By Adepeju Adenuga
When the social media hashtag #EndSARS campaign moved from the street of twitter into a full-fledged live protest on October 8, as a writer, I decided to document my thought process.
With the same energy used in voting at the just-completed BBNaija reality TV show, the youths of the nation took to the streets to protest the Special Anti- Robbery Squad, SARS, brutality towards young Nigerians.
SARS was created to detain, investigate and prosecute people involved in crimes like armed robbery, kidnapping and other forms of crimes. The unit, however, is widely known for its abuse of human rights.
I stand with #EndSARS movement
I write of the traumatic experience of receiving a phone call from your sister stating that she has suffered a reprisal attack due to the SARS search and seizure procedure in pursuit of yahoo boys. Maybe I should write of how she sat quietly, praying that her young friend who just gained admission into the university and has no clue of the SARS operatives is not found and arrested.
Perhaps the sheer memory of her reprisal attack followed by the massive amount of teargas sprayed to distract any freedom fighter.
Is it in the fear in your friends’ eye as he pleads quietly with you to claim ownership of the laptop he bought out of his sweat or the glittering fear in his voice as the sound of the gun cocked and aiming towards his head, as he thinks of how his next words, if not carefully chosen, may be his last?
Of course, these experiences are nowhere near the massive abuse of human rights that are narrated on social media.
They tell of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad excessive use of force, of the trigger-happy men plying the streets of Nigeria. In it are memories recorded to prevent another father from tears, to prevent another person being shot unjustly and the next person’s son asking why he is constantly harassed for having dreadlocks, due to uninformed profiling conducted by the squad.
The right to life in Nigeria is now considered a privilege due to the high rate of police brutality in the nation.
Everyday someone loses their son, daughter, husband, and sister, brother; fear, anger and the need to connect with people who would understand led to the nationwide/international protests.
During the protests…
My comrade, who was present in Alausa, Lagos, throughout the #EndSARS protest explained the following:
No one was left behind: As stated in the five-point agenda, all of the protesters that were unlawfully arrested got released as lots of volunteers provided legal services.
The clean up crew: Protesters cleaned up during and after the protest.
Volunteers: A lot of people came out to volunteer their skills, money and other requirements to cater to the needs of protesters.
The protest was decentralised: Across the nation, the youths stood up with no leader, but were coordinated. Some protests took the form of concerts, friendly football matches among others.
The protests attracted global attention: The five demands stated by the protesters include justice for all deceased victims of police brutality and appropriate victims of police brutality and appropriate compensation for their families;
Setting up an independent body to oversee the investigation and prosecution of all reports of police misconduct.
“Na brand, church wey support us we go patronise”: This was the outcry on Twitter calling on all stakeholders to lend their voice in the fight against police brutality.
Prayer walks were included: As a very religious nation, taking the battle spiritually was needed. A lot of religious leaders have led the prayer session nationwide, even if we hope to fight for 2023 elections.
Operation #Find-A-Spouse: If you have a goal like my comrade to get married in 2021 and you are not at the protest, my apologies to you for missing this lifetime opportunity.
How else would you tell your children you met during a protest?
Well, if you participated in the Name Change (Maulag) protest organised by the University of Lagos students, you really didn’t miss that much, except that now due to Covid-19 everyone is at home.
11 days into protest
Some states, including Lagos, declared a curfew. Few hours later, soldiers emptied live rounds into national anthem-singing and Nigerian flag-waving #EndSARS protesters. What started as a peaceful protest had been hijacked by thugs but ironically peaceful protesters were slaughtered with their blood staining the flags. One can only predict how this would go down in history.
What it means to live in Nigeria now
Years ago, following the annulment of the June 12, 1993 election, Moshood Abiola appealed to Nigerians to protest and demand an end to military dictatorship. While the cases may be unrelated, the children of those who chose to fight and many others have stood up to end another form of oppression today.
With the ongoing digital revolution, Nigerian youth are struggling under police brutality afraid to dream up invention when living requires divine intervention. It moves beyond the police force but the system that has created a disenchantment of dreams.
Today, our elders have stated that they have heard our outcry: #ENDSARS but are afraid that there may be a reprisal for actions taken. They have threatened to take away our voice, our tools.
Many who have been identified have been taken in for questioning. I write this piece for posterity’s sake, lending a voice to the torment of many.
Why we are afraid to speak
“Remember the home you come from” is a subtle reminder to inform you that as a child of nobody, you should consider not speaking up; you do not want to hurt the powers that be.
I mean, what happens if you get arrested and no one can raise the money to release you? It is not about committing the crime, it’s barely about how would you survive if no one hires you for being a revolutionary.
You think you can do this because you really do not have a family to feed. When you do, you remember to keep your heads bowed and your lips held tight.
You think of yourself as a courageous, tough person, but deep down you know that fear is a part of who you are. From colonialism to military rule to pseudo-democracy, you have been trained to be afraid to say what’s on your minds(if only Facebook knew of what its like to live in this country).
You are not only afraid that a dictator may lock you and your family up, but may lock your livelihood up. You are afraid because someone’s feelings may be hurt and it is really not only about you.
The way forward
With the approval of the demand of the protesting Nigeria youths, having set up a Presidential Panel on the Reform of the disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) which would be replaced by the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team, one can only wait to peep at this uncertain future.
I hope to see a Nigeria where the phrase “Police is your friend” would be indeed true, where the systematic abuse of power would be a thing of the past, where Police officers and another unlawful humans can take responsibility for their actions.
I hope you get to see a Nigeria where the Nigeria Police Force is marked with the zeal to protect human life, safety and security rather than endanger the people they have sworn to protect.
I hope to see a Nigeria where the Nigeria Armed Forces do not use innocent citizens as target practice and yet cannot end the insurgencies.
As I end this piece, I hurriedly move to soak my head in prayers because sometimes your pen is all it takes to poke at the tiger’s tail. #EndSars #EndInsecurity #EndBadGovernance.
Adepeju Adenuga(B.A./M.A. English Literature, UNILAG) is a young writer interested in sharing her experiences.