often been limited to intermittent online campaigns and social media hashtags which are often ignored by authorities.
Latent resentment over government inaction burst to the fore following the fatal shooting on 3 October of an unarmed young man by SARS officers in Ughelli, Delta State.
The shooting coupled with deep-seated disgust at the brazenness of the notorious SARS officers sparked an outpouring of rage as young Nigerians vented online and finally took to the streets with calls for the immediate disbandment of the unit.
While they were not present physically at the ongoing protests, the players used their sizeable social media platforms to amplify the message and lend their voices to calls of Nigerians to end SARS immediately.
“#EndSARSnow,” Oshoala tweeted a day after the Ughelli shooting.
The record four-time CAF African Footballer of the Year followed up with a series of tweets:
“NOT SAFE IN YOUR OWN COUNTRY 🤦🏽♀️ #EndSARSnow,” she wrote.
SARS is doing more harm than good in Nigeria …..#EndSARSnow And nobody should come to my dm to chat nonsense !!!
“This isn’t the first time y’all are tweeting this…….STOP TOYING WITH OUR LIVES. #EndSARSnow,” the Barcelona star replied to a Nigeria Police announcement of fresh directives to curb the excesses of SARS.
“We need you to help the citizens on this constant SARS killing,” Super Eagles midfielder Ogu write on Twitter to President Buhari, vice president Yemi Osinbajo and Lagos State governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu.
Ogu has form for speaking up against SARS having angrily condemned officers of the unit over a video showing them brutalising an unarmed young man in 2018.
Both stars’ interventions follow the growing trend of sportsmen and women becoming more vocal about social justice issues this year with several athletes speaking up in support of the Black Lives Matter which seeks to bring an end to global racial inequality.
Nigeria’s Super Eagles played a friendly against Algeria on Friday and while the calls from fans for players of the national team to show solidarity on the pitch by drawing global attention to the demands of their compatriots, a number of players nevertheless weighed in with their support after the game.
Eagles defender Leon Balogun added his voice to the calls to end SARS.
“The reasons for the #EndSARSProtests have just come to my attention via very disturbing images & tweets. It is never good when those charged with protecting the citizens are now terrorising, extorting or even killing the same citizens. I support #EndSarsProtests #EndSars,” he wrote on Twitter.
Super Eagles captain drew attention to police brutality.
Watford defender Troost-Ekong added: “We stand together! #EndSARS #EndPoliceBrutality.”
Everton midfielder Iwobi tweeted: “Protect Lives , Not Take Them Away. EndSARS #EndPoliceBrutality.”
Manchester United and ex-Super Eagle striker Ighalo tweeted:
Super Eagles defender Shehu Abdullahi tweeted his support for the protests as did goalkeeper Maduka Okoye and Napoli striker Osimhen.
Nantes winger Moses Simon tweeted: “The essence of law enforcement agents is to protect lives and properties of citizens. If the citizens they swore to protect are now their preys, then the purpose of its formation is defeated. #EndSARS #End BANDITRY Going on in the north #Togetherwestand.”
BFC Daugavpils defender Joshua Akpudje also weighed in.
“There will be no better time to utterly disband SARS forever. Nigerian youths have suffered enough.”
“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,” midfielder Ndidi tweeted.
Even foreign footballers also showed solidarity with France U21 international Malang Sarr who plays alongside newly-capped Super Eagle Zaidu Sanusi at FC Porto also lending his voice.
The SARS menace has been felt in Nigerian professional sports with members of the rogue unit allegedly linked to the death in February of Remo Stars FC assistant captain Tiyamiyu Kazeem who was reportedly pushed to his death from a moving vehicle by police officers in Sango Ota.
Kazeem’s killing sparked deadly unrest in Sango Ota outraged residents took to the streets with demands for justice but despite assurances from the state government and the police, it isn’t exactly clear if the officers involved have been brought to book.
Former Enyimba player Stephen Chukwude also had a run-in with SARS officers who were captured in a now viral video attempting to extort him and accusing him of being a “Yahoo Boy” – a term commonly used to describe internet fraudsters – on the account that he was driving a Mercedez Benz and owned an iPhone.