How Nigerian Prince stereotypes led to a police brutality crisis
The first time someone pointed a gun at Ebube Okechukwu, a marketing specialist in Nigeria, it was in July 2018, when a plain-clothed officer from Nigeria’s Special Anti Robbery Squad, or SARS, accused him of being an online scammer. “It was a Sunday and I was walking out of church, with my parents not so far behind, when I was stopped by a plain-clothed SARS police officer,” he says.
Okechukwu was unsure whether he was being kidnapped or getting arrested, given that the man accosting him, a pistol in his hand, gave no name, nor presented any ID. Okechukwu was accused on the spot of being a “Yahoo Boy” – a Nigerian informal term for an online scammer – and his phone was searched with no warrant. “They searched my phone and saw personal messages with my boss, who happens to be a popular wealthy man in Nigeria, and asked what my relationship with him was and I told them I worked for him. Only then did they let me go”.
The encounter left a mark on Okechukwu. Once home, he sent out a tweet calling for an end to SARS. He wasn’t the only one: over the next few weeks, and then months, indignation about SARS grew like a tidal wave, and the hashtag kept mushrooming. By October 9, 2020, according to an analysis by Nigerian news website Neusroom, #EndSARS would be seen more than seven billion times, with an estimated 2.2 million tweets from about 1.8 million Twitter users. More importantly, Nigerians’ outrage at SARS’s actions had by then spilled out of the internet and onto the streets, quickly gathering momentum and kicking off a mass protest movement with global resonance.
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