By Aanuoluwapo Akingbemi, Dec. 6, 2022
Close your eyes.
Imagine yourself in the car with your friends; it’s the weekend, and you want to go off campus to eat and do normal college student activities. As you’re driving, you get to a checkpoint on the road, whereby police officers ask for your particulars and driver’s license.
The reason they stopped you is because you and your friends look like wealthy, smart young students, and because of this, they suspect that the only way you can afford to look this presentable is through online fraud. You all are into “yahoo,” a slang term in Nigeria meaning internet fraudster.
They collect 8,000 naira from one of your friends and take your phones. You beg them to not withhold them, and the police officers responds, “We can shoot you now and nothing will happen.”
Now, open your eyes.
For many Nigerian youth, they do not have to imagine. It’s part of their life experiences. It’s something they prepare for.
On October 20, 2020, the Nigerian government sent soldiers to massacre its citizens who peacefully gathered at the Lekki tollgate in Lagos, Nigeria, while protesting police brutality under the hashtag #EndSARS. Lives were lost, people were wounded. The hearts of many Nigerians and Africans around the world were broken into pieces and are still in the process of being put back together again.
This movement is not just about ending SARS, which stands for Special Anti-Robbery Squad, a unit in the Nigerian Police. It’s Nigerian youth saying in one accord that they are fed up with the police brutality and the fear and anxiety they deal with as they go about each day.
As an individual among the Nigerian diaspora — my family and I migrated to America from Nigeria in 2011 — I found out through social media and the news. I remember my reaction. Different feelings arose through my body. First was anger and then sadness. I was angry because I couldn’t imagine how devastated my people must have felt. People were dying in their homes from stray bullets. How did my younger family members feel? They are too young and innocent to be witnesses of such a tragedy, too young to have their innocence ripped away from them.
A Cal Poly Pomona Nigerian-American student shared how she remembered hearing about the Lekki massacre and how many of the youth had their heads bashed in, lost their limbs and did not survive. She said that she expected there to be less conflict in such a homogeneous society, and the massacre came as a great surprise. .
The Lekki massacre weighed on me. I wanted to do away with the pain the people who lost their loved ones must have felt, having to bury their loved ones during one of the most difficult and isolating years worldwide.
Two years later on October 20, 2022, Nigerians took to the streets of Lagos to peacefully protest police brutality, reminding the government that they were not done in this fight. They were met with tear gas from the police and were hosed with water off the roads.
Now, upon hearing of how the government threw tear gas and sprayed water from large tanks at the peaceful protesters who came out on the two-year anniversary of the massacre, to say I am fed up along with my people is an understatement.
It saddens me to see how corruption and greed have warped the hearts of many Nigerian leaders to the extent that when innocent Nigerians courageously went out on the streets in protest of the virus of cruelty and injustice, they were viewed as threats and the breath from their lungs was forcefully stolen, attempting to silence their voice.
I had so many questions. I couldn’t understand fully how such a thing could be done. Where was the love? How could people be so cruel to their own people?
My 18-year-old naivety was a veil between me and my perception of the world, and it was torn apart. I was forced to reckon with the bone-deep realization that evil existed. Yet, my hope remains.
A close relative of mine shared with me that after all that and all the lives that have been lost, all the optimism he’s held onto is almost gone. He and some of his close friends experienced having their electronics seized, as well as police planting drugs such as marijuana in their cars. With these experiences and much more, it’s been difficult to continually hold on to hope when it feels like nothing is changing. As a result, more and more young people are fleeing the country, with no plans of returning.
He shared that Nigerians’ only hope is in God and voting for Peter Obi in the 2023 elections.
I then asked him if he feels like the protests should continue. His answer was unexpected.
He replied saying that the #EndSARS protests should pause because too many people have lost their lives as a result of police brutality during the protests. Only if there is an assurance that protesters won’t be harmed and killed as they step out, he said, should the protests continue.
I also asked a peer of mine on CPP campus if she agreed with his sentiment, and she said she agrees, saying that if it’s possible to find another way to protest, it would be beneficial because one impact the #EndSARS protests has had is that it has brought worldwide awareness.
Nigeria has now been brought to the world stage, and people are watching to see what Nigeria will become as a result. Nigerians should continue in their activism by focusing on voting, developing communities and fixing the systems within the society.
The Nigerian government denies its involvement. The question, “Who gave the order?” remains unanswered.
With the great strength and courage that the Nigerian youth have demonstrated in the last few years, with everything they’ve had to face and deal with, I believe that soon, the story will change.
The tears of Nigerian mothers and children for their children and for their fathers and mothers will not be in vain. God has heard the cry of the Nigerian people and by faith, I know Nigeria will indeed be the “Giant of Africa.”
Nigerians, in this upcoming election, go and vote. Fight for your rights. Do not relent in the fight for rights of the generations to come. Think about the courageous people whose lives were cut short and do what justice demands of you.
I champion the youth of Nigeria as they push on in this fight of hope and change with reckless abandon and great zeal, holding on to hope and faith in God that there will be an end to the lawless acts and the habit of unrighteous leadership.
True leaders will take up their rightful positions and peace will stay. For the righteousness of a nation to rise up, there needs to be a death to its villainy. If the leaders are unwilling to let go, then, as it has been seen through the protests, Nigerians have no issue with demanding it.
Feature image by Lauren Wong
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