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When Elizabeth Okosun touched down for the first time in Nigeria, her parents’ homeland, in 2017, she knew it was where she belonged.

“As soon as I landed, I felt this is where I’m supposed to be,” Okosun said.

The same year Okosun touched down in Nigeria, #EndSARS protests began. #EndSARS is a movement calling for disbandment of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a branch of the Nigerian Police Force accused of human rights violations. The protests, which have occurred on and off since 2017, re-ignited in October after a video showing a SARS police officer shooting a young Nigerian appeared on the internet.

As an MU journalism student who currently lives in the U.S., Okosun has to follow the #EndSARS protests from a distance. When Okosun keeps abreast of both the #EndSARS in Nigeria and Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement in the U.S, most of her classmates are more focused on the protests close to home.

“People were very engrossed with Black Lives Matter here and they knew what was going on,” Okosun said. But Nigerian Americans have overlapping emotions when they pay attention to both protests.  

Kelechukwu Anyanwu Jr. is a Nigerian-American lawyer. He follows both the #EndSARS movement in Nigeria and the BLM movement in the U.S.

“There are parallels between the two movements, even if they take place in different contexts,” Anyanwu said. The human rights group Amnesty International says SARS police tend to target “young men with dreadlocks, ripped jeans, tattoos, flashy cars or expensive gadgets.” Reporters who spoke to GJ said the SARS squat often seems to stop people who look “bribe-able” — those who seem to have money they could offer in exchange for not being arrested.

In addition to the movements’ mirroring goals of ending police brutality, Anyanwu saw a deeper commonality between them.

Common theme

“We can see in both movements that a group of people has been pushed into a corner so far back that they have no other option than to take to the streets and voice all these injustices,” Anyanwu said. “The common theme is fighting for a better life for those who are greatly affected by the injustices and atrocities.”

It’s harder for American reporters to produce thorough coverage of international issues like #EndSARS, however, because they are not on the ground.

“When American reporters write about Black Lives Matter and begin to explain the context of American history in their articles, it is assumed that to a lot of extent everybody knows the context,” said Abimbola Adelakun, a Nigerian professor at the University of Texas at Austin

“Writing Nigerian stories requires you to open into archives, interview and speak to people that really know something that will elude you as a foreigner,” Adelakun added.

Lack of in-depth reporting about #EndSARS  can add to feelings of alienation for Nigerians living in the U.S. There were 376,000 of them living in the states as of 2015. For members of this diaspora, it is hard to have so little information about what’s going on in their homeland.

‘Completely helpless’

“I just feel like completely helpless, not being able to help the people there in every capacity that I can,” Okosun said.

Fortunately, social media and social networking apps can help remedy the feelings of disconnection.

“Now, you have family groups that form all kinds of associations and chat on WhatsApp,” Adelakun said. “Information circulates so much that people can send articles, videos, links via the app. It’s much easier to access information right now.”

In Okosun’s opinion, since the Nigerian government punishes journalists for reporting unflattering truths about it, some of the news articles can be biased.

For this reason, “I’m more in tune with what’s happening there culturally via social media like Twitter and Instagram,” Okosun said.

We spoke with three Nigerians living in the U.S. All three have found ways to support the protests in Nigeria. While Adelakun and Okosun donated money to local organizations, Anyanwu is the vice president of public relations for the Nigerian American Multicultural Council, based in Houston, the largest city in Texas and a leading population center for Nigerian living in the U.S., according to the Migration Policy Institute.

Even though people may pay more attention to domestic issues, Anyanwu thinks it is important for people to have global awareness and care about international issues that do not directly affect them.

‘We are still one’

“People have become so entrenched in their political views and what they feel matters to them that they forget at the end of the day, we are still one,” Anyanwu said.

According to Anyanwu, understanding international issues creates empathy and respect for others’ perspectives and meaningful engagement.

Adelakun said she hoped journalists around the world can continue the discussion about similar international issues until actual reforms are carried out.

“When you see things that need to be called out, please raise these issues. Don’t let them forget it. Don’t let other things cover it,” Adelakun said.

Protests organized by the Nigerian diaspora are starting to pay off. The U.K. government and Parliament responded Nov.11 to the #EndSARS petition made by some Nigerians against the Nigerian government.

The statement reads, “The U.K. government will continue to work with the Nigerian government and international and civil society partners to support justice, accountability and a more responsive policing model in Nigeria.”

Meanwhile, the #EndSARS protests continue.

Reporters Clivia Liang, Maggie Doheny, Larissa Gao and Katelynn McIlwain produced this multi-media package.

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