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#EndSars a Revolution

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#EndSars a Revolution

#EndSARS protests across Nigeria led to the notorious police groups’ dissolution but announcements of a new tactical police force creates doubts about the sincerity of police reform and justice for SARS victims. Teniola Tayo describes the campaign to end police brutality and its importance to Nigerian citizens. 

In the last week Nigeria started a revolution. Nigerian youth have found their voice and are tackling police brutality. Starting from the 8 October 2020 #EndSARS protests have reached all six geo-political regions, as well as in countries with large diaspora populations like the UK, US, Canada and Germany. 

I was about thirteen years old the first time a Nigerian policeman threatened to slap me. I am now an adult woman and terrified of police. I lock my doors as soon as I enter my car, not because of robbers but because too many policemen have forced themselves inside to extort me. On unlucky days officers puts their hands through my lowered windows to unlock the car from within. They leave after I have given them money. 

Growing up in Nigeria I heard stories about policemen harassing, extorting, assaulting, violating and murdering citizens. I joined protests against the rape of women in police cells. I heard about the girl killed in Abuja. It could have been me. I heard about a boy younger than me killed. I watched all the graphic videos of police hurting protestors on social media aware incidents caught on camera were the tip of the volcano. The police spread blood, too much blood! I will kill you and nothing will happen–a POPULAR TAUNT by the police puts fear in Nigerians because it is true. Among Nigerian police the ‘special’ group called the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) consistently wins the award for Most Notorious.

The Genesis 

SARS a tactical unit of the Nigerian Police was set up in 1992 as a response to an increase in armed robberies in Nigeria’s largest city, Lagos. Interestingly, the increase was reportedly a result of a gap in policing following the death of a military officer at the hands of police leading to military riots. SARS is a Phoenix birthed out of the flames of police violence.It doesn’t matter how many fires we set SARS reappears with new feathers yet the same brutality. SARS are known primarily for illegal stop and searches that violate Nigerians’ fundamental rights. 

SARS officers target young Nigerians, especially those with alternative hairstyles or dress sense. They reason any young Nigerian who drives an expensive looking car or owns gadgets such as an iPhone is a Nigerian Prince or a Yahoo boy( a scammer). Imagine you’re a young Nigerian driving down the streets of Lagos in the new car you just bought from the bonus received at the tech start up you work for. Then you get flagged down by SARS policemen. They look inside the car, spot a computer in the backseat ask you to get out of the vehicle and give them all your gadgets.

They look through your phone and computer everything is suspect – including apps like Google Hangouts. They accuse you of being a Yahoo boy-( a scammer) and kidnap you. Yes. They can kidnap you! 

Depending on how your stars are aligned that day 

 1) Your gadgets may be seized 

 2) You may be forced to clear out your account  

3) You may be beaten up 

 4) You may be taken to one of their stations there you will be charged with a made up crime and forced to sign a fabricated statement 

5) You may then get lost in the black hole that is the Nigerian police cell, denied the right to contact anyone and eventually have your dead body dumped in an unknown location 

 6) You may simply be shot at the site of your arrest ‘… and nothing will happen.’ if you’re a woman? It will be worse. 

The #ENDSARS movement is symbolic.The older generation seems intractably establishmentarian while the younger generation is becoming increasingly radical. 

Also, at the heart of the issue is the policing of appearance and mannerism. SARS officers and the Nigerian government in general conflate the aesthetics of modernity displayed among young Nigerians with vices such as scamming, debauchery and insolence. The #ENDSARS protest is a yearning by young people to be respected as full human beings. It is civil disobedience to force truly civil society into existence. 

‘A freedom to be, to do’ 

SARS has been dissolved. The victory for the protesters came at a price. Some died others were injured. However, we cannot celebrate SARS has a history of reinventing itself. As we speak, SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics), a replacement for SARS, has been announced displeasing many Nigerians. 

The #ENDSARS revolution attests to the idea that the Nigerian people especially young Nigerians are capable of challenging the systemic failures and deteriorating public services that plague their country. The #ENDSARS protests (arguably the biggest civil revolt in Nigeria since the time of the last military regime in 1999) are still unfolding. Many hope they will form a social movement that marks the genesis of a long walk to radical change in the structures of governance in Nigeria. 

Watching the protests, I am reminded of a scene in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus, a novel which allegorically portrays the repressive regimes of former leaders Sani Abacha and Ibrahim Babangida in Nigeria. In it, the young protagonist, Kambili, longs for a different kind of freedom, “a freedom to be, to do”. In the same manner, the #ENDSARS protest is a yearning for freedom, a freedom to be, a freedom to do.Here is my last message to the gluttonous Nigerian Rulers and opportunistic Elites…There is a new force of nature at hand,stirring all over The Federation of Nigeria.They are the young people,whom frankly, you have failed,who are bitter, angry, who are organised, who are capable of making a difference.They are a moral army.And the most important thing that you can do for them is to get the hell out of their way.About time.