Black Lives Do Not Matter Here: Part I

The parallels between Police Brutality in Nigeria and the United States

The murder and pillage of black bodies are not recent phenomena; they are as old as the invention of the ‘Black race’ itself. Through the combined forces of slavery, colonization, and neo-colonialism, violence in all its forms has been inflicted upon the black body for centuries.

Today, the State continues to be the lead perpetrator of violence against black people. This is as true for Nigeria, as it is for the United States and many other countries.

A protester holds up poster signs with the names of victims of SARS.

As I write this, the Nigerian government in the last couple of days has unleashed the full force of the state on young Nigerians protesting police brutality. In what has become known as the Lekki Massacre, the Nigerian Army reportedly opened fire and shot dead anti-police brutality protesters in Lagos on 20.10.2020. This is similar to the violence unleashed by the US police on protesters this summer following the killing of George Floyd.

The brutality of the state is premised on a set of ideologies forged by racism, elitism, classism, and many other -isms — Let me explain…

The systematic unleashing of violence upon black bodies transcends geography; it is sponsored by western imperialist ideologies, rooted for the most part in racism, elitism, and oppression. These ideologies underpin how our economies are run, our development strategies, how we
tackle crime, and even how we treat each other as black people.

There is an unfortunate connection between the killing of Ayomide Taiwo, Tiyamu Kazeem, Onovo Matthew, Kolade Johnson, and several other Nigerian youths in the streets by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, more popularly known as SARS, and the recent murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by police officers in the US.

While COVID-19 wreaked havoc around the globe, Black people have dealt with another simultaneous and rather longstanding pandemic: state-sanctioned violence against black bodies. In America, the coronavirus has disproportionally impacted black communities- largely due to the failure of the state to protect them, which in itself constitutes structural violence. All the while, the police have been repeatedly pardoned for killing Black men and women in the streets, at their jobs and even in their homes.

Meanwhile, in Nigeria, youth have been publicly tortured, intimidated, and executed in cities like Lagos, Ikeja, and Abuja. They have been accused of armed robbery or for simply looking like “yahoo boys” [Yahoo boy is an alias for internet scammers]. The acts of violence against young people in Nigeria have been carried out by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) — the
notorious and “rogue” unit of the Nigerian Police Force. The police unit, which was founded in 1992 as a special branch to combat crime, has since 2012 gained notoriety for its extortion, rape, extrajudicial killings, and terrorizing of young Nigerians. Hence, the call for its disbandment.

Nigerian youth are all too familiar with the wrongs of SARS but the recent surfacing of police brutality videos online has renewed calls for its disbandment. The hashtag #EndSARS has garnered global attention within the last couple of weeks which has culminated in widespread protests across cities in Nigeria, London, and New York City. These protests assert one truth; the struggle of black young women and men for their right to life.

Blood Stained Nigerian Flag Hoisted Up by Protester. Photograph: Akintunde Akinleye/EPA

Within the same timeline, America was collectively witnessing police aggression towards Black people, typified by the cruel murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, among many others. Both events sparked global protests from Los Angeles to London, through Accra to Tokyo. The demands of the protesters are simple: prosecute murderous cops, bring justice for the murdered, and #DefundThePolice.

The ‘Defund the Police’ campaign, even though largely contentious, is a prudent and rather simple demand. For many who still do not understand what defunding the police means, the Brookings Institute explains defunding the police as:

“reallocating or redirecting funding away from the police department to other government agencies funded by the local municipality. That’s it. It’s that simple. Defund does not mean abolish policing.

Defunding the police means, among other things, shifting funding from the police to social services, investing in education, and infrastructure and tackling deprivation head-on.

The common thread between End SARS and Defund the Police is the demand for an end to the criminalization of poverty and investments towards eliminating some of the social and systemic barriers to opportunity and prosperity.

This requires a shift in ideologies and mental models.

It is noteworthy to reiterate that, policing is disproportionately concentrated in economically marginalized neighborhoods and communities which in many cases also happen to be predominantly black and brown spaces.

How Poverty Connects to Police Brutality
Poverty, the problematization, and criminalization of the poor by the state lays at the crux of police brutality, whether it is happening in Nigeria, the United States, Ghana, Brazil, or South Africa. The killing of innocent Black men and women across the world is predicated on the endemic poverty within predominantly black spaces.

Poverty is the most brutal form of violence.

The poverty [marginalization and underdevelopment] that has become almost idiosyncratic of the majority of Black people across the world, from Lagos to Baltimore is a byproduct of the exploitative nature of the imperialist-capitalist world order.

Nigeria
A staggering forty percent (40%) of Nigerians are living in poverty despite being the top exporter of oil in Africa. In Nigeria today, every one in two young people is either unemployed or underemployed. For a country whose youthful population is burgeoning, this is disturbing. Nigeria is the most populous and one of the richest countries in Africa yet currently, the youth
unemployment rate stands at over 30%. This figure has been skyrocketing since 2015.

Source: Quartz with data from Nigeria Bureau of Statistics

The problems of poverty and deprivation in Nigeria are interlinked to the poverty and deprivation in Ghana, South Africa, Uganda, or the United States. It is a direct result of the failure to steer these resource-rich countries onto a path of shared prosperity. The economic marginalization in Africa, Brazil, or the United States is connected to the centuries of exploitation by the Global
North.

The manifestation of poverty in high infant mortality rates in the predominantly black neighborhoods in the eastside of Cleveland, Ohio, cannot be argued to be any different from high malaria and diarrhea mortality rates in Ajegunle, Lagos-Nigeria.

Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius many centuries ago, recognized a fundamental reality — “poverty is the mother of crime.” Many studies have shown this to be true. Yet, the response to crime has seldom included the eradication of poverty. Rather, the response has overwhelmingly been the problematization of poverty, the over-policing of poor spaces, the militarization of police, and the use of violence and harsh sentences as a crime deterrent. This has been the response of the state towards its failure to create geographies of opportunity within Black spaces, whether, unintentional or by design.

The tough on crime stance is premised on elite fear.

The increased policing of poor spaces, the militarization of law enforcement, is the easy approach, it is the lazy approach. It is the approach of governments that have failed in the pursuit of creating prosperous, inclusive societies.

Matter of fact, law enforcement exists to a large extent to preserve the status quo which benefits a select few, the elite. So, when people say #DeFundThePolice, for instance, I cannot argue against that. But there is more to protest against because police brutality by itself is a brutal and often fatal symptom of deeper problems.

My argument here is simple: A luta Continua…

The demand for an end to police brutality, especially, as it pertains to Black Lives, must at all times be accompanied by an even more rigorous campaign to eradicate poverty within Black communities and the stamping out of systemic oppression. To end police brutality, we must work to end poverty among other things.

The ongoing protest in Nigeria must continue. Beyond the current list of demands, it must pivot to demand more. The following are a few thoughts on the way forward:

1. The Lekki Massacre must be investigated by an international independent body and perpetrators must be prosecuted

2. The protestors must demand the prosecution of known corrupt public officials of which there is a tall list

3. There must be a demand for greater accountability around how oil proceeds and other state resources are managed and deployed

4. There must be a demand for an increase in government expenditure toward social services and building an efficient and effective social safety net for citizens and access to equal opportunity. This is best captured in the aspirations and vision of the inspirational Nigerian Activist, Aisha Yesufu —

“We want Nigerian Society where the child of nobody can become a somebody without knowing anybody”

5. We need a coordinated and collective global campaign by the black diaspora against police brutality against marginalized black communities. This campaign must transcend geography, religion, socio-economic status, geopolitics, creed, national identity, etc.

In the bleakness of all that is happening, there is a flicker of hope. Perhaps, the rise in ‘Critical Black Consciousness’ and demand for equity and justice across the Globe will precipitate a new global struggle for the liberation of Black folk… Until then, by all means, let the protests continue…

And before all this, let us #ENDSARSNOW, #DEFUNDTHEPOLICE, and remember that #BLACKLIVESSTILLMATTER ✊🏿

And may the Ancestors receive the brave Souls of the Martyrs in this struggle for the soul of Nigeria.

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