No one who cheered “happy new year” could have predicted the turnout of events in 2020. After a lengthy lockdown in Nigeria, youths across several states of the country have engaged in peaceful protests against police brutality in the nation, championed by rogue unit SARS — Special Anti-Robbery Squad.
On the 12th of October 2020, youths in Lagos and other cities stormed different parts of the country including Nigerians in the diaspora, in a peaceful protest against the brutal extortion and killings of citizens by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) in the Nation. Several complaints have been made on social media with no intervention by the state or federal government.
Watch more here. If I pen down everything my heart wants to share, I may shed tears.
Well, continue reading.
The rogue unit has been engaging in illegal stop and search activities, extortion, and killings if their victims failed to bail themselves with cash or transfers. Some of these unidentified men of SARS often have no uniforms on, no proper identification, but armed assault rifles and would go to any lengths to obtain huge sums of money from unarmed citizens.
A personal encounter with these men during my visit to Lagos last year remains the scariest incident of my life. I was in a taxi with an associate, going to an event at the Victoria Island area of Lagos when my driver suddenly stopped. I thought it was the usual traffic until I saw two armed men in plain clothes with guns pointed at us.
A third man tapped my window and asked me to open the door. I asked him to identify himself and he insisted on forcing his way into the car repeatedly saying, “open the door before I break this glass.”
While trying to call a celebrity friend, my driver pulled over and let one of them in. He asked who I was and before I could respond, he asked for my phone. I refused to give him and insisted he identified himself. Instead, he snatched my phone from me and searched through it.
While I kept telling him he didn’t have any right to go through my private property, his colleague slapped my associate on the face for refusing to hand over his own phone and told him, “you think you know your right abi? I will shoot you here and nothing will happen.”
I have never been more scared than that day in my entire life. Lord knows!
After several minutes of finding nothing on our phones, he asked where I worked and I told him I was a talent manager and writer. He laughed and said, “na that one you want use as cover up abi? Better drop money before I tear your face with slap, fake oyinbo.”
After a long back and forth with them, my associate was able to convince them that we managed an artiste then at YBNL and was headed to pick him up to a show.
The next thing that came out of the mouth of the one seated in the car next to me was, “ah! Una get money na, na 20,000 you go drop oh!”
We pleaded that we didn’t have that cash on us and he asked us to do a transfer. Thank God my associate’s phone died and I didn’t have more than 5,000 in my visible bank account at the moment.
The one who seemed to be their leader then collected the cash we had on us and told us, “Greet Viktok and Baddo for us, oya dey go.”
To date, whenever I see the Nigerian police, I skip a heartbeat. I am scared. So when I saw my friends storm the streets of Lagos to protest against these men, I was glad. I hurriedly took to my keypads and joined the online protest with the hashtag #EndSARS.
In less than 6 hours, the hashtag was trending with tons of complaints, pictures, videos, and cases of police brutality. Protesters in the nation’s capital Abuja were met with armored trucks, tear gas, and beaten until Nigerian musician Davido stepped in on his knees with arms raised.
What really pushed me to share this story publicly apart from personal encounters, was the brutal manhandling of my friend ADEMOLA OJABODU (OjahBee) who is the talent manager for popular Nigerian artiste – Oxlade. Sigh! I can never forget this day.
During the peaceful protest on Monday, men of the Anti-kidnapping unit, Surulere, began shooting at unarmed citizens and killed a passerby who still had his hands in his pocket at death. These men went ahead to capture, beat, and lock up my friend alongside two young ladies while denying access to them when the lawyers representing protesters arrived.
I couldn’t bear to watch clips of these wicked souls as they beat up my friend as if he was a criminal. His aunt who went to the station to bail him was slapped on both cheeks and pushed away.
Several efforts made through calls and social media hashtag #FreeOjahB moved the Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu to order the commissioner of police to release all illegally arrested and detained protesters. However, OJahBee was moved to the criminal investigation department (Panti) and the DPO of the unit refused to release him, denying having him in custody.
It took the presence and intervention of six lawyers, a senate rep of the Surulere constituency – Desmond Elliott and the Speaker of the House of Reps, Femi Gbajamiala to secure the release of my friend at almost 12 midnight. Several other detainees were denied release across several states until the intervention of volunteer attorneys representing peaceful protesters and multiple letters to respective state Governors.
While the protests continued, the IGP, announced the disbandment of the police unit and the introduction of a new unit (SWAT) to replace them. I immediately remembered seeing an article in 2019 about the Federal Government sending a SWAT team to the South-West part of the country. The IGP played us and took Nigerians for fools.
In less than 3 hours, #EndSWAT tweets rolled out and began trending. It was unbelievable. The protests continue across several states in the country while hoodlums who confessed to being paid to invade and hijack the protests were apprehended and escorted to the police by peaceful protesters who have been feeding and sheltering themselves.
They confessed to being paid 1,500 Naira (less than $5) to attack protesters at Abuja, and 10,000 Naira ($25) to attack protesters in Lagos. These hoodlums were subdued, and even treated by protesters before handing them over to the police.
Meanwhile, police harassment and brutality continues amidst the protest and nothing visible has been done to get these assholes off the streets despite the call for a better police service.
All these continue while the President of Nigeria had publicly announced the disbandment of the SARS unit across the country.
It seems, the government of Nigeria has no control over the police force, or the government has blatantly refused to do anything about the continuous brutality and killing of innocent Nigerian citizens.
Nigerian youths continue to march and lend our voices from far and wide to this cause, insisting on peaceful protests until the #5for5 demands are met. I am a Nigerian (Through my dad) and I will continue to lend my voice to this cause and there is visible lasting change. #EndSARS #EndSWAT #EndPoliceBrutalityInNigeria ✊🏻✊🏼✊🏽✊🏾✊🏿