For many, the memories of rogue Nigerian soldiers firing live ammunition at hundreds of peaceful protesters in Lagos, killing at least 12 people, will be hard to forget.
Now, some of Nigeria’s prize-winning authors have turned acid-tipped pens against the government of Muhammadu Buhari for failing to rein in an elite police unit whose sullied record of unprovoked raids, arbitrary beatings, arrests and extortion, especially against young people, has sparked a movement that brought out thousands nationwide.
Renowned novelist and feminist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was among the writers who shared an outpouring of grief and fury after the wanton shooting of young Nigerians trapped in a cul-de-sac while calling for an end to the harassment and killings by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
“SARS is random, vicious, vilely extortionist,” Chimamanda wrote in a recent article. “SARS officers raid bars or arbitrarily arrest young men for such crimes as wearing their hair in dreads, having tattoos, holding a nice phone or a laptop, driving a nice car. Then they demand large amounts of money as “bail.”
Toyin Falola, distinguished teaching professor at the University of Texas, added: “Oct. 20, 2020 will go down in Nigerian history as the day the whole world saw images of the green-and-white striped flag stained with the red blood of protesters bludgeoned by the forces of the state…The abuses of President Buhari’s government are no longer being kept in the dark.”
Chidozie Uzoezie, a Lagos-based freelance writer, penned: “SARS, founded in 1992 to fight crimes, has metamorphosed into a hydra-headed plague, brutalizing and killing poor and voiceless Nigerians while protecting the rich…The Nigerian Police Force has been reduced from being law enforcement agents to mere trigger-happy tools in the hands of irresponsible governments and desperate politicians. In short, a menace.”
Finally, more than 100 noted Nigerian writers signed an open letter published in African Arguments: “We denounce in the strongest terms the tyrannical and shameful persecution of innocent Nigerians by officers of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad and the continued harassment of peaceful protesters.
“As Chinua Achebe said, ‘We cannot trample on the humanity of others without devaluing our own.’ We ask that the government of Nigeria, under President Buhari, take concrete measures, beyond the flippant rhetoric of years gone by, and immediately reform the Nigerian Police Force as a whole.
“We stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters protesting on the streets of Nigeria, and ask that every right-thinking member of the global community raise their voice and support the agitation for justice for the victims of police brutality in Nigeria, the immediate termination of such inexcusable conduct by all units of the police and a sincere and tangible reform of the police in Nigeria.”
More than 56 people have died since demonstrations began in Nigeria more than two weeks ago.