Report by Adam Harmsworth, Coventry Socialist Party –
On Sunday I joined hundreds of mostly black youth gathering outside the Transport Museum to protest against the Special Anti-Robbery Squad [SARS] in Nigeria and its terrible record of brutality.
Nigeria has been rocked by weeks of mass protests against SARS, a unit of the police which is accused of decades of gang-style extortion, robbery, torture, and murder. After mounting pressure sparked by video recordings of murder by SARS officers being sent across social media, the Buhari government decided to disband SARS. However, the former SARS officers remained in the police. Some were moved into a newly-formed group of Special Weapons And Tactics [SWAT], which is considered to be just SARS reinvented. There is no justice for the victims, no serious change in the police, and vicious state repression continues. Amnesty International estimated that just last weekend 10 people were murdered in anti-SARS protests!
Nigerians and their friends and relatives in the UK have begun calling solidarity protests. The event in Coventry was organised by the Nigerian Societies at Coventry and Warwick Universities. It began with a short march around Trinity Street and brief rally in Broadgate before heading back to the museum where the main protest took place. We marched with chants like “End SARS!” and slogans in regional languages like the Yoruba phrase “Soro Soke Werey”; I was told the polite translation is a rallying cry to “Speak up, idiot!”.
National identity and unity was at the absolute core of this protest. It began with a prayer and the Nigerian national anthem, which was sung several times in the two hour event. The first speaker emphasised how Nigerians were united in struggle even though “we are from different camps, we are from different religions”.
“The dream of our past generations is going to be a reality!”
Speakers from the Nigerian community in Coventry are very confident in the potential for serious change in Nigeria. Phrases like “system change” and a “new Nigeria” were repeated. One speaker called for Nigeria to “overhaul the constitution to allow all to thrive”, another said “the dream of our past generations is going to be a reality” referring to the 60th anniversary of Nigerian independence where the release from colonialism brought hopes of a better life.
The next round of speakers were far more solemn. Personal accounts from victims of police brutality and their friends and relatives left the protest in silence. One described being beaten, thrown into a river and being left to die. That level of violence is endemic throughout the Nigerian police, as a report from the Democratic Socialist Movement – the section of the Committee for a Workers International in Nigeria – showed clearly. Just a few days ago they joined a peaceful #EndSARS protest in Alausa district in Lagos, which was met by state-sponsored thugs armed with machetes who injured six protesters. The Coventry protest had a reading of the names of victims followed by a call of “End SARS!” for each.
The organisers were pleased to have support from Socialist Party members, especially as a group with a political connection to the country through our international. I brought copies of the Youth Rights Campaign leaflet which calls for a 48 hour general strike with mass protests. As I spoke with fellow protesters I explained how we see the link between police brutality and capitalism. We recognise the police as a tool of the state to attack the working class, so that the capitalist class can continue to suppress wages and work conditions and harm the environment and communities to increase profit.
A key example is the cruel polluting of the Niger Delta, where Shell has spilled millions of litres of oil into the water. This has poisoned many local people and ruined livelihoods made from fishing and farming, yet they have not had justice and Shell continues to make gigantic profits in the country. Additionally, these massive profits from multinationals contrast with 102 million Nigerians in extreme poverty.
This is possible because the police including SARS have attacked protests and tried to strike fear into the community and prevent the mass uprisings necessary to make fundamental change.
To end the scourge of police brutality, the police must be run by the working class majority itself. Community and workers’ organisations must have control of police budgets, weapons, priorities, the power to remove officers and even abolish the police if they wish. To achieve that, the working class itself must take democratic control of the state and of the commanding heights of the economy currently held by a capitalist class that sponsors state brutality.
The YRC leaflet calls on working class organisations like the trade unions to join and spread the protests. It concludes this struggle can lead to “an equitable, safe and democratic socialist society where everyone, old or young, can live and go about their daily legitimate activities without fear of molestation, illegal arrest and detention, extortion and extrajudicial killing.”