LAGOS, Nigeria – Nigeria’s leaders have made a show of responding to the massive youth-led demands on police brutality that recently brought the country to a standstill and gained global attention.
The government has formed panels investigating police vandalism, and is determined to dissolve the notoriously abusive police unit known as the Special Anti-Robbery Squad or SARS.
But at the same time, protesters say the government is carrying out a targeted campaign against those linked to the oppression to break up the persecution, deadlock and agitation – destroying the good faith the government had built gave.
“They are peaceful and indeed quite patriotic youths,” said Chidi Odinakalu, senior manager for Africa at the Open Society Justice Initiative.
Nigeria – Africa’s most populous country – was transformed last month by an insurgency that escalated into the largest popular resistance the government has faced in years. The protest began as an outrage against the SARS police unit, but developed into a major protest over poor governance.
The government has adopted a two-pronged strategy to try to stop the uproar. It has tried to convince people that it is listening to the protesters – forming a panel of inquiry and declaring that SARS is being disbanded. But it is using its power to suppress and intimidate its people by simultaneously putting many people in jail and torturing others big and small.
An example of the government’s two-pronged approach was demonstrated last week in a stuffed hearing room in the sea-facing Lagos, where a panel was scheduled to hold a hearing on police brutality.
Two youth activists were invited to join the panel to represent the protesters. But the young panelists boycotted the hearing as the Central Bank of Nigeria freeze a bank account belonging to one of them, claiming that it was linked to the terrorists. In recent weeks, at least 20 activists and organizations have frozen their accounts by the Central Bank.
“How can I, as a citizen of my country, ask for the end of police brutality” for better policing, said Bolatito Oloruninu, one of the youth panelists, a 22-year-old student at Lagos State University, and my government . To make me a terrorist? This is sad. “
Warning threats to their safety, some high-profile activists have gone into hiding or left the country with the movement known as the hashtag #EndSARS. Lawyer Modupe Odell, who helped the protesters, said there was a public outcry, adding that his passport was confiscated at the airport. She says she was prevented from traveling, but was recently given her passport back.
The country’s top police officer said earlier this month that his officers arrested more than 1,500 people during protests and suspected of participating in the violence.
The government has moved to use its authority to shut down the movement. Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city, banned demonstrations. The powerful state governors in the north of the country had last week called for the censorship of social media, which played a decisive role in the procession.
Like the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States, #EndSARS was triggered by viral videos of police brutality that documented a decade-long pattern of violence. And similar to the protesters behind the Arab Spring, young people used social media to coordinate protests, which frightened officials were accustomed to being in control.
These days, Muhammadu Buhari is the democratically elected civilian president of Nigeria. But in the 1980s, he was the country’s military ruler, fond of discipline – forcing famous civil servants to work late to leapfrog.
Despite trying to reassure the youth last month that his voice was heard “loud and clear,” Their pronunciation is high and disruptive. Nigerians are wary that their authoritarian tendencies are visible through their General Buhari side.
On 20 October, the army was stationed at the location of a long-running peaceful #EndSARS protest in Lakki, a prosperous region of Lagos, shortly after sunset. The floodlights were switched off. Then the soldiers started firing.
It is still not known how many people died that night, although a popular disc jockey who broadcast the shooting on his Instagram – said Obianzu Katherine Udeh, known as DJ Switch – saw at least 15 dead bodies , And that the security forces saw them off. Amnesty International said police and soldiers killed at least 12.
Abuse by Nigerian security forces is nothing new. Women have been raped by soldiers and infants and children in the home of terrorist group Boko Haram in the Northeast. In the capital, Abuja, and the nearby city of Kaduna, minority Shia protesters have been killed.
But #EndSARS attracted social media influences, musicians, Hollywood actors and reality TV stars. The Lekki incident drew international condemnation, with President-Elect Joseph R. Biden and Beyoncé were also involved.
“It is one thing to shoot protesters in Kaduna’s relative backwaters,” Mr Odinakalu said. He said, “Shooting protesters under the clear gaze of upmarket Lagos is another matter. Political influences are greater. “
The leaky shooting was one of the things the Lagos inquiry is investigating before it boycotted the frozen bank account. Adisina Ogunlana, a lawyer appearing at the hearing, and said he represented the #EndSARS movement, comparing the Leaky shootings to Tinko, a type of Nigerian sun-dried meat.
“Looks small. But when you put it in your mouth and chew it, it gets bigger. Gets bigger. Grows up, ”said Mr. Ogunlana, who last week mimicked Malcolm Gladwell’s” David and Goliath, “and ate bitter cola to strengthen himself.
He said that Lekki had just one case of misconduct, but it includes the army, including the Lagos state government. “And of course it includes thousands and thousands and thousands of young Nigerians.”
In a Lagos inquiry last month, the panel testified to a businessman that in 2018, SARS police threw him from a two-story building, breaking his spine. They heard that the father of five tortured them for 47 days by Sars operatives accusing them of theft.
Advocates who have worked on many such cases are unable to name a single case in which a criminal has been disciplined or accused in the security forces.
Where this could happen, experts say, the government has instead gone after the #EndSARS protesters. But this is not straightforward, as there are some easily identified leaders in the movement.
“There is no Oga,” or Bigg Boss said that Jola Iye recently co-hosts on the popular podcast.
As #EndSARS protested, word began to spread that state governments were hiding food donated by some of Nigeria’s wealthiest individuals, which should have been distributed to the poorest people to sustain them during the epidemic.
Many Nigerians suspect that the governor was prohibiting supplies to hand over to them when they needed political support.
This sent more waves of people across the country to the streets. Crowds of people entered the godowns carrying rice sacks and cartons of noodles. In some places, people destroyed property.
Then there was an arrest.
He said, ‘They rounded people up on the streets without any proof. Too many people in prison, ”said Yumi Adamolekun, executive director of Enough Is Enough Nigeria, a non-profit organization promoting good governance and accountability. “Police brutality has increased significantly.”
Now that the protests are over, the roads have become very normal.
In Surulere, an old suburb of Lagos, traffic jams have replaced crowds of protesters waving national green and white flags. The hawkers are back outside the market, selling fake coral beads and strings of books and promising secrets to collect great wealth. Residents are no longer afraid to get out so they can catch a bullet.
But in a country where most older, wealthier men operate the population with an average age of 18 and an average income of $ 2,200, the youth now know the power of their opposing muscles, they say they call it Can use again.
“You can never tell when another protest is going to start,” said Erio-Dare Etoye, the coalition’s convenor in defense of Nigerian democracy and the Constitution.
“People would have to justify doing it again,” he said, as the government has been given enough time to respond to the issues.