“The worst moment of my life”: Sportspersons raise their voices against police brutality in Nigeria amid #EndSARS protest

Merit Jay – AIPS Young Reporter – Nigeria

PORT HARCOURT, October 22, 2020 – “My son was killed with [his] glory.”

Those were the words of a heartbroken mother, to whom the death of her son dealt a devastating blow.

Tiyamiyu Kazeem, fondly referred to as “Kaka”, was Europe bound, with an imminent trial in Sweden on the cards for the promising 25-year-old defender and vice-captain of Remo Stars Football Club of Ogun State, Nigeria. But that dream never took off.

According to an eyewitness report, on Saturday, February 22, 2020, Kazeem, was said to be in his father’s SUV, on his way home from his manager’s residence when officers of Nigeria’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) arrested him on suspicion of being a “Yahoo Boy” (internet fraudster) despite identifying himself as a football player with Remo Stars FC by presenting his ID card. Questions arose when the player sensed something suspicious. Instead of heading to the nearest police station in Sagamu, Ogun State, they were rather headed for the Sagamu-Abeokuta Expressway. According to the eyewitness, disagreements ensued and “Kaka” was pushed out of the police vehicle by one of the police officers and was unfortunately hit by an oncoming vehicle. He died on the spot. An irreparable loss to family, club, community, nation, football and sports at large.

But Kazeem is just one of many Nigerians that have been subject to endless degrees of police brutality, harassment, assault, extortion, torture, and even extrajudicial murder.

Former Vice-captain of Remo Stars FC, Tiyamiyu Kazeem aka Kaka was killed by the Nigeria Police

 

POLICE BRUTALITY IN NIGERIA

The Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) is a unit of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF), which, for many years, have been widely accused of and criticized for extreme levels of torture, illegal arrests, assaults, extortion, gross human rights violations, and extrajudicial murder.

As in the case of Kazeem, most cases of police brutality in Nigeria begin with profiling. From physical appearances, to possession of smart devices and cars, young Nigerians (including stakeholders in the sports industry) are constantly at risk of being victims.

“He was about going back to his duty post but he then saw my iPhone which was switched off. He came back to pick it [up] and said ‘I have searched and confirmed that you are a footballer but I am suspecting something; that you are a G-guy, a Yahoo boy (internet fraudster)’,” Stephen Chukwude, who had just won the 2018/2019 Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) title with Enyimba FC in July 2019, recounts his experience with officers of the Nigeria police on his way to Enugu State for medical treatment, in an interview with aclsports.com, published on August 27, 2019.

In his story he tells how terrified he felt, when he was taken to an unknown location where he saw other victims, and was asked to pay a sum for his release. After much disagreement, he was let go after handing the policemen a thousand naira note, about €2 (minutes earlier, one other victim agreed to pay as much as one hundred and fifty thousand naira, about €332).

A week later, on his way back to the Enyimba FC camp in Aba, Abia State, Chukwude was once again met with similar fate, albeit, this time in more humiliating fashion.

“We were stopped by the police, they laid us down on the tarred road, under the scorching sun, and then they [the police] began whipping us. The policemen accused us of having a hand in the murder of their colleague.”

Apparently, some days before this incident, while Chukwude was receiving treatment in Enugu State, a member of the Nigeria police force was allegedly killed in Aba, Abia State. All attempts by Chukwude and his friend to explain their innocence, ignorance, and to prove their identity, ended in futility.

“We tried to explain to the policemen, that we were just returning from Enugu, hence we had no hand in the murder of their colleague. I showed them my ID card to prove that I was a football player with Enyimba FC, but they said [that] they didn’t care. Then they set out to shave off my friend’s hair, just because it was braided. [For minutes] we pleaded with them not to shave his hair, while maintaining our innocence. Then they demanded that we pay a sum of ten thousand naira (about €22).”

The incident described above, is a common example of the extortion suffered by many Nigerians, especially sportspersons (because of their appearance), who embark on interstate travels within Nigeria. Basically, [almost] everyone who is halted by the police at their numerous interstate checkpoints.

“I explained to them that I was just returning from physiotherapy treatment and as a result, I had no such money with me. They police officers insisted that we weren’t ready to leave. After much talk, we agreed to pay a sum of five thousand naira (about €11). Then they let us leave.”

“To date, it remains the worst moment of my life.”

“After both incidents, I stopped driving and I also stopped travelling interstate, due to fears of falling victim to police injustices again.”

Despite his ordeals, Chukwude is one of few young Nigerians who are fortunate enough to [twice] escape an encounter with the Nigeria police, only being harassed, intimidated, assaulted and extorted financially.

THE #EndSARS PROTEST

On October 3, 2020, a young Nigerian man Joshua Ambrose was allegedly thrown out of a moving vehicle by members of the SARS unit in Ughelli, Delta State, Nigeria.

Days later, protests broke nationwide. Starting at various locations in Lagos, Abuja, and Delta States, many young Nigerians including popular celebrities and sportspersons have now lent their voices by joining various protests in major cities across the country.

A demonstration that started off locally as an expression of outrage against police brutality and a demand for the safety of lives and better policing, has now gathered international attention. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, Hollywood celebrities; Ice Cube, Diddy, John Boyega, Kanye West, Chance The Rapper, Rihanna, Trey Songz, Kirk Franklin, Travis Greene, sports personalities; Mesüt Özil, Victor Osimhen, John Ogu, Simy Nwankwo, Ahmed Musa, Rio Ferdinand, Asisat Oshoala, Blessing Okagbare, Alex Iwobi, Anthony Joshua, Tammy Abraham and Marcus Rashford (MBE) amongst others, have all shown their support for the #EndSARS #EndPoliceBrutality protests in Nigeria.

Nigerians abroad haven’t been left out either, having held various protests in London, Paris, Egypt, USA, Canada, Germany and many other locations worldwide.

“Even before I left the shores of Nigeria, I witnessed firsthand, [the] maltreatment of a friend at the hands of the Nigeria Police.” – recalls Ojora Babatunde who is a UEFA accredited sports journalist, and part of the #EndSARS #EndPoliceBrutality protests in Paris.

According to Babatunde, “I decided to join the protest because I believe this is the time for change.” A line of thought that now clearly resonates with the majority of the Nigerian people.

In a report published earlier this year, Amnesty International documented at least 82 cases of torture, ill treatment and extra-judicial execution by SARS between January 2017 and May 2020, mostly towards men between 18 and 35 years old from low-income backgrounds and vulnerable groups.

Sadly, this is the daily reality of the Nigerian youth. No one knows who the next victim of police injustice will be.

Now with Wiki Tourists FC in Bauchi, Bauchi State, Nigeria, Stephen Chukwude believes this is the time to end the continued harassment, extortion, and brutality suffered by the Nigerian youth at the hands of the Nigeria police.

“If you haven’t had an ugly encounter with the Nigeria police, you won’t get the clear picture. How can you tag someone a fraudster just because that person drives a car and owns an iPhone? My friends are also actively part of the #EndSARS #EndPoliceBrutality protests, not necessarily because they’ve had bad experiences with the police, but because of what I suffered at the hands of policemen.”

“The Nigeria police are part of my prayers every morning. Every day, I pray to never have an encounter with the Nigeria police,” Stephen Chukwude.

“THE NIGERIAN POLICE DID NOT ALLOW HIM TO BE GREAT.”Simon Kolawole

One of the earliest cases of police brutality against sportspersons on record was the 1981 murder of Ndubuisi “Dele” Udo.

Udo was a collegiate champion at the University of Missouri, USA, and a three-time member of the NCAA All-American team. He held numerous Missouri, Big Eight and NCAA records. He was primed to be a superstar. Unfortunately, he was murdered before he could reach his peak. His only crime was coming home to Nigeria.

In the summer of 1981, Udo returned to Nigeria, to prepare for the 3rd IAAF World Cup scheduled for September 1981 in Rome, Italy. One evening, he along with his colleagues left camp to buy Suya (locally grilled meat) at the Ojuelegba axis of Lagos State, Nigeria, when they were stopped by officers of the Nigeria police. An argument followed and as briefly as this paragraph, Udo was shot dead by a policeman. The Nigerian dream was gone.

In 2016, Nigerian footballer and defender for Shooting Stars Sports Club of Ibadan, Oyo State, Joseph Izu, was shot at point blank range and killed by law enforcement agents in a raid at Okarki, Ahoada, Rivers State.

From Udo in 1981 to Kaka in 2020, nothing has changed.

Journalists are also in constant fear of police harassment as they go about their duties with basic working equipment such as smart phones, laptops, tablets and other smart devices. Most journalists have been subject to at least extortion by the police on more than one occasion.

As gruesome and inhumane as it may seem, Tiyamiyu Kazeem, Ndubuisi Udo, and Joseph Izu are just a few names on the long list of victims of extrajudicial killings and police brutality in Nigeria. Some others have been unlawfully locked away in police cells where they are either killed secretly by whatever means including starvation and torture, or sent to jail for a crime they did not commit. Like Udo, the Nigerian police did not allow them to be great.

THE BRUTALITY PERSISTS

Amid the continued demonstrations, members of the protests have continually been brutalized, arrested, and killed by the Nigeria police at various locations across the country, either side of official press releases by the Presidency and the Nigeria police on the disbandment of the notorious SARS unit and agreements to calls for police reforms.

In a video clip that has since gone viral on social media platform Twitter, the media officer of the Nigeria U15 Boys National team, Adepoju Tobi Samuel, who was part of the protests in the Alagbole area of Lagos State, was arrested and brutalized by the police despite providing valid identification.

“On our way to Akute, just meters away from the Ajuwon police station, we were blocked off by some police officers. Arguments arose between the police and the youth, and suddenly, the police opened fire,” Adepoju Tobi Samuel.

Tobi was in his vehicle with two (2) teenagers as they sought cover for the safety of their lives. The police chased off thousands of peaceful protesters while firing around seventy (70) rounds of live ammunition. Fortunately, Tobi and the teenagers were unhurt.

When the situation was a bit calm, I decided to move to a safer place. I planned on driving down to park my car at the police station. Just as I tried to move, we were accosted by over a dozen police officers. I tried to identify myself as a journalist. I presented them with both my AIPS (International Sports Press Association) and SWAN (Sports Writers Association of Nigeria) ID cards, but they quickly destroyed them both. While I was trying to argue with them on my constitutional rights, one of the errant officers shot at my car tyre from close range. I thought I – or either of the teenagers with me – was dead.”

Tobi was subsequently arrested along with the teenage boys. They were severely beaten and then locked up in a police cell at the Ajuwon police station. Hours later and with the intervention of colleagues and other reputable figures, Tobi and the teenage boys were released.

According to Amnesty International Nigeria, which has been monitoring developments across Nigeria since the #EndSars protest began on 8 October 2020.  “At least 56 people have died across the country since the protest began, with about 38 killed on Tuesday alone. Victims include protesters and thugs who were allegedly hired by the authorities to confront the protesters. In many cases the security forces had used excessive force in an attempt to control or stop the protests.”

On October 20, 2020 (two days ago), at the Lekki Toll Gate, Lekki, Lagos State, Nigeria, one of the major locations for the ongoing peaceful protests, security operatives allegedly of the Nigerian Army, fired live ammunition at peaceful protesters in what seemed like a coordinated assault on unarmed civilians, leaving many young Nigerians dead and many more injured.

In reaction, Manchester United FC forward Odion Ighalo, after his sides UEFA Champions League match against Paris Saint Germain last night, posted a video on Twitter, calling on international communities such as the United Nations (UN) to intervene and help stop the continued violence against peaceful protesters. In same light, another Nigerian footballer John Ogu John vented his displeasure via his Twitter handle, saying “The politicians should ask their children to go and represent Nigeria in the next @NGSuperEagles , @thenff upcoming games.”

5-FOR-5

The protesters are demanding for the implementation of 5 key things; (1) Immediate release of all arrested protesters. (2) Justice for all deceased victims of police brutality and appropriate compensation for their families. (3) Setting up an independent body to oversee the investigation & prosecution of all reports of police misconduct (within 10 days). (4) In line with the new Police Act, psychological evaluation & retraining (to be confirmed by an independent body) of all disbanded SARS officers before they can be redeployed. (5) Increase police salary so that they are adequately compensated for protecting lives and property of citizens.

Although the Nigerian government has agreed to these demands, there is very little or nothing to be seen by way of adequate implementation. Instead, law enforcement agents continue to commit crimes against the Nigerian people, with continued cases of extreme brutality and extrajudicial killings.

For this, many young Nigerians are skeptical, due to the government’s long history of failed promises on police reforms, and according to many protesters, this remains the reason why the demonstrations must continue.

When asked about a near-death experience involving his brother and members of the SARS unit, Nigerian sports journalist and OAP, Deinma Abaku said “When I tweet and make posts about #EndSARS #EndPoliceBrutality, people think that I’m just trying to join a trend. But no. It’s because I’ve experienced it firsthand. It’s crazy! They [SARS] are bloodsuckers.”

“Fundamental human rights like peace, security and freedom from police brutality are universal. The Nigerian government has an obligation to protect its citizens and deliver substantive police reform,” says Kaycee Madu, a Nigerian-born lawyer and minister of justice in a Canadian province, whose cousin Chrisantus Korie was killed by the Nigeria police in 2013.

No one knows for sure when the protests will end and also, if the government will – this time – follow through on their promises. But young Nigerians are hopeful. They say this is a fight they cannot afford to lose.

“We do not want to continue living in constant fear for our lives and safety, and for that of our future generations.”

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