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#Nigeria, #EndSARS Part. 1: Historical Context

Miliaku writes about the #Endsars protest in Nigeria and it’s historical context.

Originally published by Grassroots Thinking. Written by Miliaku.

I was inspired by Idris Robinson’s format for his talk with Red May TV where he opened by legitimizing the uprising happening in the United States as a diverse and genuine rebellion rather than the actions of a few anarchists who got paid to voice their discontent (anarchists can be dope and the fable of the paid protester is largely a myth). We see the media silencing rage and discontent with the government by using tools of supremacy (peaceful protesters vs. non-peaceful protesters) to distract from the fact that people are tired of the inefficacy of the nation-state. People are tired of suffering at the hands of state violence. People are refusing to capitulate to brute “accumulation by dispossession.”

To mirror Robinson’s sentiment, I want to start by stating that the uprising happening now in Nigeria is a veritable resistance to state violence and repression. That the comrades, soldiers, citizens, friends, and family in the streets are posing a serious threat to hegemony, forcing the state to respond to their demands.

The information presented below is from a combination of interviews with family members, folks who talked with me online, and a perusing of social media. I feel it important to note this is a leaderless movement. Folks are not speaking from a place of total representation and are hesitant to emerge despite our best efforts to single out and identify “leaders.” This is impressive when juxtaposed to this summer in the US. It seems folks could not wait to capitalize and build clout off of their involvement in the movement, almost as if their anger with the police was not coming from their core – from a rage that stems from deep-seated distrust.

This is not the energy I’m getting from what’s happening in Nigeria. The anger is in the gut; the anger makes people willing to die; the anger will move the world forward. People were singing the national anthem while being shot at by the military.

In Nigeria, policing isn’t racially divided. The major divisions in Nigeria are along class lines and ethno-cultural differences. “Black” is a construct in direct opposition to whiteness, and there are no white people. I couldn’t find verifiable statistics, but I have seen more East Asians and Middle Eastern people in Nigeria than white people. Police stop anyone they want and arrest anyone they can to collect bribes. In the writing of this article, I sat with my cousin, “E,” mulling over the multiple times he had to “bail” his brothers out of jail, relinquish all they had to save their lives on rural roads and were directly threatened with murder. Make no mistake, this is a country of people who are sick and tired of being sick and tired. Nigerians are Black, on a global scale, but dynamics between police and civilians are more complicated than racial profiling that happens in countries where Black people are the minority. We’ll get into that later.

In America, folks saw protests dating back to political action as far as 2016 and immediately branded them as the Black Lives Matter movement. The connections are clear; however, I think branding a movement in Nigeria where no one is saying “Black Lives Matter” is a form of projection and a missed opportunity to understand the nuances of policing and statehood in Nigeria. True solidarity is built on a shared understanding of difference, not a facade of uniformity. A very important part of solidarity is acting on something that doesn’t directly affect you to support a group you are not a part of.

Workers at Wayfair going on strike to protest the furnishing of cages for immigrant children held in US Detention Centers/Concentration Camps was an example of solidarity. Solidarity could be something as simple as staying up with a sick friend through the night to bring them water and keep them company as they poop their brains out. Solidarity is about being reliable and showing up when there is a need. Nigerians are not protesting racialized policing and mass incarceration like we are in the United States. They are marching with fire in their bellies to end police. These are a few of the demands of the movement:

  1. End SARS (Now rebranded as SWAT)
  2. Give Nigeria Good Governance
  3. Reform Policing in Nigeria
  4. All Service Chiefs Must GO
  5. President Buhari Must GO

Solidarity actions (since 2017) have propped up in Seattle, Atlanta, Detroit, London, Toronto, and more. Wealthy celebrities such as Wiz Kid, Burna Boy, Don Jazzy, and Yemi Alade have been calling out the Nigerian government on social media and leading/attending protests. Lekki, where the 10.20.20 massacre occurred, is one of Nigeria’s most wealthy and prominent neighborhoods.

I hopped on the phone to talk to another one of my cousins to check on his well-being because I knew he has been one youth failed by the Nigerian government. He is a college-educated kid with very few options. Nigeria was under a 24-hour curfew that protesters were breaking to continue out a three-day protest they planned in his area. The entire country is on pause, either in fear of the uprising and constant repression or to dedicate time to it.

SARS (Special Anti Robbery Squad) was established in 1992 by the Nigerian government to combat crimes that are actually caused by a nation-state and the mirage of scarcity and competition that accompany it. Since then, people have been documenting crimes by SARS units. In my experience, I can recall being squeezed for bribes casually when passing police in the streets of Nigeria and an encounter when the police stole my uncle’s car, took it to some far off lot because we “took too long” in the airport’s line and demanded cash we did not have. Nigerian police are surely corrupt and harass folks who have markers of wealth and modernity, tattoos, iPhones, etc. Police are also targeting queer and trans people and sex workers by raping, beating, arresting, and murdering them. Like people all across the world, Nigerians have had enough of a government that is abusing and extorting them (they extort like this in the US, they just institutionalize it). Like in most movements across the world, youth, queer people, and women are courageously and invisibly leading the charge of a genuinely diverse movement.

#ENDSARS was a social media movement that originally surfaced on “Nigerian Twitter” in 2016 when youth were demanding the Nigerian government disband SARS, which stands for the Special Anti-Robbery Squad of the Nigerian police. Then protests erupted throughout Nigeria, and the government only responded with empty promises. On October 3, 2020, bystanders took video footage of a police officer killing a young man, then again on October 5th. By October 8th, nation-wide protests broke out all across Nigeria. Angry, *unpaid* protesters were burning police stations and cars, freeing people from prisons, and occupying the international airport. One could say the militant rebellion that occurred in the US served as inspiration. One could also think back to the Aba women’s riots, women protesting oil, sitting on a man, or “Occupy” Nigeria.



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