The key role women have played in the fight to #EndSARS

It’s been a week since the Nigerian youth galvanised together and marched in streets across the nation contesting the heinous acts of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a rogue operative unit of the Nigerian Police Force (NPF) that continuously carries out extrajudicial killings and criminal extortions on the country’s citizens. Yesterday, the Nigerian government through the office of the Inspector General of Police (IGP) announced that the officers of the defunct unit were being taken off the streets, to commit to a range of physical and psychological checks before redeployment into a new operatives unit set up to spearhead the gaps left by the disbandment of SARS.

The newly formed unit of the NPF, the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) will begin training over the weekend, as the government pleaded with young protesters to rethink their peaceful demonstrations – an uncharacteristic plea in a democratic state. But while news of the disbandment of SARS and the formation of SWAT was being communicated to the general public, armed officers of the NPF were harming, injuring, and in some cases, torturing and killing numerous Nigerians, including protesters, journalists, and even bystanders unlawfully obtained from the protest grounds across the country. Prior to the president’s address, the NPF were brutishly handling protesters who were unarmed and only wished to communicate their demands to the Nigerian government.

Seeing as social media has become the most powerful tool in mobilising other young Nigerians to rise to action, it was through the interconnectedness of these social media platforms that adequate help for those who were injured or detained was quickly sought out and answered.

 

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Through the actions of a private group of individuals, including popular podcaster Feyikemi Abudu, attorney Moe Odele, and the newly-formed Feminist Coalition, monetary contributions were crowdfunded and raised to provide a range of services such as legal support to those detained and charged with crimes they did not commit, funding for those who had lost families during the protests and food for those who were risking their lives every day in the face of a pandemic to exercise their right to lawfully protest their demands for better governance and police reform. These women (unlike some) do not demand to be the face of these protests, because there are no official leaders of this decentralised movement which aims to champion the voices of all Nigerian youths irrespective of their economic backgrounds, families, or religious beliefs. They are also deeply accountable to the cause, endlessly providing a transparent breakdown on where the money from donations and sponsors go and accurately giving detailed information about the release of unlawfully detained protesters.

In the seven days since the protests kicked off, these women have faced harassment, impersonation, and threats of physical violence to their lives because of the active role they have taking in ensuring that no one gets left behind in the revolution. The spaces they occupy are no easy feat, however, their active involvement and that of many other Nigerian women has revealed how women experience police brutality and oppression in gendered ways, such as sexual harassment and sexual assault. When women from all across the country swarmed to the protest grounds to fight for transparent and accountable governance, they were once again reminded that the men that they rallied with could also be their very abusers and they were not wrong. Instances of women on the frontline being harassed and assaulted by male protesters were rife, and yet such cases have failed to mould how we engage with the ongoing protests for a better Nigeria.

To fight for a better Nigeria that is devoid of oppression and suffering, we need to counteract all the systems that are put in place to maintain the status quo. These systems manifest themselves in numerous ways including but not exclusive to the social attitudes towards those we feel deserve to be the voice of the movement. Conversations around police brutality are often shaped by the men’s understanding of what constitutes police brutality, because their stories so frequently make the rounds on social media. Indeed, when Amnesty International conducted the first reported incidents of violence from SARS officers, many of the subjects spoken to were men and represented the ways in which police brutality pertains to them. But left out of the conversation were the ways in which gendered police violence is a product of a system intent on oppressing its citizens and a manifestation of everything we are currently working to dissolve.

Also, glaringly missing from these protests taking over the country is the involvement of the older generation who have consistently shown their lacklustre attitudes towards making the country a better one for all of us. A video of an older Nigerian woman employed by the government at the National House of Assembly (NASS) surfaced earlier this week.  The woman, who risked losing her job to protest police reform and the disbandment of SARS was accosted by security and staff in the building who demanded she evacuates the premises if she was going to unlawfully protest within their building. Her act of defiance is incredibly noteworthy, because we know it takes courage to join a revolution, and takes twice as much courage when you’re a Nigerian woman dealing with a society that has misogyny and purity culture woven deeply within its fabric.

Nigeria’s epidemic of police violence is not limited to just the stories that we get to hear on the news. For every high-profile case like that of Treasure Nduka’s, there are many more allegations of gross misconduct and physical and sexual violence against women that we don’t hear about. For young women like N*, her experience at the hands of SARS is one that still causes her severe pangs of anxiety and PTSD to this day. Two years ago, she was stopped by SARS operatives who labelled her a prostitute because of her visible tattoos and piercings, when she contested this assumption, she was attacked and asked to raise her dress to truly reveal she was wearing underwear and not a prostitute soliciting sex. Accounts like hers at the hands of these SARS operatives are common and reflect an urgent need to make our fight more inclusive and representative of our different intersections.

In any case, we are watching in real-time how the actions are playing out on social media. Women rose to the occasion to dismantle the oppression posed by the NPF and the government, and in turn, they were villanised and castigated, like in the case of Segalink who took to Twitter this morning yet again to debase and detract from the hard work that these women have currently put into the movement. Labelling them as a cult, an upgrade from the last moniker feminist coven, Segalink in a now-deleted Twitter thread stated his untrue assumptions about the women championing the ongoing social movement, diminishing their work and trying to re-insert himself as the famed leader of the #EndSARS movement. Sexism is a huge factor in what we’re now seeing, but Nigerian women have a long history of doing the heavy lifting before being erased by our misogynistic society. I, for one, am proud of the strides that these women are taking and glad that it’s forcing a much-needed conversation about gender politics to surface on the back of the ongoing movement.

#EndSARS–and its many iterations do not exclude women’s experiences and have never excluded them because the feminist women who are at the forefront of this movement audaciously articulating their demands do not pose a threat to cisgender male life or the lives of those legitimately protected by the state. And with the movement’s current reliance on collective strength and support, rather than a reliance on an independent voice, women are showing that leadership is not a means to centre anyone’s experience above another but to highlight the many layers and structures that threaten our freedom. That is after all what feminism consistently promotes. The goal is complete abolition of oppression and many among us will have to kill their ego too. There is no revolution without empowered women and if these protests have shown us anything, it’s that the future is truly female. So let’s #ENDSARS.

Featured image credits/FeministCoalition


Tweet me your experiences at the various protest grounds around the world #ENDSARS @tamimak_


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