#RENIGERIA #ENDSARS: MY SARS STORY

It all began years ago…

Monday, 28th May, 2018.

I remember the first – and hopefully – last time I met them (SARS – Special Anti-Robbery Squad). It was on the 28th of May, 2018. I was on a trip to Calabar and our bus got stopped by them. There was a cute young man in the front seat. He was well-dressed and looked averagely well-to-do. He had big phones with him, but I didn’t think that was an issue until we got stopped. He, of course, became their target. We were all searched, but not as much as he was. 

They spent almost two hours searching him alone. The rest of us (mostly women) were searched in a total record time of one hour. Obviously, the young man was the sort to use a laundry service. All his clothes (including his inner vests and undergarments) were neatly straightened and packed the way laundry services do (in transparent sealed packets). I thought that would make things easier, but it worsened things. 

To my astonishment, after getting out all his packets of clothes, they began to open the packets and bring out their contents, holding them in a degrading manner to show us with the sarcastic and disgusting looks they had on their faces. I was very embarrassed on his behalf. My embarrassment was to the extent that I wondered how the guy must be feeling. Would he ever be able to travel willingly by road again within Nigeria? I doubt I ever will if I were him and if I had a choice.

The laptop he had with him (neat Macbook pro) and his phone were ransacked. They practically went through every chat. Wondering what all the occupants of the bus were doing when all this was going on? Of course, we were all agitating. We went from shouting (that they were infringing on our human rights) to pleading and then to shouting again. 

Some of us were busy trying to get in contact with anyone who could help. Eventually, one of us was able to do so. He got a SARS superior’s number from his brother and sent a quick text. The SARS superior called and told his men to back off. That was how we got off after over 2 hours wasted. 

To date, I still wonder what would have happened to that guy. I knew he probably would have been detained. I mean, initially, they told us to leave without the guy after they had searched us, but we (like I was literally surprised that all of us agreed on this!) were adamant that we were not going to move that bus without the guy. 

It’s been more than two years now, but I still remember every detail like the palm of my hand. I remember my small suitcase being searched. But worse, I remember the inhumane treatment the guy particularly had to undergo. It made him silent for the rest of the trip😭😭😭. Every one of us actually withdrew into our shells. I know we were all ruminating on all that had happened and trying to come to terms with the harsh reality we just experienced. 

Fast forward to 2020…

On 7th October, 2020, I was to embark on a trip to Lagos from Onitsha. A few days before I embarked on the trip, I spoke with a slightly older female friend. While talking, I noticed she was faltering, not her usual bubbly self. I asked what was wrong. “Are you okay? Are you coming down with the flu? How are my baby girl and son (she’s married and with kids)?”, I asked. 

She told me, “Chi, you won’t believe what just happened to me today”. In a rush, she told me she was pulled over (she has her own car) by SARS. She was coming back from work and had her laptop with her. She explained that she was coming back from work and kinda gesticulated to them with her hand, so they’d see her wedding ring. When it seemed that didn’t work, she told them she was married and has two kids, so how can a married woman with kids be into cyber theft? 

They delayed her a bit longer before finally letting her go and only because her patience got drained and she got out her phone to make a call. I was pretty surprised. Does it mean they no longer respect married women? In Nigeria, married women (especially those with kids) are more respected than single ladies. I know this so well because I have been in situations where this happened. The fear/respect for the married women stems from the fact that you don’t know who her husband is, and so could get into deep trouble. 

A day before my trip, I took a long look at my already-packed suitcase. All clothes were freshly laundered and in packets. My work laptop has to go in too. And then, I remembered my friend that had called two days ago, even the young guy that was embarrassed right before me years ago. What was really the difference between me and them? I have a laptop, my clothes were in packets and I was going with my big phones. It occurred to me that if I was ever stopped, then my case would even be worse than my female friend’s since there was no wedding ring or kids to scare them off.

Do you know what I did? I had to remove my laptop. And for the ten days that I spent in Lagos on my trip, I had to deal with the consequences of coming without my laptop. I had to borrow a laptop and then face the inconveniences of moving the documents I want to work on from my phone to the borrowed laptop and then back to my phone again. 

What nightmare can be worse than this? None really! But it only became worse!!!

8th October, 2020. 

Thursday, 8th October,  2020 started just like any other day. It dawned bright and early and held the promise of a fulfilling new day. And perhaps, that it became for it was the dawn of a defining period in Nigeria. The protest started on this day in Alausa, Lagos State and gradually progressed to the Lekki toll gate in less than 7 days. 

Wondering what triggered the protest? It was a social media video footage on 3rd October, 2020, which showed the murder of a man from Delta State by the SARS officials that spurred the protest. Citizens were aggrieved at the brutality exhibited in the video, but more so, the video was a reminder of our own personal unpleasant – even cruel – experiences with SARS. 

And so, by the 5th of October being a Monday, mobilization for the protest began right on social media, with the first protest holding on 8th October at Alausa, Lagos. By the 9th of October, the protest warmed up as 3 other states, namely FCT Abuja, Ogun, and Oyo States joined Lagos in the protest. Things got to a hilt by 23rd October, when it was recorded that over 26 states out of the 36 states in Abuja were participating in the protest and it didn’t look like it would be abating any time soon. Even Nigerians in other countries like Canada, Ireland, UK, Australia, Egypt, USA, South Africa, France, Ghana, Germany, Switzerland, and Holland commiserated and joined the protest from their respective locations.

Amidst all these, the Nigerian Government kept mute but they were not unaffected. They had a deep-seated unsettling fear within them at the extent of coordination and organization of the protest. Never have Nigerian citizens (except its leaders) come together in unity this way. It was the first of its kind and hopefully the beginning of such movements for the greater good. It was scary (at least, for them!)! But it was really good and long overdue! It was indeed promising!

Rumors had it that the UN will intervene if the protest continued for 30 straight days. Nigerians were determined to keep up the protest but the Government was desperate to curb it. For them, any way to curb the protest is better than no way, even if it meant the killing of innocent citizens embarking on a peaceful protest (Oh, what heartlessness!). 

And so, it began. Protesters in different states were cruelly attacked by hoodlums believed to be sent by the Government. Arson, unlawful arrests, sporadic shooting, vandalisation, jailbreaks, looting, and murder were the forms of attack employed to curb the protest. Curfew was declared in some states in order to further stop the assembling of the protesters. Can we ever fully recount all that has happened to Nigerians in Nigeria within the past few weeks? Never! The story is as gruesome as the worst horror movie ever produced. But yet, this is our reality!

As I write this, it is the 4th of November, 2020. With the manipulative and cruel ways employed, the protest was successfully stopped. There are no conclusive data as to the number of citizens killed for and during the protest, but I’m sure 500 citizens don’t cut the number of individuals who gave their lives for this protest. A better Nigeria is all that they wanted – all that we want! But instead, we have; 

Missing citizens!

Incomplete families! 

Crushed dreams!

Wasted talents!

Monstrous Reality!

Broken people!

Debt-riddled individuals!

Bankrupted businesses/brands!

Hurting hearts!

Mutilated body parts!

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)!

An insecure country will always witness its citizens being maimed like chickens in their numbers. This is what SARS has cost us. This is why we shout; this is why we ask for a change.

#ENDSARS

*This is the original written work of a Kectil Nigerian Colleague. Due to the Colleague’s preference, we will keep the identiy anonymous.

#RENIGERIA #ENDSARS: MY SARS STORY 

It all began years ago…

Monday, 28th May, 2018.

I remember the first – and hopefully – last time I met them (SARS – Special Anti-Robbery Squad). It was on the 28th of May, 2018. I was on a trip to Calabar and our bus got stopped by them. There was a cute young man in the front seat. He was well-dressed and looked averagely well-to-do. He had big phones with him, but I didn’t think that was an issue until we got stopped. He, of course, became their target. We were all searched, but not as much as he was. 

They spent almost two hours searching him alone. The rest of us (mostly women) were searched in a total record time of one hour. Obviously, the young man was the sort to use a laundry service. All his clothes (including his inner vests and undergarments) were neatly straightened and packed the way laundry services do (in transparent sealed packets). I thought that would make things easier, but it worsened things. 

To my astonishment, after getting out all his packets of clothes, they began to open the packets and bring out their contents, holding them in a degrading manner to show us with the sarcastic and disgusting looks they had on their faces. I was very embarrassed on his behalf. My embarrassment was to the extent that I wondered how the guy must be feeling. Would he ever be able to travel willingly by road again within Nigeria? I doubt I ever will if I were him and if I had a choice.

The laptop he had with him (neat Macbook pro) and his phone were ransacked. They practically went through every chat. Wondering what all the occupants of the bus were doing when all this was going on? Of course, we were all agitating. We went from shouting (that they were infringing on our human rights) to pleading and then to shouting again. 

Some of us were busy trying to get in contact with anyone who could help. Eventually, one of us was able to do so. He got a SARS superior’s number from his brother and sent a quick text. The SARS superior called and told his men to back off. That was how we got off after over 2 hours wasted. 

To date, I still wonder what would have happened to that guy. I knew he probably would have been detained. I mean, initially, they told us to leave without the guy after they had searched us, but we (like I was literally surprised that all of us agreed on this!) were adamant that we were not going to move that bus without the guy. 

It’s been more than two years now, but I still remember every detail like the palm of my hand. I remember my small suitcase being searched. But worse, I remember the inhumane treatment the guy particularly had to undergo. It made him silent for the rest of the trip😭😭😭. Every one of us actually withdrew into our shells. I know we were all ruminating on all that had happened and trying to come to terms with the harsh reality we just experienced. 

Fast forward to 2020…

On 7th October, 2020, I was to embark on a trip to Lagos from Onitsha. A few days before I embarked on the trip, I spoke with a slightly older female friend. While talking, I noticed she was faltering, not her usual bubbly self. I asked what was wrong. “Are you okay? Are you coming down with the flu? How are my baby girl and son (she’s married and with kids)?”, I asked. 

She told me, “Chi, you won’t believe what just happened to me today”. In a rush, she told me she was pulled over (she has her own car) by SARS. She was coming back from work and had her laptop with her. She explained that she was coming back from work and kinda gesticulated to them with her hand, so they’d see her wedding ring. When it seemed that didn’t work, she told them she was married and has two kids, so how can a married woman with kids be into cyber theft? 

They delayed her a bit longer before finally letting her go and only because her patience got drained and she got out her phone to make a call. I was pretty surprised. Does it mean they no longer respect married women? In Nigeria, married women (especially those with kids) are more respected than single ladies. I know this so well because I have been in situations where this happened. The fear/respect for the married women stems from the fact that you don’t know who her husband is, and so could get into deep trouble. 

A day before my trip, I took a long look at my already-packed suitcase. All clothes were freshly laundered and in packets. My work laptop has to go in too. And then, I remembered my friend that had called two days ago, even the young guy that was embarrassed right before me years ago. What was really the difference between me and them? I have a laptop, my clothes were in packets and I was going with my big phones. It occurred to me that if I was ever stopped, then my case would even be worse than my female friend’s since there was no wedding ring or kids to scare them off.

Do you know what I did? I had to remove my laptop. And for the ten days that I spent in Lagos on my trip, I had to deal with the consequences of coming without my laptop. I had to borrow a laptop and then face the inconveniences of moving the documents I want to work on from my phone to the borrowed laptop and then back to my phone again. 

What nightmare can be worse than this? None really! But it only became worse!!!

8th October, 2020. 

Thursday, 8th October,  2020 started just like any other day. It dawned bright and early and held the promise of a fulfilling new day. And perhaps, that it became for it was the dawn of a defining period in Nigeria. The protest started on this day in Alausa, Lagos State and gradually progressed to the Lekki toll gate in less than 7 days. 

Wondering what triggered the protest? It was a social media video footage on 3rd October, 2020, which showed the murder of a man from Delta State by the SARS officials that spurred the protest. Citizens were aggrieved at the brutality exhibited in the video, but more so, the video was a reminder of our own personal unpleasant – even cruel – experiences with SARS. 

And so, by the 5th of October being a Monday, mobilization for the protest began right on social media, with the first protest holding on 8th October at Alausa, Lagos. By the 9th of October, the protest warmed up as 3 other states, namely FCT Abuja, Ogun, and Oyo States joined Lagos in the protest. Things got to a hilt by 23rd October, when it was recorded that over 26 states out of the 36 states in Abuja were participating in the protest and it didn’t look like it would be abating any time soon. Even Nigerians in other countries like Canada, Ireland, UK, Australia, Egypt, USA, South Africa, France, Ghana, Germany, Switzerland, and Holland commiserated and joined the protest from their respective locations.

Amidst all these, the Nigerian Government kept mute but they were not unaffected. They had a deep-seated unsettling fear within them at the extent of coordination and organization of the protest. Never have Nigerian citizens (except its leaders) come together in unity this way. It was the first of its kind and hopefully the beginning of such movements for the greater good. It was scary (at least, for them!)! But it was really good and long overdue! It was indeed promising!

Rumors had it that the UN will intervene if the protest continued for 30 straight days. Nigerians were determined to keep up the protest but the Government was desperate to curb it. For them, any way to curb the protest is better than no way, even if it meant the killing of innocent citizens embarking on a peaceful protest (Oh, what heartlessness!). 

And so, it began. Protesters in different states were cruelly attacked by hoodlums believed to be sent by the Government. Arson, unlawful arrests, sporadic shooting, vandalisation, jailbreaks, looting, and murder were the forms of attack employed to curb the protest. Curfew was declared in some states in order to further stop the assembling of the protesters. Can we ever fully recount all that has happened to Nigerians in Nigeria within the past few weeks? Never! The story is as gruesome as the worst horror movie ever produced. But yet, this is our reality!

As I write this, it is the 4th of November, 2020. With the manipulative and cruel ways employed, the protest was successfully stopped. There are no conclusive data as to the number of citizens killed for and during the protest, but I’m sure 500 citizens don’t cut the number of individuals who gave their lives for this protest. A better Nigeria is all that they wanted – all that we want! But instead, we have; 

Missing citizens!

Incomplete families! 

Crushed dreams!

Wasted talents!

Monstrous Reality!

Broken people!

Debt-riddled individuals!

Bankrupted businesses/brands!

Hurting hearts!

Mutilated body parts!

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)!

An insecure country will always witness its citizens being maimed like chickens in their numbers. This is what SARS has cost us. This is why we shout; this is why we ask for a change.

#ENDSARS

*This is the original written work of a Kectil Nigerian Colleague. Due to the Colleague’s preference, we will keep the identiy anonymous.

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