Young Nigerians share past experiences and current feelings on Police Brutality & EndSARS

On the 2nd year anniversary of the Lekki massacre

Two years ago, many young Nigerians lost their last shred of innocence and faith, with regards to how far the Nigerian government would be willing to go to assert its authority. For over two weeks in October 2020, millions of youth across the country gathered in protest grounds to demand an end to police brutality, the contact point being the atrocious acts of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) unit of the Nigerian police force.

In response, the Nigerian police force responded with more police brutality, and the Nigerian government dragged its feet on making meaningful change, even in the face of millions demanding for their right to live a life free of cruel treatment from the men and women meant to serve and protect them. The heartbreaking culmination was the killing of unarmed protesters at the Lekki toll gate by soldiers of the Nigerian army and officers of the Nigerian police on the evening of October 20, 2020. The perpetrating parties have vehemently denied any wrongdoing, even going as far as feigning ignorance, even in the face of damning evidence and the simple fact that hundreds of thousands across Nigeria and in the world witnessed the sad event in real time.

Refusing to allow any form of erasure, young Nigerians are still keeping the memories of the Lekki massacre, and the entire #EndSARS civil rights movement, hallowed – a big smudge on the country’s conscience that shouldn’t be wiped off. In commemoration of its second anniversary, many have gathered at the grounds for a procession and peaceful remembrance of the victims of the massacre. (As usual, the Nigerian police is being a nuisance to unarmed civilians). In solidarity, the young Nigerians that make up the editorial staff at The NATIVE share their past experiences and current feelings on the endemic Police Brutality in Nigeria.


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Life Before The Protests

What’s your perception of the Nigerian police force?

Dennis: Since the day I saw a policeman harass my mum for a bribe, I’ve firmly believed the Nigerian police force is not here to protect and serve. I mean, I’ve always looked at their officers funny, especially because their uniforms never looked good on them and the way they were portrayed as bullies in home video films. That experience with my mum, witnessed from the front passenger seat at the age of 12, made me extremely distrusting of those men and women in black. My own two experiences with them as a young adult consistently make me look at the force with disgust.

Nwanneamaka: Growing up, I used to see ‘Police is your friend’ signs slapped across almost any imaginable surface you’re likely to run into the police. Long before I became aware of the violence and fear they inflict on citizens, I never believed it. I have always associated them with collecting bribes and random, unnecessary stop checks. Years down the line and prior to the protests they profiled, extorted and harmed innocent Nigerians. Just when you thought it couldn’t get worse, the violence significantly increases during the protests. We lost so many innocent lives two years ago today, may their souls rest in peace. After everything, Nigerians are still profiled and extorted by the police today. I have nothing good to say about the Nigerian police force and it would take a lot to change that.

Have you ever been unlawfully arrested or harassed by Law Enforcement/SARS?

Emmanuel: Somehow, I’ve been quite lucky with the arrests, because I came of age in a place where it was very normal to be arrested just for being young and looking a kind of way. I’ve however been chased one 2020 night, just before the End SARS protests escalated. I remember there was a curfew then and I was returning late at night from a birthday party with a friend. One moment we’re walking, the next two men were relentlessly chasing us through the streets. Luckily we escaped—-it would have been a very long night otherwise. 

Israel: Yes I have. I was in an uber with a Friend of Mine and we got stopped at a Police Checkpoint, one of the Officers proceeded to ask for our ID’s and I didn’t have one but my friend did. So I and my Friend were asked to step out of the vehicle but I told the officer that he didn’t need to do that since she had ID then the officer looked at me violently and cocked his gun then dragged me to a corner and asked for my Phone which i presented to him and started going through all my apps, messages etc. he was only able to find art & photography content so he let me go but only after i was able to log in to my student portal.

How did that experience affect your mental health and daily activities?

Emmanuel: For a while I was wary of unfamiliar bodies coming towards me. I’m a big-sized guy and people never noticed but sudden movements throw me off, especially if I didn’t see it coming. 

Israel: It impacted me negatively because after that experience I was always on edge anytime I left my house and I didn’t know if I was going to make it back home. It also made me obsessed with carrying Identification literally everywhere.

Did you want SARS to be disbanded?

Maria: Of course. They have caused and are causing so much damage. It’s nothing short of insane for a supposed Anti-Robbery squad to be THE robbers. 

Emmanuel: There was absolutely no reason for their madness during its height. Robbery was everywhere and they were nowhere.  

Nwanneamaka: 100 percent. They have caused and are still causing irreparable damage. It’s jarring. 


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Life During The Protests

Did you join any of the EndSARS protests in 2020? 

Wonu: I didn’t go out to protest but I was protesting heavily through social media and I made sure I supported in whatever way I could, financially. It was so beautiful to see people my age go out to vote and that has kept me very inspired even till this day. The EndSARS period helped me fully understand the power of social media and also the power of having one voice. 

Daniel: I didn’t go out during the protests, but was heavily involved online. It was a really emotional period for me and it fueled my anxiety and paranoia. I was moved to finally see my generation stand up for something and stand their ground. .

Dennis: Yeah, I did. It was supposed to be a one time thing, partly for journalistic curiosity, but I went out a few more times because of how bracing it was to see Nigerian youth rally around a cause with burning passion.

What was your experience at these protests?

Daniel: It wasn’t pleasant! Though I wasn’t at any of the protest grounds, the images and videos were triggering. Completely changed how I interacted with Twitter, I am still traumatized. 

Dennis: Better than many, I think. I wasn’t on the grounds at any time when there were hoodlums attacking peaceful protesters, so it was mostly impassioned chanting and camaraderie with friends I went with and new friends I made there. Thinking about it, we really did think we were going to change this one thing by being as loud as we can.

Were you Inspired or deterred by the protests?

Maria: I was deeply inspired by the protests. The sheer bravery of everyone online and in person was astounding. The camaraderie will forever be one of the greatest shows of strength and patriotism in history.

Israel: I was extremely Inspired by the protests and I was planning on leaving school to join in on them but that would have meant my expulsion so I ultimately reconsidered. Although certain members of society would have you believe that the protests were just an excuse for Young People to destroy property, I had never seen so many Young Nigerians united under a single cause and even if it took our shared trauma to bring us together, I’m really glad it happened.

Emmanuel: Till this day, the heroes of End SARS remain my biggest models for strength and rebellion. We all know how cruel Nigerian governance can be, and to come out in such massive numbers to make their voices heard—that’s sheer indestructibility. We can’t be reduced to mere objects for political chess moves, we’re humans and full of heart. The events of October 2020 reaffirmed that belief in our humanity. 

Did you believe young Nigerians were on the verge of making progress through those protests?

Nwanneamaka: I don’t think we were on the verge of making progress, I think we actually made significant progress. Considering all that was achieved was pretty much planned on the spot and as the days went by, it was very well organized. We got global attention with the #EndSars on twitter and federal government attention with the 5for5 demands, even though not much was done with that. We made great strides but we’re still in Nigeria so the progress was stunted. 

Uzoma: Despite the sad ending of the protests in Lagos, I believe progress was made. The fact that young Nigerians, both in the streets and on social media platforms, spoke unanimously is progress. It has made our political leaders sit up. Now, they are aware that young people won’t hesitate to call them out if they act funny. We might not be at the level of hugely influencing policies and laws yet but the fact that our leaders know we are now paying attention is a step in the right direction.

Wonu: I don’t think it’s fair to say we were on the verge. I believe we made real progress with the protests, we made a point and it was loud and clear. I’ll always respect those who went out to protest because looking back at it now, it really was not easy. I think we made a point with the protests and the Government definitely felt the heat, to me that’s exactly why what happened at the tollgate on the night of October 20th, 2020 actually happened. Rest In Peace to those brave soldiers we lost.

Life After The Protests

What was your initial reaction to events that transpired at the Tollgate Massacre?

Dammy: I was in shock because I did not think it was going to get to that point. I remember seeing the announcements of the curfew on twitter and how people refused to listen to the government and I just thought it was going to be like the other protest days but never in a million years would I have thought that army officers would shoot at unarmed citizens who are protesting for their rights. It was a worrisome evening because the updates on what was going on was rather slow and we could only get so much information from an Instagram live and the strong message from the Nigerian flag that had blood splattered all over it.

Moore: I was horrified when I first heard what was going on. This came after the truly impressive efforts of the Nigerian public coming out to protest abusive officers. It felt like the bubble of hope that had begun to build had burst. People at the scene gave frequent updates, so I felt helpless watching the situation slowly escalate online. That feeling of helplessness lasted for a long time after the event and still remains when thinking about how little has truly changed since the massacre.

Did that Night Affect your life in any way? (If yes, how?)

Uzoma: The events of that night were shocking to me. For years, the Nigerian government has shown they don’t care about the lives of the citizens but I didn’t expect an action so brazen. It made me question if there’s any value attached to my life as a young Nigerian. I thought about how quickly dreams and aspirations can be extinguished. I wasn’t feeling great.

Emmanuel: I wrote a personal essay, and somewhere in it, I recall the events of that night from my end. I was many miles away from Lekki, but what was even more jarring was the network issues that night. Everything was slow, and deliberately so. Considering what happened and the policing of social media afterwards, banning Twitter, it made me aware of how cruelly the wielders of power can seek to take agency from us. My black body never felt completely safe afterwards.

Did your Perspective on the Nigerian Government change after that night?

Israel: Oh yes it most certainly did. Before the Massacre i had seen so many stories and done a lot of deep dives into the sheer terror inflicted by the people that called themselves ‘Officers of the Law’ and how the Government did nothing but turn a blind eye, an attitude that they carried through the events succeeding the massacre and till today. I already wasn’t a fan of the Nigerian Government but that night showed me that we don’t really have a Government just Power Peddlers Preying on the People of this Nation.

Wonu: Yes, it made me more convinced that the Nigerian government genuinely does not care for its people and even till now, I don’t think much has changed, I mean look at the flood in cities across the country, and nobody’s saying anything about that. 

Moore: Yes, my perspective definitely changed. I’ve never had a high opinion on the Nigerian government, but any respect that I had went out the window. For such cruelty to take place in public, with such a minimal response from the government has shown me that they do not place any real value on Nigerian citizens.


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Two years later, how’re you feeling about that night?

Emmanuel: I’m feeling everything. I feel deep pain for the massacre, and even deeper pain for the many who have similarly been killed and displaced all over the country, whose stories aren’t reported. When you consider that it took Timaya’s “Dem Mama” for many members of my generation to learn about the Odi Massacre in 1999, you just wonder how many relevant events are yet blocked from our view. For the Lekki heroes, you have my heart. I wouldn’t be here without you. 

Wonu: I’m still very scarred, that’s just it. I’m in ubers and I’m battling anxiety because I’m still scared something will happen. My anxiety has become ten times worse since that night, I don’t feel safe and I don’t think there’s any feeling worse than that feeling of being unsafe as a black woman. 

Uzoma: The shootings at the Lekki Toll Gate will forever be an indictment of the government and its arms. Since then, no one in the government has accepted any wrongdoing or made any move to clear the air. They are still using a wall of silence and propaganda to fend off any criticisms. But that night cannot be erased; it will always stand as judgment and spur more of those moments.