Someone once said there’s never a dull moment in Nigeria. True. There’s a constant dose of outrageousness we experience in Nigeria, especially from people with power. It seems everyone has a SARS story. From personal experiences to incidents they have witnessed, to acquaintances whose experiences they have heard. I read some stories and my mind cannot process how these outrageous and tragic experiences seem to be the norm rather than the exception.
In Nigeria, oppression is a norm.
The first time I witnessed the outrageousness of SARS was about a year ago, while travelling, along with some other young graduates for NYSC orientation. Our bus was stopped, the driver was asked to open the door, three boys were selected and asked to bring out their luggage, their phones were collected, their social media accounts were checked. Of course, the unexposed girl in me questioned this and in an attempt to speak out, I turned to a fellow passenger and lamented about how wrong this was, I was told they knew what they were doing, after all it wasn’t everyone they selected, they had their reasons. I would later learn that this was a norm, SARS picking out people with age, clothing, hairstyle, and even the way you walk as a criteria for arrest or harassment.
Do you see the way police officers collect N50 from commercial buses? Like it’s a tax. Like it’s payment at a toll gate. Is there any passenger that thinks that they should confront officers when they stretch out their hand to collect ‘white’ (as fifty naira is called)? Is it fear that prevents this? Or is it a it’s-none-of-my-business attitude? A couple of times, I have entered vehicles in which a driver was asked to park after trying to talk his way out of giving ‘road tax’, and some passengers shouted at the driver to pay his road tax. Do they not think it is wrong for the police to do that, if they were scared of speaking out against a gun wielding likely crazy person, why insult the driver for his attempt?
Nigerians have a way of normalizing oppression. The common thing becomes the normal thing and the normal thing becomes the right thing. And so, police officers posted within a town will collect tax from commercial motorists and everyone will go on with life as if it is absolutely normal for policemen to collect road tax. Because it actually is normal.
SARS is a more virulent faction of the Nigerian police, and I see #EndSARS as a response to police brutality in general. But how do we incorporate #EndSARS into our daily lives? I know politicians will use this to score some political points, there’ll be denial (Buda Yomi even said we may need a psychiatrist), there’ll be promises of change – #ReformSARS (we’re used to promises now), an attempt has even been made to educate Nigerians on what SARS is meant for, because someone probably thinks that for citizens to want an end to SARS, it must mean they don’t know what it is meant for.
But how do we make Nigerians understand that complicity is dangerous. If I were brave enough to refuse to allow someone search my phone, would fellow passengers not turn on me and assume I have something to hide, hence I am a criminal that deserves whatever I get? Would people stop shouting at drivers who refuse to drop road tax?
It seems no one on social media has anything good to say about SARS. The spike in social media conversations about SARS brutality which led to #EndSARS trending made it seem like everyone is sick and tired of SARS. But it doesn’t stop on social media. How do we make Mama Tosin who thinks bad boys wear dreadlocks know it is not okay for police officers to harass people because of their looks? Therein lies a big problem- complicity.
I hope this conversations continue and more importantly, bring about the changes we wish to see.