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With the COVID-19 pandemic in the way, many of our favorite award shows have moved to digital platforms to uphold social distancing protocol. BET followed suit with a virtual format of the 2020 BET Hip Hop Awards on Oct. 27, 2020. The changes in scenery did not stop BET from upholding their tradition of being one of the more "meaningful award shows," per Billboard, packed with rap cyphers, spoken word, and powerful messages regarding the 2020 presidential race and addressing the racial climate. The show featured live performances from Jhené Aiko, City Girls, Lil Baby, and other upcoming hip-hop artists. The most memorable performer in the show, you ask? The answer: Burna Boy.
Performing his single "Monsters You Made" with Coldplay's Chris Martin, Burna Boy made a statement with a groundbreaking visual. The performance started off with Black teens sitting in a classroom wearing Black Panther Party uniforms and watching protest videos, which ranged from the civil rights movement to the 2020 #EndSARS movement in Nigeria.
At the end of Burna Boy's performance, the screen filled with "just a few names" of Nigerians who were killed by SARS (which stands for Special Anti-Robbery Squad, a federal police unit in Nigeria), including Tiyamiu Kazeem, Solomon Eze, and Ifeanyi Ozor. Burna Boy received overwhelming praise on social media. One of his fans wrote, "May God keep blessing you always for voicing out the truth and speaking up for the opressed [sic]." Another tweeted, "Me in tears after seeing Burna boy performance. Best way to start my day." Burna Boy's performance had everyone emotional, and here's why.
Burna Boy supports the #EndSARS movement in Nigeria
Burna Boy's performance at the 2020 BET Hip Hop Awards tugged at our heartstrings. The performance was nothing short of a political statement, but for the "Ye" rapper it was personal. Of Nigerian descent himself, the rapper has been very vocal about his support of the #EndSARS movement happening in Nigeria, saying the protests are the "most important moment" in the country's history.
SARS stands for Special Anti-Robbery Squad, a branch of the Nigerian Police Force founded in 1992 to combat armed robbery and other serious crimes, per Al Jazeera. Over time, SARS officers have been accused of abusing their powers, extorting money from citizens, and killing Black youth. Amnesty International reported their visit to a SARS detention center in 2016, where over 130 detainees were regularly tortured. Since 2017, Nigerian protestors have advocated for the disbanding of the unit, a move that the country's leaders had previously promised.
On Oct. 20, 2020, the Nigerian military opened fire on peaceful protestors at Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos, killing 12 people, per The Africa Report. Burna Boy shared his frustrations about the massacre with Sky News: "The Lekki Toll Gate, that was the most peaceful place to protest, the most peaceful venue in the whole country and then that is the place where [the shootings] happen. It is not something that you can just wrap your head around."