Commentary: SARS from the perspective of a Nigerian student

Protestors gather in the streets to condemn police brutality across Nigeria. (Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP)

I rise abruptly. It must be all that pent-up excitement. Today is my first day of university. I saunter over to the campus, laptop in hand, ready to take the campus by storm. It is one of the top universities in the country, the University of Lagos, my future looks bright, it’s going to be a good day.

Unfortunately for me, all of that would change in the blink of an eye.

Angered by their terrible circumstances, encouraged by the alcohol and drugs they abuse, a unit of SARS, a Special Anti-Robbery Squad formed in 1992 to tackle the immense rates of crime in Nigeria, sees and stops me. They’ve identified today’s payday. I am profiled, harassed and called a fraudster because I can afford the nice clothes and that laptop in my possession. I am assaulted and in order to secure my freedom, I am forced to empty my bank account.

Still, the most shocking part is that after I return home, I hold firm to the fact that it was a good day, simply because I escaped with my life.

This is not an experience that is particular to me, however, these are challenges that many students you share the classroom or cafeteria with experience.

As international students, we are in the constant process of adjusting to a new space.

In the process, it is easy to become preoccupied with mundane demands of everyday life and forget about what is going on at home. In my position as a privileged Nigerian, I understand the importance of using my voice and employing the skills I have in furthering the cause back at home.

The EndSARS protests began as a challenge to the absurd levels of police brutality in the country but have since metamorphosed into a powerful movement demanding accountability and good governance from Nigerian politicians. The response from the government has been appalling, with them going as far as sending soldiers to fire on peaceful protesters.

The government remains tone deaf and seeks to exacerbate the issue by pursuing control on the use of social media within the country. Nigerian youth remain focused in their goals however, going to great lengths to expose the indiscretions of these elected “representatives.”

News on topics ranging from the misappropriation of funds reaching into the billions, to the intentional hoarding of COVID-19 palliatives for people in the poverty capital of the world have all come to light. It is no wonder the government is going to great lengths to cover up these despicable acts.

Kenyan author Ngugi wa Thiongo once said, “how people perceive themselves affects how they look at their culture, at their politics and at the social production of wealth, at their entire relationship to nature and to other human beings.”

The Nigerian people have undergone a paradigm shift and now perceive themselves as a people deserving of a working system, a people that deserve not just to survive, but thrive.

They are seeking justice on behalf of all those who have fallen and are striving for long-overdue change. The most populated Black nation on earth has risen to show the world that truly all Black lives matter.

Time and time again, the western world has been on the wrong side of history.

The West often claims to be advocates of justice and human rights, but only when it aligns with your view of what the world should look like, when it allows for the maintenance of the existent international hierarchy.

The Nigerian people now know what they truly stand for but the question remains, what about you? It is not enough to build houses or hospitals in the Third world so you can fulfil your volunteer requirements and satisfy your white saviour complex. It is also important to support real, actionable change to further the cause of subaltern peoples.

The above quote remains relevant, do you see yourself as superior, or do you see all people as equals deserving of the same rights and opportunities as you? We must all acknowledge our privilege and how we benefit from this abhorrent system and do our best to support the local campaigns. This can be done through donating or amplifying the importance of the cause. We must continue to stand in solidarity with Nigerian people by saying, EndSARS.

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