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On #EndSARS Protest And My Craving For Change In Nigeria
“This man died because he was driving an SUV”.
Saturday 3rd October caught me drained in sweat. I opened Twitter to see a man get shot by men of the SARS unit in Delta state Nigeria, whilst a crowd of witnesses gathered to save him from dying.
The savaging panic attack that consumed my body had me feeling like I would die too. Behind my ravaged breath was a whisper, one that reminded me of his crime: “This man died because he was driving an SUV”.
It wasn’t my first time seeing the type of horrifying experience that drove me to this state, neither was I the only person who felt this way. 8th October saw that rage in us as every city in Nigeria was filled with angry placards protesting for our right to live without being threatened by police or the men of this SARS unit.
Formed in 1992 to fight against domestic terrorism like armed-robbery, cultism and kidnapping; the Special Anti Robbery Squad is a unit in the Nigerian police force. Over the years, their notoriety and improper way of attending to their jobs have made them infamous. All that differentiates them from criminals is that they are backed by law, with the government encouraging their cruelty by not sanctioning offenders within them; while they rampage around, fervently looking for youths to arrest, torture and extort. As well as raping and murdering them. A case to this had shown Ifeoma Abugu, a lady who had only got engaged but was arrested in her own house, kept in custody for two days before they raped and murdered her in cold blood.
These barbaric methods put them amongst the most loathed crime-fighting units in the world.
However, these recent protests aren’t the first time young people have gathered in their numbers with burning rage in order to get the government to disband the units. And this isn’t the first time the unit is said to be disbanded with the hopes of police reform. 2017, 2018 and 2019 saw the same demands, and yet this rogue unit continued to threaten the lives of young Nigerians simply for having iPhones, laptops, ripped jeans, dreadlocks, tinted hair, flashy clothes or fancy cars.
Protests all over the country have always worn a peaceful look. With the protests performed in person and online, I have always been on the front-line to ensure that the #EndSARS and #EndpolicebrutalityinNigeria were trending enough to get the world’s attention about our situation.
#EndSARS was trending for 48 hours on 8th and 9th October, gaining more than 5 million tweets and attracting supporters and sponsors from all over the world. The protestors had five demands and were not ready to back down until change had been made. The SARS unit was disbanded on October 12th following the announcement by the inspector general of police and the president. However, that didn’t stop young protesters from continuing the protest, there was so much yet to be done; especially seeking answers to the overwhelming percentage of unemployed youths in the country.
By the second week of rallying, hoodlums disrupted the otherwise peaceful protests. They violently lashed out to protesters, employing weapons too. Video clips on Twitter showed the same delinquents getting transported to a location by a police van and being directed by a man in a suit with a government SUV. The hoodlums were being sponsored by the government to cause violence and lead prison raids. Despite the government’s attempts to derail the rally for change, the protests continued.
At noon on 20th October, Lagos state governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu announced a curfew that was intended to take place at 4 pm in Africa’s largest city. This sparked outcry on all social media platforms – such last-minute curfews are rare. Though the curfew was later cancelled by 4 pm and moved to 9 pm, that didn’t stop the tragedy we never expected to happen. According to eyewitnesses present at the Lekki Tollgate, all street lights were turned off deliberately and demands to switch on the light for the protesters were denied without explanation. At seven o’clock, the protestors sat close to each other, singing the national anthem while swaying their flags, when suddenly military men stumbled in through the toll gate, shooting in regular sequence at demonstrators, flags still raised in the air.
On seeing a video of this tragic massacre, I was lost for words. Tears simmered down my eyes. It was obvious that the country where I was born and bred had failed citizens who were like me; citizens whose only crime was exercising their rights peacefully, citizens who craved change just like me.
On seeing a video of this tragic massacre, I was lost for words. Tears simmered down my eyes.
Not only had they shot them deliberately, but they also took their bodies. According to an eyewitness on Channel TV, they shot in interludes, taking bodies they had murdered after each round and getting ahead to kill the rest of the demonstrators. An Amnesty International report indicated that at least 38 people were killed and over 25 injured. The sadness that has ignited from this attack still hasn’t dispelled, just like the lingering hope for a positive change.
Ever since the massacre, the country has jostled with incivility. Hoodlums looting everywhere and destroying the peace we have tried to nurture after the unbearable incident. With police and military officers killing people without any trace of mercy, the government are taking no responsibility. For the first time in nine days, the president spoke and yet, at the core of his speech was blame – cursing the youth for inflicting mayhem in the country. All we felt was the feeling of leaving and being left behind, of suffering under a system that kills us soundlessly for seeking change.
For the first time in years, I was met with the feeling of abandonment, and a gradual sense of dismay. I’m reminded that one day I might be a victim of the system like everyone else who has lost their lives, both at the hands of police brutality and in the fight against police brutality. The hope I have seen recently has astounded me. It has shown me that despite the violence thrust upon us, that we as a generation can still stand up and fight fiercely for our future.
I’m sure that has astounded our leaders too.
The past two weeks of the protest have met me online but have also met me in one tight corner of my room, crying at the endless injustices that go unpunished. No one wishes to be murdered under a system that won’t get justice for them. I see a future, a sort that arises regardless of the religious and ethnic rivalry our past has recorded. A future that is promising of a good fight.
A future that is craving to destroy the entitled impunity thriving in our country. Despite everything, the future looks good.