One of the most read articles on this blog is an essay on the origins of the Nigerian police. Its tagline is: ‘a thing can never do a thing that the thing was never designed to do.’ In it I reflect, relying on my own research and personal/professional experiences with the Nigerian Police, on how the violence of the police is a microcosmic manifestation of the violence of the state. When one considers the history from which policing and the nation sprung, it is not surprising that the people of Nigeria live in constant tension with the nation of Nigeria, as it seems that the state’s survival as it is, is dependent on the destruction of its people. Something else I have also written about.
In commenting on the October 2020 protests against Police Brutality in Nigeria, I am mindful of my position as a speaker from the Diaspora and a person of a slightly older generation than the protesters. I am also mindful that events are in flux. This all affects what I think can and should be said at this time. But I must still Sọ̀rọ̀ Sókè. We pass this way, but once…
A Summary of Sorts
The protests in October 2020 started just a few days after Nigeria marked 60 years of being ‘independent’ from the UK. 1st October. The protests soon after that were sparked by viral videos of police brutality by members of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad. Protests began by asking for that particular police unit in Nigeria to be disbanded. Similar protests had occurred before 2020 and had resulted in the Nigerian government announcing that SARS has been dissolved/reformed/disbanded. To our surprise the protests increased rather than decreased in volume, most of this was a result of significant and creative coordination by young people using tech and social media for funding, awareness and arranging other forms of support. Despite the protesters claiming to have no centralised leadership, there was also a high level of national organisation involved in helping people injured or arrested. The provision of food at the protests was also a new introduction.
It should be noted that during the first two weeks of the protests, there were still reports of police arresting and shooting protesters. Initially, the protests were largely peaceful. Though by the second week, there were sporadic episodes of violence, allegedly by people paid to wreak discord and confusion and break the protests up. Despite this, the events of the 20th of October 2020, still came as a severe shock. I was keeping an ear on reports from Instagram live and from what can be deduced, a massive crowd of protestors, who gathered at Lekki tollgate were hemmed in by military personnel and were fired upon from about 6:45 pm till the next morning [allegedly!]. We know this because one of the protesters was streaming the events live on Instagram till her battery ran out. At least one death from gunshot wounds was thus witnessed across the world. It was also reported [via twitter, among others] that the military took the dead bodies away. Thus the governor of Lagos state [where it happened] thereafter claimed that there was only one fatality. Despite the fact that the whole world could see the shooting happening.
The day after that, the protests turned extremely violent and angry crowds burnt and looted property across Lagos state. There have also been reports of shooting and killing of protesters elsewhere across the country, however, these reports are difficult to confirm. The local media have been warned not to ’embarrass’ the government. So local coverage is minimal. International media lack the knowledge or the local connections to properly cover such a vast nation. Thus misinformation makes it feel like we are being gaslit on a massive scale. What followed after this almost feels like a tragedy, piled upon a tragedy, upon another tragedy. Angry looting took root. This looting started out with the discovery of food warehouses, where provisions that were meant to be used to support COVID lockdowns in March-April 2020 were hoarded. The scale of the hoarding still remains unbelievable. But the looting soon extended to private property and other government property, as well as injury to the general public.
The protests were then taken up more insistently by the Nigerian Diaspora across the world, as well as non-Nigerian celebrities. Though, it was noted that the support for the protests to end police brutality in Nigeria never got to the heights of the Black Lives Matter protests we saw in the summer of 2020. Nevertheless, there has been some vocal support from across the world.
So, Some Reflections on This Aluta Going Forward
Hope is a dangerous spirit: For some reason the protests in Nigeria has made me think of a particular scene from the musical, Les Misérables, especially because of what happened in Lekki on 20/10/20. That is the scene that follows the fall of the barricades. Whatever one thinks of the protests, no matter what our experience of them may have been, I know many Nigerians will give up a lot for the hope for a better Nigeria, a much better home than what we have now. Before 20/10/20, for many people, there was a glimmer of hope, a glimpse of light in this present darkness. A working order.
— Nosa (@Nosablaq) October 28, 2020
But then we bore witness to the lengths to which power will go to maintain this present darkness. Hope is indeed a dangerous spirit, because the despair that follows the hope, is often greater than the despair that came before. But without hope we cease to live. Hope is a dangerous spirit. We do NOT throw our lives away before it.
‘You at the barricades listen to this
The people of Paris sleep in their beds
You have no chance
No chance at all
Why throw your lives away?’
The two Nigerias and the unfulfilled promise of Pan-Africanism: I think one thing we must learn from this, is the clear demarcation between the two Nigerias. There is the Nigeria that is made of the people of Nigeria. They turned up to the protests: students, techies, lawyers, doctors, caterers etc. Then there is Nigeria which is an institution. The members of that institution also turned up. In military convoys with guns and bullets. They turned up to misinform. Detective Camcorder turned up. They turned up to call the protestors drug users. They hoarded food meant to save lives. The problem of course, is that both Nigerias occupy the same geographical space, but both Nigerias cannot coexist. Each Nigeria’s survival requires the death of the other Nigeria. This is the problem at the heart of Nigeria and almost every post-colonial state. Thus while Endsars protests were going on, there are protests in Congo, in Angola, strife in Cameroon, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Cote d’Ivoire, Tanzania… Africa is bleeding. Africa has been bleeding for too long! Because, each Africa’s survival requires the death of the other Africa. How much more can the people of Africa achieve, if the remnants of empire, those alter-ego state structures, that continually stab us, could be done away with? But we must confront the question… there are two publics, each public’s survival requires the death of the other public… What must happen next?
Thoughts on civic education: It has been argued that civic education will be helpful at this time to ensure that people are fully aware of their rights, the law, how to use people power and so that we are educated about the state and the state of the state. Maybe civic education will resolve the question of the two Nigerias. But as has been pointed out before, we need to actually engage with the civic education that is already happening. It is for the people to educate themselves, if the state refuses to do the work. There are many people already doing the work. There has already been centuries of work done. Are we doing the reading? Are we educating ourselves? Do we take part in conversations that are not unduly divisive? Conversations that look at the big picture? What use is civic education that we do not take part in? Are we talking across the various publics across the continent and across the world? Are we learning from each other’s struggles or are we more concerned with who cooks the better rice dish or what the accurate pronunciation of ‘plantain’ is?
The intractable question hidden in policing: And so I return to the question of the police and why everywhere in the world, they seem to present a source of danger to Black bodies. As the mechanism of the state with the legitimate power to use force against the people of the state, why is that power always dangerous to Blackness most of all? What is it about maintaining this present order that requires the subjugation of Black people everywhere? As I argue, in my earlier post about the Black Lives Matter protests of summer 2020, no matter what you think of calls to defund the police, it must be accepted that we cannot hope to effectively reform a sector without fundamentally changing the society that produces the composition, need and impact of that sector. We must confront the question of what form of order the state requires and has always required. And it is on this inextricable link between police and society that I personally frame the question of defunding the police. Ultimately, we are calling into question what we as a national or global society, place the most value on. What society we want. In a world built on commodification and valorization by financialization of everything and everyone, thinking in terms of defunding the police asks us not only what we should take money out of, but also what we should put money towards. What part of society do we put value in? Brutal order or true justice? Defunding asks us to take greater responsibility for the ways in which state-sanctioned activities lead to ‘group differentiated vulnerability to death.’ We are asking what type of world we want to see beyond this present moment, and what role the police will play. If any.
Keepers of the Flame? The final point upon which I wish to end my reflections is a generational one. The protests in Nigeria, have very much being characterised by a generational schism – in fervour, process, thought – in everything. We must remember that we will pass this way only once. The promise of a free world is a flame passed to us from the older generation for us to keep in trust for the next. What has been done with it? What is being done to it? What will we do with it?
“Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it.” Frantz Fanon
Each generation stands here, keepers of the flame.
What will they pass on to the next?
A towering inferno?
Or smouldering smoke?
Each generation stands here, makers of the music
What will they pass on to the next?
An increasing crescendo?
Or a dwindling diminuendo?
Each generation stands here, preparing the feast
What will they pass on to the next?
A flowing cornucopia?
Or a rotting mess?
This generation stands here, keepers of the flame.
What will happen next?
Will it fizzle out?
Or will it set the world on fire?
Timi Dakolo – Great Nation
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Bullets, Blood & Death: Untold Story of what happened at Lekki Toll Gate Premium Times 31 October 2020