The Nigerian experience is physical, emotional and sometimes international. No one knows it better than our features on #TheAbroadLife, a series where we detail and explore Nigerian experiences while living abroad.
The #EndSARS movement quickly went from being a national one to being an international one, with Nigerians all over the world lending their voices to demand an end to police brutality in Nigeria. On Abroad Life today, we spoke with a few people who organised, or participated in #EndSARS protests all around the world, and here’s what they had to say:
1. Ife, Canada
It all started when I saw Tunde’s tweet calling for Nigerians in Toronto to protest. I was definitely interested, so I got in contact with him and we started planning.
It was perfect timing because I was already looking to do something on my own. I wanted to stand in front of my house and hold up a placard. We contacted the media and the city for permission, and he designed the poster. Once we got approval from the city, we shared the poster with all the information. We got all of this sorted in less than 24 hours, and because he has a huge twitter following, it generated a lot of traction and interest. Getting permission from the police was also pretty straightforward. I had to reach out to the head of the Special Events department for Toronto, Lisa Yuill. She understood and gave me all the help I needed. We even had police escorts on the march.
The march happened on Saturday morning at Dunder Square. I would say it’s like the Freedom Park, Ojota of Toronto. The turnout was impressive. I was expecting that because Saturday was the beginning of a long weekend (there’s a public holiday on Monday), people would want to sleep in and enjoy their weekend, but by 9 a.m., we already had over 50 people. In all, we had over 100 people. Our protest incited a wave of protests, and I’m super impressed about that. There are different groups having protests in different parts of the country and that’s amazing. This movement is personal for me because I’ve lost thirty thousand naira in one day to SARS. A few years ago when I was in Lagos, I sent my brother on an errand within the neighborhood. He took my car. Shortly after he left home, I got a call that SARS had arrested him. I got there and asked what was going on. They said they just arrested him, and he had to follow them to the station.
“Okay, what did you arrest him for?”
“When we get to the station, you’ll find out.”
Then one of them brought me to the side and told me to look at their minibus up ahead. There were already a few young guys like my brother in there. He said they were all going to the station, but if I didn’t want my brother to go as well, I had to give them a hundred thousand naira. I said I only had five thousand to give them. He laughed. We bargained. We agreed on thirty thousand naira. I gave them in cash and left with my brother.
As long as the goal is common, we encourage people to protest. If we see that the fire is dying down, we’ll go again.
2. Tunde, Canada
My experience with SARS back home: I was robbed in 2013 at gunpoint. They stole my brother’s car. They drove me and my girlfriend away from the spot they robbed us and dropped us off. But they took the car and our phones. For me, it was my iPhone, so I was able to track and find its location. I went to the police and they introduced some SARS folks to me. I gave them the location of my iPhone; they mentioned they’d take care of it.
A week later, they said I should bring one hundred thousand naira, and they would bring the guys out. I gave them. After a week, I paid another 100k. It was clear at this point that they just wanted to keep extorting me, so I stopped giving them money, Why am I giving the police money to get thieves? Aren’t they paid by the government? I suspected that they had found those boys and gotten bribed by them as well. We never found the car or my phones. It was a traumatic experience.
What soured me organizing that protest was when I saw young folks sleeping in front of the Lagos State Assembly. I was touched, and I knew it meant we were ready for change. When I put the tweet out for the Toronto protests, it gained so much traction and folks started reaching out. We were surprised to have a lot of people turn out. Ironically, that morning, a Toronto police officer walked up to us, and guess what? He’s Nigerian! A Kaduna guy. He was laughing and saying he’s glad he doesn’t have to worry about SARS anymore. I am glad we were able to lend our voices. Even though we are far from home, it affects all of us.
3. Rasheedat, England
I tweeted about being interested in going for a protest if there’s one in London. And someone tagged me on Ogbeni Dipo’s tweet. At the protests, the energy was great. Due to the permissions the organisers had received from metro police, we were restricted to a spot. But trust Nigerians; we “revolted” after a while. People wanted to stand and protest in front of the Nigerian house, so they moved there while others stayed on the other side. After some time, the police came to us (I was standing on the other side) and said we should go down the path that’s next to the Nigerian House. I crossed over then saw Wizzy.
4. Afope, Germany
I had many SARS experiences when I was in Nigeria, both personally and through people I really cared about. I remember receiving calls from lovers saying what the police had done to them and feeling completely helpless at the other end of the phone. I remember someone I really cared about just crying and crying for hours after midnight after the police had assaulted, harassed and extorted them. That night, I stayed up for hours listening to them cry on the phone. I often remember the helplessness I felt in those moments, how just saying “sorry” didn’t cut it.
Once, my youngest sister and I were coming back from one of those fun nights. I think it was a “90’s baby night”. We were both so excited to be discovering this side of Lagos together, which seemed genuinely like a space where people could just be. We were in an Uber on our way home when SARS stopped us and told us to come down. I often think about the fear in her eyes that night, lanky and tall as she was, and how she immediately went on her knees on the bare ground and raised her hands up in the air saying “Please!” I actually joked about it a lot to her and everyone else because I think I use humour to deal with trauma. But now I think it was insensitive to have laughed about that. It was a traumatic experience and that kind of experience leaves its mark on you.
Before all of this started, I had been planning that my own detty Decembers from now on would just be staging protests. My friends are telling me now that “Woah Afope, you had been saying all you wanted to do was protest and look now, there’s a revolution.” I just think Nigerians have had enough, especially the youth, and we’ve been having enough for a while now. So for me, my body has been ready to hit the streets, and since everything already started happening rather organically, I knew I had to join in whatever capacity I was able to. Also being in a political city such as Berlin, I noticed that people were always staging demonstrations for everything and anything. They are aware of their rights. They know what happens when you don’t speak up. So I started to attend some of these and say to the other residents here that when I came back home this was all I wanted to do. They don’t even get even quarter as much shit as we do, and they’re willing to hit the streets to demand their rights and demand to be heard. I thought we could do with some of that in Nigeria as well, and I am so glad to see that we are all united and speaking with one voice about our future. The protests went really good. People got to speak their minds and air out grievances. It was some kind of a healing space, but there was still anger in the air. There was music as well.
There was a funny scene where the police came out when some protesters were demonstrating a typical SARS encounter, and they tried to intervene because they thought it was real. People also read out stuff. Someone brought puff puff to share.
I appreciate everyone who came out and made it a success. Segun Famisa and Akeem Durojaiye supported us with plans and helped us amplify the event. I would like to thank them as well. Though the people in the embassy were peeking out from their homes and taking pictures, no one came out to address us. I guess it’s because it was a Sunday.
5. Ibukun, Canada
Someone on the Zikoko WhatsApp group posted a picture with different locations for protests and there was one for Toronto. I was really happy to see that. I was a bit skeptical though, because the thing with protests is that sometimes they get out of control. I did some research and found Tunde and Ife’s tweets, and then got a friend to follow me. At least I knew I wasn’t alone, and that the protests were going to be organised. We had to be in groups of 25 because of COVID rules, and then as we were gathering, two police officers walked up to us and started asking what happened and why we were protesting. We told them and then one of them just went, “Ahan, my fellow Nigerians.”e He said he was from Kaduna, and he supported our cause. He assured us that as long as we had our permits, we would be fine.
It was nice to protest because so many non-Nigerians stopped and asked us what we were protesting about and were really eager to learn. We played the National Anthem and took the knee and then someone got on a mic and addressed us and the passers-by.
I think the most emotional moment was when someone got on the microphone and started calling the names of the people that had been killed by SARS and everyone would respond “Killed by SARS!” It was my first ever protest march, and it was good.
When I was leaving, a new group was coming.