The SARS Betrayal
Like any normal Thursday, the young man, an artisan, settled to his dinner in his living room with his friend and co-worker after a hard day’s work. They took off their shirts and plugged their phones to charge in a socket nearby. And then everything stopped being normal. Without warning, men of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a unit of the Nigerian Police, entered into their living room and arrested them. They had committed no crime, except the crime of eating. The SARS men marched them out of the living room to join other young men who had also been arrested. They had simply visited their street in Ikorodu and started picking people up.
Fortunately, in the circumstances, the phone charging by the wall was left alone so someone was able to go into the living room after they had been taken away to look through the young man’s phone for someone to contact on his behalf. They found a number saved as one of his siblings and immediately told them what had happened. The sibling was working in the other end of Lagos somewhere on the Island and was immediately destabilised by the news. It was late at night so nothing could be done. The next day, the sibling’s employers got in the car and began going around Lagos trying to find where the young man had been taken to. They did not meet with much luck.
SARS have a simple ‘investigative’ formula when they pick up young men like that. If you have a Niger Delta sounding name, they take you to their anti-kidnapping unit. If you have dreadlocks and tattoos, they despatch you to their anti-cultism unit. If you are Hausa, of course they send you to the anti-terrorism unit. All of these units are in different parts of Lagos so you need to know under which crime you have fallen when you’re looking for someone. Unfortunately for the young man, when he was asked for his name, he told them but the person who wrote it down heard it as a Niger Delta sounding name and wrote it down completely wrong.
Now when looking for him, they kept giving his correct name and the policemen couldn’t figure out where he had been taken to especially as they also told them he had no dreadlocks or tattoos. Several of Nigeria’s deep rooted problems can be observed in this scenario – the country’s terrible education system just being one of them. Eventually, one of the policemen had a brain wave and said since the name sounded like one from the Niger Delta, might it be that he had been taken to the anti-kidnapping unit? This turned out to be true. They eventually found him there almost 48 hours later. They paid his bail – N35,000 only – and also paid for his friend who had been picked up with him. Another N35,000. They found him shirtless and disorientated. Mind you, before he was released, they were made to sign a document saying they did not pay for his release.
This is a true story that happened only recently in Lagos. What is even more sad about it is that there is nothing unique about it. It is just one of many similar tales that have been happening for years in Nigeria. Young and innocent men and women, but especially men, have been targeted by SARS for harassment and extortion with utter impunity. Last year, social media helped to bring the issue to national consciousness with the #EndSARS campaign. But in typical fashion, the Nigerian establishment, the police in particular, managed to deflate the issue and have since carried on as if nothing happened. Most of the people who have suffered this terror have no loud voices or any means to mobilise against their oppressors. So they just take it on the chin and move on.
What manner of country? That a thing like this will be going on and people will be crying out in pain and frustration and yet no official response. What manner of country is Nigeria? The Nigerian political class, the most venal and self-obsessed you can find anywhere on the planet, just pretends like there is nothing going on. They are even planning to obtain the votes of the people living under the terror of SARS next year, by fair means or foul.
Let the records show that a government that was elected by millions of people who lined up under the scorching sun has looked the other way as an arm of the state has gone completely rogue and turned defenceless citizens into ATMs where it can withdraw money as and when needed. Let the records show that even with all the cries from Nigerians, the president has not said a word about this matter.
This is Nigeria – you elect your government to betray you.
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