In 2017, Adekunle Ayobami was a second-year student of the Federal Polytechnic, Offa, when operatives of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) harassed him and collected his school fees.
Speaking of his personal experience with SARS, he explained that he had been stopped, harassed, beaten and exploited financially “several times” by SARS operatives in the country.
Ayobami, who said he had to pay as high as N150,000 to SARS operatives on one occasion, questioned why in a country like Nigeria where youths are not empowered by the government, members of the police force treat people like slaves.
“In this country, there is something called injustice like we have laws but we don’t follow the rules. Like being a citizen in the first place, there are some benefits that you will be entitled to.
“There is no empowerment for youths yet we are still trying to survive but we are still being treated like slaves which is not supposed to be,” Ayobami said.
He maintained that anytime SARS Operatives pick people up, the amount they pay depends on their connection with people.
“At least, you must pay a minimum of N25,000 and the maximum I have paid at a go is N150,000.
“When I was in 200 level, they once collected my school fee. I was able to find another school fee since I knew I had no choice and I had to pursue my career,” he added.
Ayobami was one of the individuals who shared their personal experiences with SARS officials with this reporter during the ongoing #EndSARS protest in Ibadan.
The call for a total scrap of the Special Anti-Robbery Unit (SARS) of the Nigeria Police Force has existed for years but has never before had the level of agitation resulted in nationwide protests and mass outcry like now.
Protest rocks Ibadan
On Wednesday, youths in Ibadan commenced a three-day protest to demand an immediate scrap of the SARS unit of the Nigeria Police Force.
The protest reached its climax on Friday when thousands of youths, resilient in their call, hit the streets of the capital city around 9 a.m.
The protesters moved from Eleyele area to the Police headquarters at Eleyele and other strategic locations before arriving at the State Secretariat around 11:30 a.m.
Many of the protesters, who spoke with this reporter, maintained that the unit must be scrapped, noting that anything short of that will be ineffective.
Protesters described any form of reformation of the Police Force without a scrap of the SARS unit as another ‘lip-service’ from the government.
‘Nobody is safe’ – Protesters share personal experiences with SARS
Aside Ayobami, other protesters in Ibadan who shared their personal experiences with this reporter condemned SARS officials.
One of the lead influencers of the protest in Ibadan, Asiwaju Lerry, a digital entrepreneur explained that he had been stopped and harassed by SARS officials.
He noted that unlike many others, he had never had to pay to find his way through but emphasized that he does not have to wait till then before joining the #EndSARS campaign because “the question is not whether it will happen, it is when it will.”
“We are here for just one thing, a peaceful protest. As a digital entrepreneur, SARS has harassed me on the way but the only thing is that not everyone has been as lucky as I am.
“When they harass me, I fight for my right but some other people they harass, they extort, drive them to an ambush and they collect money from them,” Duke of Ibadan, as he is popularly known, said.
“We want just one thing. They should #EndSARS. They keep disbanding SARS and immediately they go back into the street to harass people again,” he said.
Another protester, Olawale Akorede stated that he had been harassed by SARS officials on multiple occasions, noting that he also had to pay before being released on about four different occasions.
“I have had multiple experiences with SARS. There were days I was travelling down to my hometown, Akure from Ibadan and they stopped me around Iwo-road, harassed me, checking all my properties without me dressing like a criminal, without them finding me in a compromising situation. These have happened on multiple occasions.
“I did not pay the first time. There are times I paid N30,000. There are times I paid N50,000. The last time I stood my ground but that was after multiple slaps and beating,” he said.
Akorede stated that anytime he had to bribe SARS officials, it affected him personally because in most cases he had to pay from his personal savings.
He also argued that he is not in support of any reform because “there is no reform. They should end the branch of the police called SARS.”
Oluwakemi, a shoemaker who shared her experiences with the rogue police unit has questioned her safety in her own country because of the actions of a unit funded with taxpayer’s money.
“I had a personal experience with them earlier this year. I was on a bike with one of the people that works for me. They just came from nowhere.
“Inside the traffic; anything could have happened, any car could have hit us. And they were showing us a gun, for what? They said, ‘let me see your phone.’ Ok, this is my phone but nothing was on my phone.
“Even if you want to arrest a person, you will go through normal procedures. Not because I look good, not because I dress well, not because I am using a good phone you should be harassing us on the road. It’s not called for.
“They go to people’s houses to arrest them. We are not safe in our house; we are not safe on the street. If we should stay at home and say we are not going to do anything about it then they will not do anything about it too.
“Everybody has to come out to fight for our rights. This is our fundamental human right. We want them to put an end to unjust killing; to police brutality. It is not too much for us to ask.
“It is not too much for us as the youth of this country to ask. I was born and bred in this country. If I am not safe here, I can’t be safe anywhere. I can’t be safe anywhere if I am not safe in my own father’s land,” she lamented.
She also revealed that her 18-year-old brother was recently arrested by “SARS officials just because he was on dread” and her parents had to go and bail him out with N15,000.
“We are not stopping the police force from doing their jobs. They can do their job. We are not saying if they see somebody that is corrupt they should let go. We are not saying if they see criminals they should let go.
“We just want them to stop this unjust killing of people that are not criminals, of people that are just normal youths going out to make their daily bread and they will just kill them like they are ruthless animals,” she added.
‘I fear SARS more than armed robbers’ – Physically challenged man
Also present at the youth-dominated protest in Ibadan on Friday was Okunola Babajide, a physically challenged man.
Babajide explained that he had no choice but to join the protest very early in the morning because he had experienced first-hand SARS brutality.
He emphasized that he fears SARS officials more than armed robbers.
According to him, he had to negotiate the amount he paid the last time SARS officials stopped him about a month ago after they threatened to arrest him and rope him in for an offence he had no idea about.
“Last two months, my guys and I were going to Palms mall when they blocked us at Challenge. They checked our car and our phones.
“They didn’t find anything incriminating but at the end of the day we had to pay N10,000 because they threatened to carry us to Iyaganku (Police headquarters) and they will charge us with an offence. They asked for N50,000 but we negotiated for N10,000.”
He added that he is not ready to back down until the government heed the call to scrap SARS and reform the police.
“They are not doing their job. It is not in their job to move around. If you watch American movies, they have SWAT but you don’t see them on the road in America.
“It is only when there is armed robbery that they involve themselves with but here they don’t do what they are created to do.
“I fear SARS more than the armed robbers they were created to combat,” he added amid shouts of #EndSARS in the air.
‘You can’t address us’ – Protesters tell Youth and Sports Commissioner
When the protesters arrived at the state secretariat around 11 a.m., the gate was locked preventing any entry and exit till late in the night when they decided to give the Federal Government a three-day ultimatum to address their demands.
Around 1 p.m., the Commissioner for youths and sports affairs came out to address the protesters but he was turned back by the angry youths who claimed he was not the one they voted.
Around 2 p.m., the deputy chief whip of the House of Assembly, Hon. Yusuf Oladeni approached the protesters but he was again not allowed to speak.
The protesters were adamant that only the Governor, Seyi Makinde; his deputy, Remi Olaniyan or the Speaker of the House of Assembly, Hon. Debo Ogundoyin was allowed to address them.
Hon. Oladeni pleaded that the Governor and the Speaker were in Ondo State. He also promised protesters he will ensure the Governor’s Chief of Staff, Hon. Bisi Ilaka addressed the protesters.
However, the Chief of Staff did not show up till the dogged protesters left late in the night.
‘70 percent of SARS activities are bad’ – Oyo Lawmaker
In a brief interview with this reporter shortly after leaving the protest ground, Hon. Oladeni Yusuf stated that he is fully in support of the EndSARS campaign. He maintained that 70 percent of SARS activities are bad.
“We need to take our time and talk with the law enforcement agencies and the judicial side of the country to help us reform the laws and principles guiding the Federal SARS.
“We need to look for a way to either eradicate SARS or reform it and call it another name with principles and change how they operate,” he added.
Speaking further, the lawmaker explained that the decision of the protesters not to allow him to address them was understandable, noting that in a democratic society “they are doing the right thing. It is a means of explaining their side of the issue.
“They are trying to express their mind. There is no other way they can do it other than the way they are currently doing it.”
Speaking on why he is fully in support of the EndSARS campaign, the lawmaker said, “We can either scrap the SARS, end the SARS or we reform.
“Let’s just face the reality that the damages that these people cause is more than the benefit. If we look at the beneficial side of it too, they have done 30 percent of it too and the 70 percent is that of their bad side.
“So I think it is enough to either scrap or reform them and come up with another idea. That was why I said we need to work with the judicial arm of government.”
“Then as lawmakers, we will definitely do our own. I could remember my speech three or four days ago that once we resume in the house of Assembly, I will personally raise a motion on how the SARS has been brutalizing the youth to contribute my quota,” he added.
Abdul Rahman is a student journalist based in Ibadan. This report was funded by the Gatefield Impact Initiative.
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