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With Instagram, hashtags and bitcoin, young Nigerians boost anti-police protests

LAGOS (Reuters) – Ozioma Egemasi says Nigerian police slapped, whipped and struck him with the butt of a pistol when he refused to pay them a bribe. Then he heard them discuss whether to kill him.

The 24-year-old music label manager shared his experience on Instagram, one of thousands of mostly young Nigerians who are taking to social media to speak out against alleged abuses by police and to coordinate ongoing protests.

Thousands of people have taken to the streets daily across the country in one of the biggest shows of public anger in 30 years, posing a major challenge to President Muhammadu Buhari amid an economic slump made worse by the coronavirus pandemic.

“I was scared. It meant they were willing to do anything to get whatever they wanted to get from me,” said Egemasi, recalling the January encounter with members of Nigeria’s Special Anti-robbery Squad (SARS).

Reuters could not independently verify his account. A Lagos state police spokesman did not respond to phone calls and a text message seeking comment on the allegations.

The police force has previously denied accusations against SARS that are fuelling the unrest, although it said earlier this month that “unruly and unprofessional” officers had been arrested and were facing disciplinary actions.

Other concessions have been made since nationwide demonstrations began on Oct. 8: SARS was disbanded on Oct. 11 and a new police unit, the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team, was created to “fill the gaps”.

But it has not had the desired effect. Protesters say they have heard such promises before and demand deeper changes, including the prosecution of police accused of wrongdoing.

Rallying under the #EndSars hashtag and harnessing social media to raise awareness and funds and to garner support from international celebrities, protesters have built a momentum that previous actions led by civil groups and unions failed to do.

There are clear parallels with anti-government movements in places like Hong Kong and Belarus, said Antony Goldman, chief executive of London-based political risk advisory firm ProMedia Consulting.

“They have increasingly connected young, urban populations that have found a

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