Nigeria’s young people confront police brutality

On October 5, Nigerians took their campaign to fight police brutality to the streets. A video of a police officer of the notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS, for short) harassing a young man went viral and stirred collective anger. Nigerians began sharing their horrific and shocking encounters with the Nigerian Police Force, specifically with the infamous SARS, which was created in 1992 to tackle the rise in kidnapping, fraud and internet crime in Nigeria.

But SARS officers began to abuse their power. The stories of officers extorting, torturing, beating and even extrajudicially killing unarmed young Nigerians have been told for years. But no police officer has ever been held accountable, charged and prosecuted over the allegations. The glaring impunity may be the most frustrating part of the brutality. The federal government has failed to end it. The #EndSARS campaign actually began in 2017, but this year, the campaign went to the streets of Nigeria and around the world, sending shockwaves straight up to the Nigerian federal government in the capital of Abuja. 

Thousands of people gathered in New York City, London, Lagos, Abuja and other cities to demonstrate against the Nigerian Police Force. The demonstrations in Lagos were the largest. Young people flocked to the Lagos district of Lekki to peacefully protest in a demonstration that began to look more like a block party than a movement against police brutality. The events were peaceful and Nigerian youth were united in the cause.

But on Oct 20, the campaign turned deadly when Nigerian security forces, including men wearing military camouflage uniforms, showed up at Lekki and began shooting at the peaceful, unarmed protesters who were waving the Nigerian flag and singing the Nigerian army. Before the shooting began, the lights in the area were shut off, which gave rise to suspicions that the shooting attack was planned. 

What happened on that night will be remembered as one of the darkest days in Nigeria’s history. No one knows how many people were killed. Witnesses said they saw Nigerian soldiers going off with the dead bodies to hide evidence of what they had done. A human rights organization said at least 12 people were killed. Others says more than 50 people were killed, however the governor of Lagos State downplayed these figures, saying that only 2 people died. The Nigerian army said that they were not present, but days later, they admitted that they were, but claimed that they did not shoot at protesters. Video footage captured that night contradicts that.

The next day, young Nigerians began vandalizing property and burning buildings in several states across the nation, triggered by the unjust killing of peaceful protesters. The anger in Nigeria, which is where I am currently, is still palpable. I went to a busy street in the southeastern Nigerian city of Enugu to see guys burning tires, stopping drivers and shouting, “End SARS!” They told me about their frustrations with the Nigerian government. Here are some of the photos:

 

Fires are still burning across Nigeria as people burn tires and vandalize property to show their disdain and frustration with the government. They say the government has failed to give them opportunities. Enugu, Nigeria. October 2020. Chika Oduah.

“We are tired of Nigeria.”

 

These young men vent their frustrations, telling me about their unpleasant confrontations with Nigerian police officers. Enugu, Nigeria. Oct 2020. Chika Oduah
These guys are talking to each other about how much they are suffering in Nigeria. The struggle is real. They’re looking for reliable jobs today pay decent salaries. They don’t have regular electricity to power their homes. Getting into a university sometimes means paying a bribe. All of these guys told me that the government has neglected them, while police officers from the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), frequently harassed them.
Across Nigeria, for the past few days, people are letting out their anger about how they’ve been treated by the government. They’re lighting fires and vandalizing property. Millions of Nigerians live in poverty while their politicians are millionaires. In fact, Nigeria has more black millionaires and billionaires than any other country in the world – including the United States. Nigeria observed Independence Day on Oct 1. Sixty years of independence from the United Kingdom, yet many people strongly believe that the country is getting worse, not better.


-By Chika Oduah

 

 

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