Nigerian Students share their experiences of brutality at the hands of SARS

Narrating his encounter with SARS, Otolorin Olabode speaks to Nigerians about the police brutality they suffered during their time in university.

A recent graduate of the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, Otolorin Olabode was one of the Nigerian Police Force’s many victims, as a student. Narrating his encounter with SARS officials, Olabode speaks to other Nigerians about the abuse, harassment, extortion and illegal detention they suffered at the hands of SARS, during their time in university. 

It was a Thursday. Exams had been concluded a week prior in the academic domes of the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta. Scores of students had galloped off to their houses, in anticipation of a short holiday. Many, predominantly final year students were still trapped in school hurrying to wrap up their research studies in time for their project defense.

With exams over, came freedom and luxury of time. Post data seminars and defending my projects lay ahead for me, but I still had two weeks to kill before all of that. Most of my day was spent fondling with gamepads, hopping from one conversation to another on Twitter and staring at the TV screen in the common room of School’s hall of residence. A boring day.


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The whole Thursday was just going to waste away and since exams were over, I remembered I had made a promise to visit a friend who stayed off-campus. The environment breathed peace and serenity, which indicated that many residents had gone home. Bright yellow lights flustered out of the houses that lined up either side of the street. “Wow, there’s light”, I reasoned. Bimpe’s flat was a few meters away. A green painted house, just a stone throw from a newly-built mosque. But I was oblivious of the imminent trouble waiting for me. Under a tree close to where I was heading, three police officers had parked their van, stopping students and checking their phones. I didn’t know this as I was ruminating on if I would sleepover or not. As I strolled forward slowly, a bike sprinted past me and it was then I saw a police officer halting the bike, instructing the guy on the bike to disembark.

What? SARS? In a rush, my heart raced. What should I do? Turn back or proceed confidently? I had nothing to hide. I don’t engage in fraudulent activities but my mind brought back memories of innocent friends who were arrested for nothing and had to pay to be free. If I should turn back, my action would alert these people and who knows, I might be shot at in the process. I summoned courage. The guy who was stopped had submitted his phone and attention had been diverted to him. As my heart continued to produce the loud thuds, it dictated my walking pace. Carefully, I trudged forward, my eyes fixated on the greenhouse I was heading to, not peering at either side. No one called me. No “Stop there”. No “Hey You”. That was a close shave. And I indeed was, lucky.

But other students haven’t had it lucky. For Bolu, a 300 level student, his first experience with SARS officers was a nightmare. He wasn’t walking nor going to visit a friend, police officers came over to have a nice time with him.

“Around this time last year, I was In my room sleeping. Suddenly I heard someone knock on the door and norms, I thought it was one of my friends. On opening door, I was surprised with the sight of two police officers instructing me to hand over my phone. Not wanting trouble, I complied, handing over my device to one of them in Mufty. He checked my mail, gallery, apps, he found nothing.

So he asked me to unlock my WhatsApp, he went through all my chats, searched for some keywords like “cashapp”, “client” and many more.

And to be honest, no matter how wise you are, you would be involved in some group chats where things like this would be mentioned.

He saw almost all and next thing was a hot slap, omoooor, I wan cry

So he said we should be going to Harmony Police station, the school’s police station. Simultaneously, the second officer started beating me, they did not allow me to say anything, just because of WhatsApp chat

So they sha later said they will collect 25k, and I should not transfer, bro I later gave them 10 thousand naira sha.

So since then, no matter how important your chat is, I will joyfully delete it”


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For students of the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, their way of life has changed since EFCC operatives invaded off-campus residences in 2019.  Hostels were burgled. Students arrested. Cars and other possessions carted away. From then on, EFCC operatives have made it mandatory to make frequent trips to the school’s environs. Their raids are targeted at hostels that have Air Conditioners installed, students who own luxurious cars or exhibit a flashy lifestyle. Police officers have also compounded to this oppression.

It’s the lifestyle of a student that gives them joy. Seen wearing raggedy jeans or owning a car, is the key to massively extorting that certain student or fortunately if they appear as a group, there’s boundless joy in the heart of these officers. There’s always this suspicion of fraudulent activity if you tick any of these boxes: own a car, wear flashy clothes or live in expensive hostels. To them, only a fraudster can fund this lifestyle.

Abel, a student of Funaab had gone to get food at an eatery alongside two of his friends when they saw SARS officers heading towards them. He recounts of the experience.

“We had gone to get food at soupa, I came out of the building, trying to board a bike. We were 3 – 2 guys and 1 girl. They were coming from the police station  and as we were to hop on the bike to head home, they stopped us and told us to enter their car, I was reluctant at first and I asked what my offence was, point blank, with no proof whatsoever, they labeled me “A yahoo boy”. When we saw that it was serious, my friend and I handed over the food we bought to the girl with us  and told her to go home. They thought we told her to help us keep our stuff at home that we didn’t want them to see. So they told us to enter the car and go to our hostel.

We sha followed them, I kept asking what was my offence and what we’ve done and how do we look like yahoo boys?

Then we got to our place, they checked our rooms and didn’t find anything, they asked for the girl, I took them to my friend’s room, that was where the girl was, they sha checked and found a bitcoin app on my friend’s phone. They didn’t believe me and said I was hiding something and we need to go to their station. They had no evidence whatsoever. But they believed we were too clean and we were hiding something. So they carried us back to the station.

On the way to the station, they threatened us, saying I should confess that I’m a yahoo boy or else I would be reported to the VC and be expelled. At the station, they said as I was clean and nothing was found, they wanted me to pay 10k. For my guy, they demanded 50k. They threatened to detain us. I didn’t want the stress and I wanted to be free and not sleep in the station, so I paid the 10k. For my guy, we rallied around and pegged the money to be 35k. For doing nothing. Paying 45k for nothing.”

The mode of operation of these officers seem orchestrated. It’s like a memo had been passed to all SARS officers in every state on how they should operate. If an officer doesn’t find anything incriminating on the user’s device, he takes to threats of detaining the student. Stubborn and unflinching individuals might be beaten and ultimately remanded in the station for more than 24 hours. Students can only be released if “they can cooperate”. By ceding to their demands—settling them.


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Adeyinka, a 400 level student of Unilorin was subjected to this treatment. He said:

“On this day, it was on a Friday. We had this routine in my hostel in the morning where we hang out and discuss issues. This particular day, there was weed and booze, so we got high and all. I was already high so I went inside my room to sleep. Around 11am, the SARS people came. They came in plenty, going from one room to another in my hostel. They knocked my door and I rose to answer them. On seeing them, I asked for their ID cards, they showed me and went ahead to search the room. We were two in the room, and during their search, they saw a pepper spray can and a bulletproof kinda jacket my friend was putting on.

He was meant to perform at an event that day and when they saw it, they asked where he got it. He explained he bought it online and showed them the transaction between him and the seller. Now they said I’m holding chemicals in our room, and I told them that it belonged to my girlfriend, she forgot it when she came over and it’s a means of self-protection.

They didn’t even listen to our explanation and instructed us to enter the bus they came with. We obeyed and we were driven to F Division police station. Getting there, we were not even allowed to explain ourselves there and the DPO said we should be taken into the cell. Our phones were collected, not able to call, no statement written, we were remanded in the cell until the next day. They called us out the next day and asked us what happened. We explained, pleading innocence and not understanding what was going on. They threatened us, saying we were still going to sleep in the cell for two days before charging us to court on Monday. They labeled us thieves, saying my friend is in illegal possession of a bulletproof jacket, saying we rape people and residents had reported our hostel to the police station. I told them we were being detained illegally and the DPO replied with a slap, punching and kicking me in the process.

One woman came to our cell, pleading with us to bail ourselves and sway to their demands. They called me out again, requesting 20k for only me. I replied that I didn’t have money on me, they said I’m not ready and told me to go back to the cell.

I returned to them, seeing they were adamant and I didn’t want to pass another night in the cell. I told them that I only have 10,000 Naira with me. They agreed and I transferred the money to them. My guy was bailed with 19,000 Naira because that was the last money left in my account. Bro, it was a terrible experience”

Female students aren’t left out in this. While it’s always been perceived that females are rarely arrested and are let off, police officers can take to the extreme when there’s monetary value involved. It’s at this point another means of extortion is derived. Coming up with unscrupulous reasons for arresting individuals. Helen, a student of Funaab and an entrepreneur who sells hair products had gone to town to take delivery of her goods. Transiting back to school on a bike a few minutes away from her residence, the usual culprits—officers of Harmony Police station had stationed a roadblock. Explaining her goods came in late and had to fetch it that night fell to deaf ears. The officers demanded she followed them to the station.

”It was not even that late and even if it was late, I wasn’t supposed to sleep in the cell. Because there was no suspicious goods or items like firearm or knives. It was just my phone and my goods (wigs). They searched me and they said they suspect me and I had to follow them to the station. The bike man that carried me was also arrested. They detained me and the bikeman. When we got to the station, they told me to remove my earring, drop my phone and goods and everything that was with me, write a statement. I wasn’t even given the chance to call my friends or anybody. Even the bikeman, same thing and unfortunately for the man, he had so much money on him that day around the region of 100,000 Naira as cash with him. They collected all the money from him and took us to the cell.

The next morning, they called us out and trust me it was horrible. I had to stay in the cell for not doing anything. Mosquito bit me and urine was smelling everywhere in the cell. I was just crying.

The next day, they called me out, gave me my phone to call my friends to tell anybody that can bail us out. I was surprised because they didn’t even give me any chance to defend myself. I wasn’t allowed to explain because I did nothing. I called few of my friends to bail me out. My friends paid 10,000 Naira to bail me out.”

It might seem the regularly targeted individuals are students who wear expensive clothing or drive cars. Maybe a way to counter them and stay off their troubles will be to dress simple so as not to tip them off. Ahmed wished it worked for him. Wearing only a T-shirt and a pair of jeans trousers heading to Unilag for a lecture, he got stopped and had his phone searched.

“I was on my way to school, then they had not banned Oride, so I took Oride from Jibowu heading to Unilag gate. It was along that Abule-Oja road. The road that day had a danfo bus stationed with a group of policemen standing around with their guns. A policeman stopped the bike, and I was confused because I thought maybe he wanted to ask for the rider’s license. He then ordered me to come down. I was kinda scared because I was with my laptop. After he told me to come down, he checked what was in my bag, and when he saw that I had a laptop, he was like I’m a yahoo boy. He then told me I had to see his sergeant that it was the sergeant that would clear me and all. During the whole waiting phase, the policeman pushed me into the danfo bus. They took my phone, bag and my laptop. The sergeant wearing mufti came, was given my phone and he sat down and went through my emails, messages, WhatsApp and my other apps. He found nothing incriminating.

They were unable to switch on my laptop to see what was on it. Since they couldn’t check what was on it, they threatened to carry me to their police station, check what was on my laptop and probably detain me.

Long story short, they drove me away from that spot and started driving me around, threatening me that they would carry me to the station and handcuff me. And after the sergeant couldn’t find anything incriminating on my phone, the guy was like he doesn’t like carrying innocent people around, that I should drop something for them. I told them that I don’t have money in my account because I couldn’t just imagine dropping hard-earned money for being innocent. They eventually freed me, dropping me at a bus stop not far from Unilag gate.”


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With ASUU strike remanding students at home, there’s still a mole of fear in the hearts of many on if these incidences will linger on when the strike is called off. SARS may have been banned. But does that ban include the roadblocks and randy police officers who might still threaten arrest in exchange for few naira notes?

Students are helpless and the power Students’ Union Governments once wielded in the past has waned. Most times, they’re tools used by the School administrations to ensure peace and quell protests in schools. And who wants to be expelled if they’re at the forefront of a protest against police oppression in schools. Doing that is playing into the hands of the dreaded Students Disciplinary Committees in some of these institutions. If summoned and invited for questioning, students rarely emerge from these sittings unscathed.

The strike has dimmed these ugly occurrences from the public eye but there’s every guarantee these men in black outfits will continue with their past activities. Students want peace. They don’t want to foment trouble. And no individual wants to be detained. It’s what gives these officers the advantage. If there’s any evidence of the promise from the Nigerian Government that citizens have seen the end of SARS, it will be from Nigerian tertiary institutions.

Featured Image Credits: Al Jazeera

Note: Most of the men and women who appear as characters in the narrative have asked I shield their identities. Names have thus been changed to guard their privacy. However, everything else I describe about them and their experiences is factual and true.