Nigeria: #EndSARS - Why Sports Must Take a Stand

19 October 2020
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From Lagos to Port Harcourt, Benin to Abuja, Kaduna to Owerri, the protests across the nation is gradually building into a movement of sorts as the youths are throwing themselves into it totis viribus. Everyone is joining to condemn the menace of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) in particular and police brutality as a whole. Their action has been a broth long in the brew. Men of this special police squad have lived as an authority to themselves totally disregarding the constitution and using their assault weapons as a torture instrument on the populace, especially the youths.

These young Nigerians have been arrested and incarcerated for being technology savvy, some for being financially successful, some for having a laptop, an iPhone or just a backpack. There have been reports that outward appearance too is a cause for arrest. A dreadlocked hair or torn jeans makes you a suspect for these dirty looking non-uniformed gun-wielding police squad. Once arrested, most times whisked away in a shabby commercial bus or unmarked vehicle, these thug-like police take you to unknown destinations. Torture you, take all your money and sometimes force you to ATMs to withdraw cash for them, your cash. All these if you are lucky, because the police squad have been accused of extra-judicial murder and the victims are most times never found again or sometimes reported as armed robbers. This police squad had become so dreaded that people actually preferred to run into robbers than them. They became more deadly than the virus in which they shared the same name.

The spontaneity and spread of the demonstrations and civil unrest have surprised many, nonetheless, the government who seem incapable of handling this situation. Hired thugs have been deployed to fight these young brave men and women but that has not dampened their enthusiasm. In some cases paid Pro-SARS demonstrators have tried to make these protests a political or ethnic issue without success. There have been some who are even saying it's a religious and sectional cause. All these divisional tricks politicians have used for years to divide and rule us. But it seems that these tactics are not working now as the crowd numbers, scope and demands grow with each passing day. And most impressively, apart from isolated cases, the protests have been largely peaceful.

The voices to end the SARS brutality have come from far and wide. The majority have been from the entertainment industry. American musicians Big Sean and Trey Songz have been very vocal condemning SARS and calling for the end of police brutality in Nigeria. Canadian rapper, Drake took to his Instagram stories where he re-shared a post from Grace Ladoja calling for Nigerians in the UK to join an #EndSARS protest at the Nigeria High Commission in London. Celebrities in South Africa are not left out as rapper, Nasty C slammed the police for the crimes they have committed in the country. American popular radio personality, Kojo Ebro advised the Nigerian government to fix the menace created by men of the special police unit, SARS.

At home it has been the same demography. The entertainment industry has thrown its weight behind the #EndSARS movement physically, online and with funds. Davido and Wizkid have been present at protests in Abuja and London while Tiwa Savage, Falz, Kate Henshaw, Olamide, Kaffy, Seyi Law, Ycee, Lil Kesh, Adekunle Gold have all been very prominent in the demonstrations in Lagos.

However, it is sad that Nigerian sportsmen and women have been silent in the midst of all these condemnation. For a sector that boasts of over 90 per cent of its participants as youth, the sports industry have been timidly quiet. Icons like Nwankwo Kanu, Austin Jay Jay Okocha, Aruna Quadri, Mary Onyali, Falilat Ogunkoya, Daniel Igali, Henry Amike, Yusuf Alli, Daniel Amokachi, Segun Odegbami, Victor Moses, Blessing Okagbare, Chika Chukwumerije, Funke Oshonaike and a host of others have not come out vocally at all or enough. It is so sad given the history sportsmen and women have had over the years with the police.

Nigerian quarter miler Dele Udo was about to hit the limelight before he was "mowed down" by a trigger-happy policeman at Ojuelegba, Lagos, as he was training for IAAF event one early morning in 1981. He was a collegiate champion at the University of Missouri in the 1970s and competed in the men's 400 metres at the 1980 Summer Olympics. Dele Udo and his mates (Sunday Uti, Hope Ezeigbo and Felix Imadiyi) reached only the semifinals of the Moscow Olympics in 1980. The police shot and killed him and tried to frame him as an armed robber all because of a five Naira bribe.

A Police officer attached to the Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS) in Ogun State Command killed Remo Stars FC Assistant Captain Tiyamiyu Kazeem earlier this year. The SARS officers flagged the car conveying the players and then labelled Tiyamiyu a "Yahoo Boy" - a term used locally to describe an internet fraudster. The cops then insisted on arresting the players and taking them to their station despite both men having shown their ID cards which identified them as Remo Stars Football Club players. They then took them to an unknown destination where Tiyamiyu was killed. His teammate, Sanni Abubakar, who was also arrested escaped. The club described Tiyamiyu "as a humble and reliable defender for Remo Stars FC in the 2019/2020 Nigeria National League (NNL)."

The stories are numerous. Sportsmen have been victims of these police brutality. They must join the musicians, actors and entertainers and push these social demands up. Rather than think that they are discommoding us, we must lend our voices and muscles to the struggle and protest. We have the influence. We have been used for political rallies and to promote products and legitimate governments. It is now time to use our influence for social justice and become more relevant in the New Nigeria. Some international sports men are already speaking, Mesut Ozil, Lebron James and a few others have tweeted against SARS, why are Nigerian Sportsmen, the core of the active youths, silent?

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