His name is Jimoh Isiaq. He is standing by the side of the road, wearing a striped blue, white, and black sweater. His multicolored shorts are as reflective as Jimoh himself. He folds his hands, watching from a distance as other young people carry an #EndSARS protest close to his house. Jimoh is unsure if to join or to stay. Jimoh features in a couple of videos from people recording the protest. In every frame, Jimoh is afraid. He wants to join, but he wants to live. As he stays indecisive, the protesters move forward, further from Jimoh’s position. The cameras pick up other people. Then there is a gunshot. And another.
People scamper for safety. Cameras are no longer focused. Everyone is running for their lives. When the dust settles, and they return for the injured, Jimoh’s striped sweatshirt is soaked in blood. Jimoh is no longer pensive. Jimoh is dead. As the protesters try to carry Jimoh’s lifeless body, they see other young, bullet-wounded people. They rush them all to the hospital, hoping for a medical miracle. The others survive. But Jimoh’s odyssey now continues in the afterlife. His crime? He was a Nigerian asking not to be killed by the Police.
Like Jimoh, several young Nigerians are shot at by Policemen every day. They are shot at for earning money; they are shot at for not earning money. They are beaten for using apple gadgets; they are beaten for not being able to afford apple gadgets. They are illegally arrested, kidnapped, and framed for crimes that they did not commit. This story is as typical as rice in Nigerian households. But one thing that connects all the stories is the brutal manner in which officers of the tactical force unit, Federal-Special Anti-Robbery Squad (F-SARS) kill Nigerians. In Nigeria, F-SARS does not discriminate. It beats everybody. Jimoh is dead, but what about those who survived?
Abdulhakeem is a young journalist who thought he was going to die in Offa, North Central Nigeria when he encountered F-SARS. He was travelling on a public bus when they were stopped by armed men, whom they later discovered were F-SARS. Members of the F-SARS unit introduce themselves only by their guns; never by ID Cards, never by clothing. Oftentimes, they do not even wear anything tied to the Nigerian Police force. Abdulhakeem and his co-travellers were lucky to survive due to a tactical negotiation for their lives. But not everybody is fortunate to encounter SARS unscathed.
Michael has had more than five different experiences with F-SARS. Michael was once kidnapped and taken to an unknown location around Berger, Lagos State, South-Western Nigeria. Isolated, they demanded N200,000 ($520) from him. Another incidence he recalls was when F-SARS illegally detained him at Grammar School, Berger, Lagos. He was given a pre-written statement to sign, indicating that he was a cyber-criminal. His crime was owning an iPhone. When he protested that he wasn’t going to sign, a female officer told him to shut up and sign if he wanted to meet his family again. In an unfortunate turn of events for the officers, Michael said: “luckily at that moment, I had an attack. I’m asthmatic. That was when they allowed me (to) go after four hours”. Michael survived because he had a medical emergency that could have equally killed him.
Eniobanke was picked up in Ilorin, North Central Nigeria, by a set of officers whom he described as “ruffians”. In the exchange that all victims know, he demanded identification, and the officers immediately attempted to kidnap him. An older woman intervened, and Inspector Friday (a well known rogue officer in Ilorin) who led the operation agreed to have him follow them to the F-Divison of Nigerian Police Force, Ilorin, on an okada. At the station, when they found it difficult to pin any crime on him, they alleged that as a blogger, he was committing crimes. Then they said he would be charged for inciting violence against them because he called them kidnappers. Eniobanke’s father sent a Lawyer to defend his son, but before the Lawyer got to him, they had already forced bail funds out of his friends. Despite that, the Lawyer still paid N50,000 ($130) to perfect his bail.
Inspector Friday’s men have in the past arrested a dog because they went to raid a student hostel and did not meet students at home. So they took their dog. While Eniobanke was narrating his experiences, he mentioned that he had to bail one of his staff last week. What was her crime? Her hostel was burgled, and one of the neighbours reported to F-SARS to do their job. What did F-SARS do? They arrested everyone they found when they went for an inspection and had people bail them out.
Alpha, a young Nigerian was stopped by men of the F-SARS and asked to present his vehicle receipts, license and particulars. When Alpha gave them, they said Alpha was too young to own a car. Alpha’s harassment happened in Sapele, Delta State, South-South Nigeria.
An NGO volunteer, Afolabi, was also fed with a bowl of harassment while trying to build his community. Afolabi’s harassment was met with strong resistance from the young man, who would rather die than be bullied. Luckily for him, some passers-by joined and helped him escape further harassment.
Students, Journalists, Volunteers, Bloggers; nobody is safe from operatives of F-SARS. These menacing, bedevilling operatives exact force at every given opportunity. Despite a nationwide protest calling for the unit to be scrapped, the officers are still armed and hurting Nigerians. They are working hard to further isolate and extort young people. When I asked some young Nigerians what they wanted the government to do, their responses were similar.
Abdulhakeem said, “proscribe SARS, provide an insurance scheme for every Nigerian against harassment by members of the NPF; this insurance scheme should be funded by NPF’s budget allocations so that whenever any of their members go rogue, and people have to be paid from the insurance scheme, they know it is going to reflect in their salaries.” Michael wants “government to end the SARS unit and reform the Police as a whole because they are still the same people.” Eniobanke added that “beyond ending sars, there is a need for total reformation of the Nigerian Police Force.”
Nobody deserves to live with as much fear as Nigerians do when they see Police officers. Many Nigerians live with PTSD, extreme anxiety and panic. Those who survive F-SARS live the rest of their lives in fear. They live it traumatised. They live it planning to look as poor as possible when they leave their homes. They live their lives planning conversations in their heads, in anticipation of being harassed. A young Nigerian recently committed suicide, unable to live with the trauma of his harassment. When the fresh protests started, an officer shot a protester in the mouth. And just yesterday, a young man from Ogiri compound, Ita Alasa, Ogbomoso, was murdered in cold blood; he is Jimoh Isiaq.
Nigerians are tired of begging for their lives. They are demanding for only one thing now; #EndSARS.
Pain VI. Illustration by sef adeola.