By Yetunde A. Odugbesan-Omede, Ph.D
Nigeria is facing a reckoning, one that is long overdue. With a population of approximately 207 million and a growing youth bulge of under 30 years old, accounting for almost 40 percent of the country, Nigeria can no longer ignore the demands of young people.
For more than a week, Nigeran youths have been protesting in the streets throughout the country against police brutality. They have endured disproportionate amounts of harassment, extortion, and unconstitutional physical violence and detainment. Many of these brazen acts done by the Nigerian police force and a tactical unit called SARS have gone unchecked.
Nigerian youths are currently marching throughout Nigeria to #EndSARS. SARS refers to the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, a police unit that has been the target of nationwide protests demanding an end to police brutality. Since the protests began, about ten people have been killed, and many unlawfully detained at the hands of police forces for peacefully protesting.
These protests are a culmination of years of frustration, loss of innocent lives, systemic corruption, and bad governance. Police officers abuse their authority and constantly extort innocent civilians to pad their pockets. They have killed so many people without being held accountable in the court of law. In all honesty, many police officers in Nigeria do not understand their roles as public servants expected to keep civilians and property safe. Historically, the police have been used to maintain the status quo, enforce the demands of the political elite in society, and use excessive force to maintain control.
For far too long, Nigerian youths had to endure willful ignorance at the hands of those entrusted to create a better Nigeria. Self-centered money-hungry politicians have ignored millions of people’s constitutional and human rights. For everyone who has labeled Nigerian youths as lazy, uncoordinated, easily bought, or apathetic, please let these protests dispel every wrongful assumption. They are the generation we have been waiting for. It was just a matter a time until they ”Soro Soke: speak up.”
What is going on in Nigeria is not peculiar to Nigeria? It is a global issue that has affected countries all over the world. America is also simultaneously going through its reckoning with #blacklivesmatter protests to end police brutality. The common thread that we see are inept and unqualified police officers, judicial systems that favor and protect those in authority, and years of embedded stereotypes and biases against those who have every right to receive equal and fair treatment under the law.
The Nigerian government needs to take a careful look at the root causes of police brutality. From the low police wages to the deplorable living conditions in police barracks provided by the government, from pervasive unchecked grand to petty corruption, and the manipulation of justice systems to benefit the status quo are all reasons for the creation and cycle of police brutality.
Nigeria has a long way to go, but it seems like the Youth may understand how to lead more than those in power. As we deal with the reckoning happening in Nigeria, please let us not forget the lives and potentials lost by police brutality and bad governance. We speak your names!
Dr. Yetunde A. Odugbesan-Omede, is a Professor of Global Affairs and Politics. She is a policy advisor, political commentator and writes articles on law, human rights, global affairs and governance.