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‘I waver between awe and sadness.’ How 12 Nigerian-Canadians feel about the #EndSARS uprising against police brutality and what they want you to know

·12 min read

Throughout October, youth in Nigeria have been calling for the end of the country’s controversial Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). Formed in 1992, the security unit has been accused of harrassing, extorting, torturing, killing and sexually abusing Nigerians, especially youth, that has continued even after government officials promised to disband the unit, leading to the uprising #EndSARS. After two straight weeks of protests, on Oct. 20, security forces shot at demonstrators, killing many.

The Star spoke with 12 Nigerian-Canadians about what they have been feeling watching this movement unfold, and what they would like the rest of Canada to know.

Eniola Hu, Toronto, textile designer and digital content creator

The #EndSARS movement is one that I am very proud of my generation for creating and sustaining. It is quite symbolic that it gained this level of momentum a few days after Nigeria’s 60th independence, in the eventful year of 2020. I am in awe of what the Nigerian youth have done.

On the other hand, we unfortunately have an apathetic and sinister government that considers demands for justice an affront and a crime, hence they are murdering and detaining citizens unlawfully. This has been the hardest part for me to swallow. I waver between awe and sadness.

I want people to know that police brutality is one of Nigeria’s countless systemic problems that stems from colonialism.

Due to history, I am often skeptical about Western intervention on African matters. Issues of race and colonial trauma are likely to resurface without resolve. However, an ideal situation to me would be one where the Canadian government can summon the officials responsible to face justice for the lives taken by SARS before and during protests.

Temi George, Toronto, Sales Development Representative, Radio host on @Flight6ix54

On Oct. 20, in Lagos, Nigeria, soldiers opened fire on a group of peaceful protesters who were unarmed, sitting on the ground, holding up Nigerian flags and singing the national anthem. Many lives have been lost and we cannot stand for this any longer. Nigerians across the globe are outraged and we are calling for help from everyone to spread the word about what is going on and help us bring those who have violated and abused human rights to justice.

I would like to see the Canadian government put a visa ban on Nigerian government officials and police heads as well as help us put pressure on the International Criminal Court to bring those who have violated human rights to justice.

Beauty Derosa, Toronto, Owner of Naija Jollof

I watched DJ Switch’s Instagram live, where you can see the civilians getting shot at while sing the Nigerian national anthem. You can also see them fighting to save a young man’s life. I cried all day from the moment I watched the video all to the next day.

At the point where we are now, it is no longer a fight to #EndSARS, it has grown to a full revolution to reform and rebuild the country. We in the diaspora will play our part, we will lend our voice and will damn sure make it loud.

At the last (Toronto) protest, I was there to share food with the people for coming out and encourage them to come out more. I believe that in the ongoing revolution, everyone has to play their part and offer help in their own unique way that is beyond just lending your voice. For me, I can help energize the people by feeding them.

Mita Adesanya, Calgary, communications adviser and singer-songwriter

There was a groundswell of hope and possibility over the days of the protest. There was peace and co-operation across tribes and religions. There was organization and responsive services. There was food and even fun. It was a Nigeria my generation had never experienced, and it felt like a glimpse of the potential we have always known existed had finally been unleashed.

And then they came.

First it was rumours and disinformation, then it was guns. They knew they needed to traumatize and demoralize another generation to put them in their place. And now we know, in fact, what we have always felt, that our problem has never been our people, it has always been our government — a body entirely dedicated to the subjugation, deprivation, suffering and death of Nigerians by any and all means.

I think what people need to remember is that Nigerians are not asking for anything groundbreaking. The primary ask was to end SARS and to stop police violence so people can literally stay alive. But even the secondary asks are basic — food, water, electricity, roads, education, jobs, emergency services, reduced corruption.

Irene Job, Calgary, Chartered insurance professional

#EndSARS was the catalyst for a long overdue cry for reforming our nation. I’m truly happy to see this day in the history of our democracy. Sadly a lot of youth have died for the cause, but their death will never be in vain. This movement is a revolution for Africa, not only Nigeria, but the continent of Africa.

We need the support of the international community. We need our story to be shared with the world. We need more media coverage across Canada. We need the government of Canada to understand that Nigeria and Nigerians are great assets to Canada. Our brothers and sisters back home deserve better and we want to support this historic movement with all that we have.

Chinedu Ukabam, Toronto, Creative Director/Cultural Programmer of Supafrik

I am deeply inspired by the courageous Nigerian youth who have stood up to voice their frustrations with police brutality and bad governance. I think they have finally woken up to their potential to change that nation. I am ashamed of the handling of the #EndSARS protest by the Nigerian government. It took the president more than 10 days to address the country and when he did, he made no mentions of the killing of peaceful protesters by security forces. Nigerian youth are angry. I hope they continue to remain united in their demand for a better Nigeria and not relapse along the incendiary ethnic and religious fault lines that have plagued the country from birth.

The #EndSARS protest is non-political and leaderless by design because the youth have a well-founded fear of leaders being compromised and co-opted by corruption. They made five specific demands for the government to meet and they refused to halt the protest until the changes are implemented because the government has broken its police-reform promises many times in the past.

The Western world usually reacts to human rights violations with economic sanctions or even military intervention. We have seen enough of these to know they don’t work. Economic sanctions will only punish the poor and most marginalized. It is more effective to implement targeted visa restrictions on Nigerian government officials until the #EndSARS demands are met. Any type of direct intervention will only further destabilize the country. Canadians can amplify the message of Nigerian youth and donate to help the protesters. The Canadian government can support Nigerian youth by providing mediators to ensure that their current demands are met and sending independent observers for the 2023 election. The political will of Nigeria’s youth should not be tampered with. Their time is now and they have the right to decide their destiny.

Bola Rahman, Calgary, Human resources professional and filmmaker

I think the movement has shown us that we are good people. We’ve realized now more than ever that we are powerful, united and our voices can make an impact. I’m extremely proud that the protests have largely been sustained my women. This movement has ignited bigger conversations around government accountability, corruption and the democracy of Nigeria. In two weeks, we saw groups of protesters take charge, create funding, emergency response, helplines, legal aid etc. and our eyes are opened that this country can work if given the chance to.

It’s also painful and heartbreaking seeing a country where citizens exercising their civic duty to protest (are) being shot at and killed. I keep thinking, ‘all we asked for was for the police to stop killing us and the governments response is to send in the military to kill us; use force to oppress and suppress our voices and threaten even more violence.’ After the president’s address Thursday, I don’t think anyone is going to go out to protest anymore. The souls of Nigerians have been crushed, and a sour and painful lesson learned: The government doesn’t care about you or your rights, your life means nothing.

Please don’t try to save the country. International interference anywhere in the world has only made a bad situation worse. Instead, focus on cutting off visas to politicians so they are forced to stay in the country. Speak out online in support of Nigerians, educate yourself on the issues and join Nigerian-Canadians in protests.

Amarachi Chukwu, Toronto, on the territories of the Haudenosaunee, Anishinabek, Huron Wendat and Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation, Gender, Feminist and Women studies graduate student at York University

What is happening in Nigeria right now has evoked so many feelings for me throughout its progression. I felt unsurprised based on the Nigeria I have always known, where corruption and abuse of power have been the norm for decades and being stopped by police for money was an ordinary part of existence. I felt rage at every story of brutality, theft, rape, homophobia, profiling shared by people experiencing it daily and resigned to their powerlessness in the face of constant abuse. I unexpectedly felt shocked because a part of me had always felt that some lines would not be crossed, at least while the world was watching, and that illusion was destroyed.

I would like people unfamiliar with the situation to know that #EndSARS is a movement which, while specific to Nigeria, is part of a larger global issue of police brutality, anti-Blackness and state violence and it affects us all no matter where we are. Our freedoms are all intertwined and as people existing in a world filled with injustices, solidarity is necessary in creating liberated futures for us all. It is our responsibility to resist apathy and refuse the privilege of ignorance and learn more and care for each other.

Olawunmi Idowu, Calgary, Founder and director of Woezo Africa Music & Dance Theatre Inc.

I stand in solidarity with the good people of Nigeria and continue to support the much needed call for reform and accountability. I am utterly disappointed at our unconscious Nigerian leaders who used the military to forcefully intimidate and disrupt the peaceful protesters in Lagos. They have shown no regards to human rights or lives. It’s a shame to witness the massive abuse of power of the leaders and it should finally come to an end. A peaceful protest is an expression of strong disapproval, a demonstration to make our voices heard. It should not result in killing unarmed citizens who are hungry for change in the governing of the country. May the sacrifices of the protesters and supporters not go in vain and to the fallen heroes, may their souls rest in peace.

These peaceful protesters were denied their rights to life, dignity, freedom of expression, and peaceful assembly. This is unacceptable behaviour and the person responsible for ordering the deaths of the peaceful protesters should be charged in the Federal High Court of Nigeria.

Udokam Iroegbu, Vancouver, Activist and Community Organizer

I am enraged, but inspired by the action and courage shown by Nigerian youth. The Nigerian Police Force needs to be defunded, with money put toward resources for communities experiencing severe poverty and violent gross negligence.

Canadians should show their support by staying informed, donating, sharing virtual actions, and calling on the Canadian government to lead by example in dismantling and defunding its violent police institutions. Police brutality is a global issue and our elected leaders must do more that point fingers.

Tome Akanbi, Mississauga, Singer/Songwriter

It’s honestly a very devastating situation, especially being a Nigerian myself, it’s very saddening to see the level of abuse my people have endured from the oppression and corruption that we are still dealing with.

Unfortunately, this is nothing new, it’s just being televised and really seen in the forefront on social media. However, police brutality and bad governance has been a prominent part of our problem in Nigeria for a very long time and if there’s anything that anyone should know, it’s the fact that Nigerians have been suffering for years and there’s been complete injustice towards the people and it did not just happen in 2020.

Mary Asekome, Mississauga, Founder of The Diasporic Nigerian

It shows that the Nigerian government is really taken us for a ride and they don’t even think that we’re people, or that we’re valid. But when I also look at it from the side of the youth I think it’s beautiful to see. I saw Nigerian youth basically saying, our solution cannot always be to run to Canada or other countries. I saw people who were dedicated to fight whatever systems we have in Nigeria to ensure that Nigeria becomes a livable state for both youth and children both upcoming generations.

Nigerian parents, the older generation, like to call us leaders of tomorrow, but we showed that we were leaders of today.

Angelyn Francis is a Toronto-based reporter for the Star covering inequity and inequality. Her reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative. Reach her via email: afrancis@thestar.ca

Angelyn Francis, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Toronto Star