I know I am late on my promise to give you an update every Thursday at 7:00 pm. It wasn’t intentional. I was confused about what to share with you. I had initially written a short story about finding true love from a friend’s point of view. The current situation in Nigeria, however, does not warrant such a blog post. The recent news headlines in Nigeria show pictures and videos of young people, including celebrities, carrying placards, peacefully protesting, and clamouring for the end to the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) with the hashtag, #EndSARS, #EndSARSNow, and #EndPoliceBrutality.
The Nigerian youth is tired of the bullying of SARS. How can the people responsible for protecting us be a threat to our lives? It is not the first time we have cried about the menace caused by SARS through social media. The highest level of response gotten so far is a ban by the Inspector General of Police. In as much as these SARS officers have been banned several times, within the space of four years; December 2017, September 2018, January 2019, and October 2020 respectively, there still exist a persistent public outcry on the brutality, extortion, and harassment of citizens by SARS operatives. Thankfully, the massive protest nationwide and outside the country have been of effect to the cause. Yesterday, the Inspector General of Police announced the dissolution of the Special Anti- Robbery Squad. Although, we are doubtful at this dissolution.
For those who don’t know about the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), let me give you a background as to why they exist. The Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) is a Nigerian Police Force unit, founded in 1992 by the former police commissioner, Simeon Daniadi Midenda, under the Force Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department. The killing of Col. Rindam, a Nigerian Army Colonel, by some police officers at a checkpoint in Lagos, led to the formation of this unit.
As revenge by the Nigerian Army, soldiers were deployed into the streets of Lagos to capture any police officer they saw. Out of fear of being killed or tortured, the Nigerian police withdrew from checkpoints, security areas, and other points of interest for criminals. A few resigned, while others fled for their lives, which led to the absence of the police for two weeks and increased the crime rate in Nigeria. SARS began with only fifteen officers operating in the shadows and monitoring police radio chatters, unknowingly to the Nigerian Army. Midenda needed to distinguish his squad from the already established anti-robbery units that were operational at the time. Hence, the name of his new team- The Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
After months of dialogue, the Nigerian Army and the Nigeria Police Force came to an understanding, and official police duties began again in Lagos. The knowledge of this is to make you understand the anger of young Nigerians. It is ridiculous to think of every dreadlock-wearing, tattoo-bodied and luxury car driving young citizen of Nigeria as a criminal. Many Nigerians are hugely earning an honest living.
Before now, I had been indifferent about joining conversations such as these. I tell myself I don’t want to be a hypocrite. If I can’t protest, I won’t talk about this. I realized that my voice contributes to putting an end to the brutality that affects me, and those around me. If I don’t speak against this now, I will get burnt. I won’t hold back anymore. I am using my platform to speak against the pain the Nigerian Police has caused me, my family, and my friends, and i will no longer be quiet! We need police reform and an end to SARS in Nigeria. I am excited about the attention our cries are getting from international celebrities and Nigerians in the diaspora. In preparation for this blogpost, a friend took the opportunity to narrate his experience with SARS, and I was dumbfounded.
My friend is an upcoming hip-hop artiste. As it is the tradition of a determined and focused artiste, churning out new music as often as you can to be ready for recording deals, distribution, and label signing will be a lifestyle. Moreover, every Lagosian understands the intricacies of living in Lagos. Lagos metropolis in Nigeria is into two parts due to geographical proximities; The mainland and Island. Residents in Lagos try as much as possible to plan their movements if activities require physical presence in either location.
“On this particular day, we were coming back from Lekki, on our way to Festac, as we just finished a recording session. While in the taxi, Bolt precisely, at Jakande, just by Shoprite supermarket, we got flagged down by an unmarked bus; No plate number, nothing. Some men on mufti got off the bus to approach me because I was seated in front.
At the time, I was on dreadlocks; they assumed I was a fraudster. I got off the car without hesitation. They asked who I was and for further identification. I did. While I was interrogated, two of my friends were with another official of SARS. They asked us what we did, and we told them we were artistes. They asked for the songs which we played for them. In anger, they asked us to get on the bus. One of my friends tried to hesitate, but I felt since we were innocent. nothing was going to happen.
After much embarrassment at Jakande junction that afternoon, we decided to enter the bus. As this went on, our friend that was inside the taxi was troubled by another SARS official. They started interrogating us inside the bus as it moved at a slow pace. We suddenly were accused of being fraudsters and they took our phones. All six police officers took turns in scrolling through our phones to find something incriminating they can hold against us.
This incident happened around 11:45 am. Even after telling them, we were artistes and playing our songs, they still insisted that we were lying and that they would take us to the police station to get us to confess. They also threatened to go to our houses to arrest anyone they met because they assumed we were harbouring criminals. When they got a little frustrated with the fact that we were not giving any incriminating information about us, they beckoned to our friend who was still in the taxi to join us on the bus. By this time, in handcuffs, one of my friends who newly got to Lagos for his National Youth Service Corps program was all about challenging these men and quoting his right as a citizen.
They tried every effort to sieve out his statement to find anything contrary to what my other friend and I mentioned. Realizing we were truthful with our statement, they said the only way for them not to take us to the police station was for us to give them one million. Initially, we thought it was a joke, and we laughed at their ridiculous request. When they felt their threats were not working, they began to tighten the handcuffs. It was so tight that we had begged for them to loosen it.
By this time, I think we had gotten towards the Lekki toll gate as they continued to threaten us, they said that they were not the regular police officials, and if we get to the police station, our issue with them will escalate. They brought out sticks to hit us on our legs because we were not cooperating with them.
We were scared because it was past 3:00 pm and we knew that if it got to a particular time, they would take us to any police station and make our condition worse. So we started begging them and asked them what they wanted. They still insisted on collecting one million naira from us. During this period, they took turns scrolling through our phones.
We told them we did not have such an amount in our accounts. They refused to believe us and went on to search our bank apps to verify our account balance. The person’s account who had the highest amount of money was my friend who needed to prepare for a close relative’s funeral and some renovation in his family house in the village. They were furious when they saw his account balance because we told them we didn’t have the amount they requested. In all this madness, the Bolt taxi driver was driving behind the bus that took us.
To this day, I suspect that driver was in on the SARS operation. But there is no evidence to prove this. However, the way the driver stopped for the police was very shady. After much begging, they took us to an ATM location and asked us to withdraw half of what we had in our accounts. What was more interesting and surprising about our ordeal was that my friend, who didn’t have an ATM card, was driven to a specific Access bank branch, somewhere around Victoria Island.
As soon as he got to the banking hall, someone approached him. I think it was the bank manager because, amidst the long queue, my friend’s name was mentioned, and asked to follow him to another room in the bank to withdraw with no huddles.
What was more annoying about the whole incident was that as soon as they got the money they wanted from us, they began trying to strike a friendly conversation, asking us why we were not living on the island side of Lagos. Satira, I still have PTSD anytime I see a police officer”.
The fight for our rights continues, and I am happy to be alive to witness the revolution that has begun.