By Jeffery Tram (@Jeffery_Tram)
United by patriotism and a desire for change, hundreds of Nigerians marched the streets of Toronto singing the Solidarity song. Nigerian youth around the world are protesting for the end to police brutality and corruption in Nigeria.
In 1992, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) was formed to combat armed robbery and other serious crimes in the country. However, what was meant to be a force that protected the people of Nigeria has done the opposite. It became an abuse of power. A report from Amnesty International details a history of harassment, extortion, rape, extrajudicial killings and torture from SARS.
“These officers would set up roadblocks dressed in normal clothes and extort money,” says Tito Shajo, a Nigerian student at Carleton University. “If you were pulled over, you might as well take out your wallet if you do not want your time wasted.”
For years, there has been a lack of accountability on the actions of these officers, which is why they have gotten away with so many things.
In early October, a video surfaced of an unarmed man in Nigeria killed by SARS officers, which outraged the people. This prompted protests all over the country for police reform and justice. In response to the peaceful protests, the police have responded back with violence.
On October 20th, Nigerian soldiers opened fire at a peaceful protest at the Lekki toll gate, resulting in at least 12 deaths. With the hashtag #ENDSARS, videos continue to circulate online of the acts of brutality against the civilians, causing more outrage around the world. Yet the government denied everything.
“He (President Muhammadu Buhari) called it fake news,” Shajo says. “The military twitter account called it fake news. Now what does that sound like to you? Trump’s America.”
The Nigerian government disbanded SARS on October 11th and has rebranded to a Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT)team in hopes of creating a new identity. However, Nigerians are not buying the act.
“How stupid do you think we are?” says Shajo. “We have already been through this.”
Corruption in Nigeria is not new. That is why Nigerian youth are demanding for a complete reform of the corruption in the government.
“Our system in Africa is not made for Africa. The colonizers gave us those systems and they were not made for our people,” says Patience Evbagharu, City Youth Councilor of Toronto. “If the systems do not work for us, will we continue? Of course not.”
Evbagharu has been leading the protests in Toronto. As a young Nigerian, she knows the importance of speaking up.
“Until there is complete reform of our government and they are held accountable for their actions, Nigeria will stay the same.”
Shajo is one of the many young Nigerians who are eager to make a change.
“If Nigeria is going to get any better, we are going to have to do it ourselves,” he says.
Shajo is frustrated with the lack of coverage the protests have gotten. He compares it to the attention the Black Lives Matter movement in America has gotten worldwide, including in Nigeria, but the same amount of coverage not given to Nigeria or any of the other African countries dealing with inhumane conditions. He calls on everyone to raise awareness.
“People love consuming our culture, ‘Oh Afrobeats’ and ‘I love Burna Boy,’ but where is the love now?”
“Nigerians are not happy right now. I have not been okay. I’m still not okay.”
Evbagharu says change can happen through creating hashtags and sharing videos, something previous generations did not have.
“The Nigerian government knows the power of social media. He knows the power of this generation and the resources we have. So now it's time to make leverage of it.”
“It is now or never,” she says. “The Nigerian Youth must wake up and start a revolution that says no to corruption.”