“My brother is a Police Officer. He’s hooked on drugs and has manic episodes. That’s why I’m protesting.” Damilola* told me between gasps of breath, appearing shaken, after witnessing the Police open fire at protesters in Surulere, Lagos.
It was late in the evening. He needed directions to get home. I was at a fresh foods store, making to put together a quick dinner for my family and had been following the protest online, all day.
I had seen the videos, read the live reports by participants, and already knew about the gunshots at Surulere, Lagos, the teargas and water canons in Abuja, the deaths in Ogbomoso, the sleepover at Alausa, the seizure of tollgates, the organic will of the people and the awesomeness of Nigerian women. There were other things I had seen, heard and been told, online, about the protest, like how it was funded by the citizenry, how businesses were releasing their staff members to go and participate, how a lot of Nigerians were hoping it turns into a total overhaul of a system of corruption Nigeria has become, and how most Nigerians were on the side of the protesters.
I felt a duty to document what I had seen, heard and deduced and providence brought a sample of protesters my way, that evening.
Damilola* was the first person I spoke with. He had other reasons why he was protesting. But to him, they all paled in comparison to being related to someone who is guilty of brutalizing persons.
“My brother likes enforcing the law,” he told me, “but he needs medical and other forms of help, because he has demons and he got them on the job.” He cried.
Others narrated personal stories of assault, extortion, kidnap, and abuse of power.
A young woman narrated how she was stalked, baited and slandered by a Police Officer, who drew conclusions from her fashion and beauty choices, convinced himself, and committed to proving that she is a sex worker.
Everyone I spoke to had a personal story, including the store owner who told me how she has had to always dress “like a market woman” in order to avoid being harassed by the police on her way home.
One thing stood out in all of the narrations; those who participated, or supported the protest, were tired of being victimized, and then blamed and made to pay for a string of failed leadership. They said they were in “a state of covert slavery”.
“Why is every youth praying to leave (Nigeria)?” One of them screamed into my face. “This is our home, but we all want to leave, because this (place) is dysfunctional and destructive. There is nothing to build with, nothing to build on and when you succeed in building from nothing, they snatch it from you, using the law!”
I spoke with a total of nine people. Out of that, four of them said they work in the art space, two said they work in tech, two identified themselves as students and the one who told me she was labelled a sex worker, by a Police Officer, said she is a Nurse.
These are what I think the #EndSars Movement is all about:
- It is a crusade for accountability.
- It is not motivated by political ambition.
- It is a campaign for the effective management of the Nigerian state.
- It is not pro-crime.
- It is a fight against corrupt persons in service.
- It is, technically, not anti-police.
- It is a struggle against oppression.