‘They need our backing’: Ontario’s Nigerian community reflects on #EndSARS police protests

By Nick Westoll | Globalnews.ca

With thousands of residents across Nigeria demonstrating against police brutality and the widely condemned Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) over the past few weeks, expats and community members who live in Canada are rallying to support friends and loved ones who are protesting overseas.

“Watching from here, we are not at peace. We are not happy because especially when we heard about the shootings, they were shooting live bullets at our young guys and young girls — that was unimaginable,” Kemi Amusan, president of the Greater Toronto Area branch of the Nigerian Canadian Association, told Global News in an interview.

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“So many Nigerians were crying, people were scared, and we weren’t able to get back to our people back at home. The internet was not functioning properly, so the feeling was that of rage, anger, fear and hopelessness.

“No one knows what is happening next. We are afraid, we are scared, we are unhappy.”

Amusan is one of about 10,000 Torontonians and 52,000 Canadians who, according to the 2016 Census, are believed to have Nigerian origins based on sample data collected. She and others are the latest to speak out against police brutality in Nigeria.


“At first, it was like, ‘At last, somebody’s doing something and it’s the youth.’ As of that moment, there was really no problem. They came out to peacefully demonstrate and air their feelings,” Amusan said, adding those protests were infiltrated by others associated with politicians.

“Things changed overnight and we’re scared.”

The #EndSARS campaign, which has been widely shared on social media, erupted in the country in early October after a video circulated showing a man being beaten by apparent SARS officers. The peaceful, organized protests disrupted traffic in Lagos and many other Nigerian cities. Advocacy groups have accused SARS of extortion, harassment, torture and murders over several years.


President Muhammadu Buhari’s government agreed to disband the SARS unit, but the protests continued with participants demanding sweeping reforms of police and action against corruption.

Although the protests were largely peaceful, at least 56 people have died across the country since they began, according to Amnesty International, which accused security forces of using unnecessary force.

At least 10 protesters were killed in a shooting at Lekki plaza on Oct. 20, according to Amnesty International, which said Wednesday that army troops opened fire on protesters without provocation. Earlier in the day, the government imposed a curfew, ordering everyone to stay at home. For two days after that, Lagos saw widespread rioting. To restore order in Lagos — Nigeria’s largest city, with more than 14 million people — officials imposed a curfew between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m.

The army previously maintained that its troops were not at the site of the shooting, but on Tuesday, a military spokesman reversed that position, saying soldiers had been deployed there to enforce a curfew. However, the spokesperson denied that the troops shot at the protesters.

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George Okafor told Global News he’s had first-hand interactions with SARS officers. The 24-year-old Toronto resident said when he was 15 in Lagos, he had a terrifying encounter after the taxi he was taking to school was stopped.

“He had a long gun on his shoulder, and with the other hand, he was telling me to get down. I was scared,” he said.

Okafor said he was randomly asked to give his name and ID, and show the bag carrying his laptop.

“He went through my laptop and told me I’m under arrest. I told him, ‘For what?’ He said he feels that I might have some hidden documents in my laptop,” he recalled, noting that he gave the device to the officer.

“He said, ‘That’s not good enough,’ [and] that I have to follow him. He arrested me.”

After being taken to a police station by motorbike, he recalled how he was put in a room and a second officer was called in.

“The officer was searching my whole body to know if I had anything on me. I told him, ‘I’m just a student. I don’t have anything on me,’” Okafor said.

Read from source GlobalNews