The Nigerian Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS, purportedly handles cases related to kidnapping, theft and assault, but any Nigerian knows SARS has overreached its authority almost since its conception in 1992. In actuality, SARS functions as a tool of the government to subjugate Nigerians. Which is why Amnesty International recently sanctioned the squad after their investigation revealed “at least 82 cases of torture, ill treatment and extra-judicial execution by SARS between January 2017 and May 2020. ” The same report states that Amnesty international “has documented 15 cases where SARS officers arbitrarily confiscated suspects’ property.” SARS officers extort money and resources from Nigerians under the guise of suspecting them of theft or fraud. They don’t stop at that. Like the Amnesty report details, SARS uses the law as a guise to entrap people, and subject them to torture.
The #EndSARS protests that began in October address grievances against SARS but also the entire Nigerian police and government. The systems and people that allow for police officers to torture humans without being held liable aren’t limited to SARS. For queer Nigerians, like Matthew Blaise, the danger is greater. The Nigerian Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act (2013), which criminalizes “same-sex” marriage, and any queer organizations in Nigeria, provides a basis for harassment by the police. Queer and gender non-conforming Nigerians are more vulnerable to threats and extortion because they can legally be targeted for their sexuality or gender presentation.
On the 20th of October, Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo Olu enacted a 4pm curfew despite the heavy traffic caused by people returning from work, and the protests. There are reports that electricity in Lagos was shut off, and bridges and roads were sealed off. In Lekki, soldiers shot at and killed several people despite exits being blocked off. This instance of military violence is being referred to as the Lekki Massacre.
Nigerians deserve to be safe. Nigerians deserve a government that takes into account the needs of the country. One that doesn’t use the lives of its people to play games. Queer Nigerians deserve laws that protect them from abuse instead of making them vulnerable to it. On October 11th the Nigerian Government claimed that SARS would be disbanded, in favour of a new team, SWAT. Rebranding does nothing to address the deep rooted issues of corruption that create cycles of violence and oppression in Nigerian society. It does not mean accountability for politicians whose financial abuse motivates egregious acts by the police. Rather, rebranding is power doing what power does and shifting to a new form to continue an old thing.
The protests are part of a fight for sovereignty. For queer Nigerians, this means not just divesting power from the talking heads of imperialism that are the Nigerian government, and their goons, the police, but denying colonial era limits on our being that are as foreign to us as the Nigerian police.
The actions of the Nigerian government in Lagos, Abuja and other protest sites do not indicate goodwill but a willingness to act against the people with impunity. The government’s attempts to turn off communication and silence the people are equally transparent attempts to hide their actions. What is going on in Nigeria is not disconnected from the interests of white supremacy and empire globally, and especially in America.
This year has been met with several protests globally that seek to address the failures of government. Our stories are not separate. Our marginalisation is connected, and so our revolution must be as well.
My mother says it is the “same spirit that is in all these people,” and she’s right. In the police, I see the spirits of greed, malice, and cowardice. I see the shadow of white supremacy that hovers over my country and denies it sovereignty, keeping power in the hands of people that bend to it.
The Nigerians protesting — my friends — have different spirits. Community, love, strength and survival. I think it is the duty of the global community to honor these protests to the fullest extent we are able. What this means is donating to organizations like the Feminist Coalition for bailouts and other protest expenses. It means magnifying Nigerian voices, particularly queer Nigerians in Nigeria. It involves holding your government accountable. The silence of international governments in the face of this violence enables it to continue. Visa bans like the immigration ban Donald Trump placed on Nigeria, continue to deny the lived realities of Nigerians, and endanger queer Nigerians seeking asylum. Use whatever social media you have to raise awareness. The Nigerian government’s attempts to shut down signals show that they want to hide as much as they can.
Soro Soke, speak up. Our voices and our actions now matter.