When people run in circles it’s a very, very…mad world. – Gary Jules, Mad World
Browsing through Instagram one evening, I stumbled across an image of a hand raised with cleched fist. It looked very similar to the symbol of Black Lives Matter except it had #EndSARS written above it. I wasn’t sure what it was all about so I went to ask Google. What Google shared with me that evening shocked and enraged me all at once. I called family and friends in Nigeria and they all confirmed Google’s info.
Of course I asked mom if she too had heard.
‘Have I heard?’ was her response to me over the phone. She paused, then said, ‘Of course I’ve heard! You gan sef, where have you been? You don’t even know what’s happening in your own country…’
Ok, bad move. 🙄🤦🏽♀️ Let’s not go into everything she said next. The summary is, I’ve clearly been living under a rock. But what I have learned is that SARS, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad are supposed to protect the citizens of Nigeria from criminals. Instead, they are notorious for harassing young people and committing many atrocities against them.
The long and short of the story is young people in Nigeria had had enough of being victimised by SARS that they called for a disbandment of the unit back in 2017. What happened? Nada. SARS still dominated the streets and would tell their victims if they killed them nothing would happen. In October, a video capturing the killing of a young man in Delta by SARS officials sparked public outrage and reignited the endsars protests.
Then things got really ugly. On the 20th October 2020, just 12 days into the peaceful protests and on a Black Tuesday, armed military men opened fired on young protesters as they held hands singing the National Anthem and raising the Nigerian Flag. A massacre at the famous Lekki Toll Gate. The youths who lost their lives on this day, will not be forgotten.
You can imagine how vexed I am about all this. The month of October single handedly took me through a rainbow series of emotions.
I’ve gone from feeling like this 😳😩🙆🏽♀️🤬🤷🏽♀️🤬 when I first heard
to this 😡🤬😠🤬🤯 and then
this 😱🤬😭💔🤬😭 all in the space of a month.
I mean, why is any of this happening?! I felt at a loss cos it seemed there was not much that I as an individual could do. I shared my frustrations about the whole thing with Justice whom I’ve been working with on a virtual show called VulnerabilityREQUIRED. I ranted and I raved and Justice listened quietly as we conversed via WhatsApp video chat. He was all the way in Denver, but he could feel my pain. Then he reminded me, ‘Cocoa, it is better for you to respond, than to react. How can we solve this problem?’
Good question Justice. So as hard as it was, I had to bring myself to a calm place. It was getting too exhausting for me really. I’m currently here- still 😤🤬😤 inside but able to do this 🧘🏽♀️🙏🏼 🧘🏽♀️ whilst doing this 🤔🕵🏽♀️😀 – working on finding solutions.
One day, whilst browsing twitter and retweeting nearly every post with #endsars, I came across this wonderfully hilarious video. In times when it has been so difficult to laugh, this one made me burst. As in, this video is so funny to me and at the same time so mind boggling that I feel it should undisputedly be made video of the year. The video is of a Nigerian Police Officer who is probably head of some department, responding to a reporter. The reporter tells him people are ‘clamouring’ for the end of SARS and asks him what he makes of it. You should see his reaction and response to her statement.
He basically responds to her with a dismissive laugh, then makes the following comments, ‘we need to be careful of all this clamouring’ and ‘you see… social media is only available to those who are criminally minded.’ 😳😳😳
I’m not even joking. Oga Police said these words oh. Please watch the video for yourself. I’ve put a link to it at the bottom of this post. People, this is the view of one Nigerian Police Officer. Imagine the whole force. How different from this do you think their own views are?
So in other words, if you live in Nigeria and you have Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or access to any other social media platform, you are criminally minded. As in, you are a CRIMINAL and SARS have the authority to arrest you, brutalise you or even potentially end your life.
And just know that you are completely finished if you have dreadlocks AND you use social media. Double calamity. You are on SARS most wanted list because you must definitely be a yahoo-yahoo girl or boy.
‘But wait, Cocoa,’ my hair says, ‘I’m in locs and you use social media- a lot. If we go to Nigeria tomorrow, we are both finished! Aaah! This is all your fault, you should have never loc’d me up- !’
‘No, we won’t be finished.’ I interjected.
‘We won’t? How are we going to escape SARS looking like this?!’
I gave my head a scratch as I thought about my answer. Why did I have to always come up with the solutions?
‘You know what, here’s what we are going to do. When we go to Nigeria, I’ll wear a Jalabiya and cover you with a scarf. When SARS see us they’ ll think I’m an Alhaja so they won’t touch us. I promise.’
‘Are you sure it will work?’ my hair asked timidly.
‘I’m sure.’ I smiled a tight smile and pat my hair to reassure it.
In all honesty, I wasn’t sure but if we had to, we would have to try and hope for the best. It seemed a lot of young people were starting to do this to ensure survival. In conversations with Raydo, a Nigerian youth and filmmaker by trade I was recently introduced to by my sister, he shared his traumatic experiences with SARS and how he often wore the Jalabiya to cover his tattoos and his prayer hat to cover his hairstyle if he went out at certain times. He spots interesting hair-dos like twists and a tinted afro but these days he wears his afro natural as a bun at the top of his head with the rest of his head shaven. This is an unusual look and would always draw the attention of SARS officers. Once he recounted the vehicle he was travelling in broke down and SARS officers called him Alhaji seeing his Jalabiya and prayer hat and assisted to push his vehicle for him. When he was not dressed in a Jalabiya though, he has been kidnapped on three occasions in his life, illegally stopped and searched and extorted.
Such is the madness of this disease. Youths are not free to express their identity. A nation with a mindset so poor, rigid and deeply entrenched in ‘post colonialism’ as Justice would often say. The Nigerian youths are being DISCRIMINATED against and subjected to POLICE BRUTALITY because of their appearance and/or access to technology.
The older generation seem to perceive a shift in trend as a threat. Technology is rapidly expanding and accessible to all but the older generation are not welcoming it. More young people are embracing their natural hair and creating new fashion trends with afros and dreadlocks. And the older generation frown on this. So what do we expect if such people with such mindsets are the ones in Power? The police, SARS are only a reflection of this rigid mentality. They are programmed to act according to the way they think. And it doesn’t help when the media feeds this pattern of thinking with the portrayal of youths as gangstas, drug dealers and so on. Still, this is only part of the problem.
So is there a cure for this disease? And will we ever see change? The answers may not be certain just yet but I know one thing – Nigerian youths will not relent till we see a change.
I was born in Oyo State in the South of Nigeria. Yoruba is the language predominantly spoken in this region. My father is from Delta and my mother is half Hausa, half Yoruba. I grew up in Surulere, Lagos before moving to England in my teens. I am using my creativity to support the endsars movement. And I encourage all creative Nigerians to do the same. We cannot keep silent. The time to speak is now. In all honesty I believe a change is coming. I have a dream that my fatherland will one day be great again. To my Coconut Head Generation, let’s keep moving.
Peace and Love ✌️❤️
Graphics: Tayo Kusimo