Nigerian police violence sparks MN protest

Courtesy of Kelechi Uchegbu Twin Cities Nigerian immigrant community march in St Paul demanding an end to SARS and police violence in that country.

Should Black Lives Matter expand its reach to Black lives everywhere?

Moyo Shokunbi, a first-generation Nigerian immigrant who has lived in Minnesota since 2013, was supposed to be visiting Nigeria when protests against the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and police violence began. Since he couldn’t protest in Nigeria, the #ENDSARS movement took to the streets in Minnesota.

“I was supposed to be in Nigeria that day and I would have joined the protest,” Shokunbi confessed, “I could have been killed there.” Shokunbi is one of an estimated 14,000 Nigerians in Minnesota, according to 2015 data from Minnesota’s Institute for Nigerian Development.

“Soro soke,” Yoruba for “speak up” and “enough is enough,” are the chants heard in the streets of Nigeria from youth calling for an end to police violence and an end to the notorious SARS police unit responsible for extrajudicial killings, kidnappings and extortion in the country.

SARS has been in the headlines recently after videos and images of the unit murdering, torturing and beating Nigerian citizens swept the media on October 4. The unit’s brutality and corruption have ignited protests in Nigeria and have sparked concerns among Nigerians living in Minnesota, especially those with friends and relatives in the country.

“It’s sad because I’m here and all I can see are the pictures and videos and comments,” said Esther Effiong, one of the organizers of the End SARS MN protest. “I felt so bad and heartbroken.”

Effiong, a teenager in high school, organized the October 24 protest in Minnesota. Youth have been fighting against SARS in Nigeria and some have been killed.

“Our generation is not dead, we are waking up,” explained Oladele Oridota, a first-generation Nigerian and a Minnesota resident. “Watching my fellow youth be slaughtered and treated like animals, it really breaks my heart,” Effiong lamented.

Pressure from the mass youth-led protests in the country prompted the Nigerian government to change SARS to Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT). Many people are not satisfied with that action because the new unit is composed of ex-SARS officers.

“They think we are stupid,” Shokunbi retorted. “SARS is supposed to have been disbanded since 2014.”

Videos and images on social media platforms gave viewers a glimpse into the horrors that occurred. “I watched on Instagram live as people were hiding from the police saying, ‘Nigeria will be the death of me,’” Shokunbi said. “I felt helpless.”

“There is police brutality all over the world,” Oridota said. “But the difference between America and Nigeria is there aren’t any rules [in Nigeria]. For police brutality in America, at least they will take [officers] to court, but in Nigeria they just let them go.”

Misconduct differs by country

Police violence at the hands of SARS in Nigeria is motivated by corruption and greed. In comparison, police brutality cases in the United States are often motivated by law enforcement’s need for immediate compliance.

Too often people fall victim to police violence because some mental incapacity does not allow them to immediately obey or comply with police commands, which can lead to fatal consequences. And in the U.S., police violence is exacerbated by racism, which has led to a greater percentage of Blacks being killed when compared to Whites.

“Police brutality is everywhere, but it’s so sad that it’s happening in Africa,” Effiong said. “You’re killing your brothers and sisters.”

While Black Lives Matter was a movement started in the U.S., Minnesota Nigerian youth are encouraging people to give as much attention to police brutality in Nigeria as given to police brutality in the United States.

“Everybody went out for George Floyd. When Black Americans are killed, everybody goes out and protests regardless of race,” Oridota explained. “But when it’s time for Nigerians, no one wants to support us.

“Black Lives Matter can’t be just Americans. We are all Black. We are all the same,” said Oridota, echoing the sentiments of other first-generation Nigerian immigrant youth who want the struggle against police violence to be viewed through a Pan Africanist lens.

Similarities exist in the struggle against police violence in Nigeria and the United States. Both movements use video and images on social media to ignite and inform protests. Both movements are fighting against systems that have given law enforcement the power to kill Black people. Both movements are predominantly youth led.

According to a recent article in CNN, Nigerian youth, who suffer from high unemployment, are finding their voice through this struggle. “At the moment protests are quiet [in Nigeria],” explained Quam Opere, a former Minnesota resident and a first-generation Nigerian immigrant. “Similar to the Black Lives Matter issues, it seems like people go on emotion, and once the emotion goes away, things become quiet. But all the problems are still valid.”

Effiong urged people to keep talking and sharing information about the issue on social media, insisting, “It’s not over.”

“People make governments, and governments are supposed to abide by the interests of the people,” Opere explained. “In order to make change, the people need to keep taking to the streets and demanding justice.”