Power lies with whoever controls narrative and, quite frankly, media attempts at smearing the characters of frustrated protesters by painting them as “thugs” or “hoodlums” is nauseating. This false narrative cannot be allowed to continue. These are not hoodlums. These are Nigerians.
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While the world remains focused on which culturally illiterate candidate to anoint "leader of the free world", many Nigerians are losing their lives at the hands of the very same people that were put in place to protect them—most notably, SARS. On Oct. 20th 2020, only weeks after Nigeria celebrated her 60th year of independence, soldiers opened fire on peaceful demonstrators at Lekki toll gate in Lagos. After days of silence with no explanation regarding the murders of many Nigerian citizens who were armed only with flags, President Buhari finally addressed his people. We listened in shock as there was not a single mention of the lives that were lost. Buhari is widely recognized as a stoic man. But this was no time to display stoicism, this was a time to cry with his children.
Alas, we were left to scour the depths of the internet in search of any form of reason. A hopeless search for any government official that could at least pretend to care.
“SARS is disbanded, but the people are still protesting. We don’t understand the reason,” said Mohammed Ademu, the Inspector General of Police. He further explains that “members of SARS are just members of the Nigerian Police...they can work anywhere…so if you’re no (longer) in that unit, certainly you must continue to perform police duties”. Certainly you must continue to perform police duties. This, to give General Ademu some understanding, is why people are still protesting. SARS, on paper, have been “disbanded”, but the exact same officers accused of terrorizing citizens are simply posted to other units that are operated under different names. This is not disbandment; this is disguise. Let’s use the 2014 torture and murder of Hassan Abdullahi as a case study. According to reports from the BBC, the commanding officer at the time of the crime, Yussuf Kolo, was later promoted to head of SARS. He was once again promoted to become commander of the Special Tactical Squad for the Inspector General of Police. F*cking mouthful. But, how is that even possible? If this is the foundation that Nigerian law enforcement is built on, then it makes perfect sense that the officers patrolling the streets assume it ok to torture and humiliate innocent civilians.
In Jon Ronson’s book “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed”, he mentions an east-coast psychiatrist, James Gilligan, who studies the effects of shame on human psychology. Results of Gilligan’s studies insinuated that violence can, in a high percentage of cases, be linked to shame because it is used as a tool to regain self-esteem. I don’t mention this to, in any way, justify acts of violence. This is solely to highlight the correlation between public humiliation and violence. So, I repeat, these are not hoodlums. These are Nigerians. Public humiliation has been embedded in the backbone of Nigerian culture. Daily, civilians are treated like second-class citizens by members of the police force. They are beaten, tortured, extorted, and generally bullied. As a child I observed armed officers casually throw up peace signs as cars approached. But this came with no peace if you didn’t slip some money in between their fingers. Robbery in broad daylight. It’s genius. As an adult, I’ve observed the smooth, sophisticated interactions between white tourists and Nigerian customs agents at Murtala Muhammed International Airport while I, a Nigerian, am one row over getting harassed by yet another underpaid officer for money that I do not have. So, acting surprised about the acts of violence that erupted as a result of this level of oppression is like putting water in a freezer and being surprised about coming back to discover ice. It’s like innocently walking through the streets of Lagos with dreadlocks or tattoos and expecting to not be arrested for looking “suspicious”. These things are inevitable. Maybe Gilligan’s theory also explains our government’s violence at Lekki. Maybe they were attempting to regain self-esteem following the embarrassment they’ve suffered at the hands of Nigeria's tired youth.
Perhaps our politicians are looking too closely to see the bigger picture. We collectively wonder how they fail to realize that the sooner they take care of their citizens’ most basic needs and encourage real businesses by giving residents the proper tools to succeed, the sooner we can achieve domestic growth and claim a larger share of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP). This isn’t a speech on economics. I only mention GDP in a subpar attempt to communicate in the language of our target audience. Because, see, our leaders do not want to hear about human rights. Their language is money. This is the Nigerian way. We’ve adopted a loser’s mentality. A system poisoned by power and functioning under the orders of greed. A system that oppresses its population by eliminating any chance of real success. A short-sighted system focused on keeping a handful of individuals rich, rather than building the generational wealth of a nation.
To the many Nigerians awaiting a UN intervention, I’m afraid the cavalry might never arrive. According to the United Nations Charter, “nothing contained in the present charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state”. Basically, this is our fight. So with blood stained flags still waving in the sky, we courageously insist that retroactive justice isn’t enough anymore. What is needed is a fair distribution of power.
All power to all the people.
But still, I sit here in downtown Toronto feeling like a traitor, watching from afar as my peers fight for their lives. Reflecting. It’s mind-blowing to me that locals, raised under the same scrutiny as their victims, could grow to become men that would willfully drape themselves in the uniforms of their oppressors. Probably descendants of the same unknown soldiers that threw Fela’s mother off the second storey of that building in ‘77. Over four decades later and we’re still singing the same song—Zombie, Oh Zombie.