Yvonne Orji, Wale, Sharon Chuter and More on #EndSARS

As told to Alison S. Cohn, Ariana Marsh
·8-min read
Photo credit: Design by Ingrid Frahm
Photo credit: Design by Ingrid Frahm

From Harper's BAZAAR

For the past few weeks, tens of thousands of Nigerians have taken to the streets to protest police brutality, specifically calling for the disbanding of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, or SARS. Founded in 1992 in response to a surge in violent crime, the police unit devolved into a brutal criminal enterprise itself, now known for its long record of unlawful abuses including rape, extortion, and unwarranted detainment and arrest.

For years, the Nigerian Police Force has promised the immediate dissolution of SARS to no avail. In early October, the #EndSARS movement was revitalized following more revelations of misconduct, but the peaceful demonstrations—led largely by young people—were met with deadly repressions by the police. Below, nine Nigerian and Nigerian-American creatives reveal what is most important to know about the movement and what we can do to help support it.

Yvonne Orji, actress and comedian

Photo credit: Courtesy of Yvonne Orji
Photo credit: Courtesy of Yvonne Orji

What do you want people to know most about the protests? I think what they should know is why: It’s not just that SARS as a unit is causing these issues, you’ve got to know the root of why they are doing that, right? You have police officers who have power, but they also don’t have any resources. It’s not like being a police officer here in America, where you have a pension and you have a retirement plan. In Nigeria, these police officers don’t have tons of opportunities and so they will target people who they think are doing better. I think if more Nigerians had access to the basics—health care, education, the ability to be upwardly mobile—a lot of the things that you see in the country wouldn’t happen.

Whose voices do you want to uplift or honor? The young people are literally putting themselves in harm’s way. They are doing what many who have led revolutions before them have done, and it is not easy. It is not easy to show up day in and day out. It is not easy to not know if your voice was heard, but to demand that it be heard. It is not easy to take a bullet and see your friends just in front of you take bullets, just all in the name of justice and basic human rights.

Sharon Chuter, founder of Uoma Beauty and the Pull Up or Shut Up campaign

Photo credit: Courtesy of Sharon Chuter
Photo credit: Courtesy of Sharon Chuter

Who have you been reading or listening to about this? I’m Nigerian, so I get information from home. A lot of the news outlets are not even carrying it, let’s face it, right? This is a very complex situation, because the Nigerian government officials are liars. I mean, last Tuesday, I’m not sure if you’re aware of the Lekki Toll Gate massacre? That happened meters away from my house. And the president is claiming that it didn’t happen. You know, the head of the army said that all the videos on social media were quote unquote Photoshopped. These are old men who don’t understand new tools: Somebody was on IG Live and captured it. Like, you cannot doctor Instagram Live. We watched it as it happened.

What are some of the ways you’ve been able to help? I helped put together a coalition of Nigerians abroad—Uzo Aduba, Ugo Mozie, Cynthia Erivo, Yvonne Orji, Runtown, Jidenna, Opal Tometi from Black Lives Matter—to make a PSA video to help amplify the message of protesters. Because as we have seen, the international community has been extremely quiet. We need to continue to spread awareness, because it puts pressure on the international community to act. I think people should just continue talking about it. Write to Amnesty International. Write to the U.N. Security Council—they should be doing something.

Wale, rapper

Photo credit: J Visuals
Photo credit: J Visuals

What are some of the ways you’ve been able to help? Spreading awareness and using your platform to amplify the voice of Nigerian youth is one of a lot of things we all can do. They need to feel the love. They need to know the world is watching and that we care.

Whose voices do you want to uplift or honor? The people of Nigeria. The youths of Nigeria. They need to be heard loud and clear, more than ever.

Omah Lay, singer-songwriter

Photo credit: Courtesy of Key Qaad
Photo credit: Courtesy of Key Qaad

What do you want people to know most about the protests? People need to know these protests are purely about the people, with no political undertone whatsoever. Police harass, extort, beat, and kill us just for being young and trendy, with no consequences. This has gone on long enough, and we are saying enough is enough and demanding government action.

Whose voices do you want to uplift or honor? We’ve had lots of individuals and organizations come out to support the movement in different ways, but I’ve been really moved by the dedication of Feminist Coalition, FK Abudu, Aisha Yesufu, Falz, Mr Macaroni. They’ve all been very inspiring figures alongside the millions of Nigerian youths risking their lives every day to speak up.

Lisa Folawiyo, designer

Photo credit: Courtesy of Lisa Folawiyo
Photo credit: Courtesy of Lisa Folawiyo

What do you want people to know most about the protests? The #EndSARS protests, spearheaded by the youth of our nation, was aimed at disbanding SARS, an arm of the Nigerian Police Force. The dissolution of this unit, which has since been achieved, is only part of the aim of the protest. On the whole, the movement is a push for the protection of our human rights as Nigerians, ensuring the safety of all lives. It’s about ending all forms of police brutality, a need for police reform, and a restructuring of the entire government. In other words, it’s a much-needed call for safe and better lives for all, equality, justice, new leadership, and good governance.

Whose voices do you want to uplift or honor? The voices of our heroes who sadly lost their lives during the protests and those killed by SARS. The formidable youths who have stood up to the government of Nigeria, pushing the agenda of a dissatisfied citizenry, renewing our hope and giving us a voice! The women who have been at the forefront of the movement and made their voices heard! Aisha Yesufu, DJ Switch, Feminist Coalition to name a few.

Tonia Nneji, Artist

Photo credit: Femi Akfusola
Photo credit: Femi Akfusola

What are some of the ways youve been able to help? I participated in the demonstrations, donated to the cause (cash and food), and raised awareness on social media.

Whose voices do you want to uplift or honor? I’d like to honor the Feminist Coalition, an NGO. They organized the protests, sourced for funds, and were transparent with dispersing the funds. And also the artists, Falz and Runtown, for the idea to protest and for taking it to the streets.

Zainab Ashadu, designer of accessories label Zashadu

Photo credit: Courtesy of Zainab Ashadu
Photo credit: Courtesy of Zainab Ashadu

What do you want people to know most about the protests? The End SARS protests are the birth of a new Nigeria. The veil has been lifted; through our shared experiences of a failed nation, we have discovered our voice and know how to use it. It has also allowed the deep love and reverence we have for one another emerge and further unite us. As a mother of a young child, I am so grateful to be alive at this time.

What are some of the ways you’ve been able to help? I’ve lent my voice to the movement by raising awareness via social media, joining in the physical protests, as well as making donations. I have also been energetically anchoring in templates for a “New Earth,” the bigger movement at play all around the world.

Reni Folawiyo, owner of Lagos boutique ALÁRA

Photo credit: Courtesy of Reni Folawiyo
Photo credit: Courtesy of Reni Folawiyo

Who have you been reading or listening to about this? I am listening to the experiences of young people around me, members of our staff, many creatives we represent, the ordinary people going about their daily errands—have all had firsthand horrible experiences with SARS.

Whose voices do you want to uplift or honor? I want to honor the brave victims of the Lekki massacre. We will never let their sacrifice be in vain. I uplift the brave women who have been at the forefront of this movement. Voices like the Feminist Coalition, DJ Switch, the volunteers at the End SARS Response. The countless young men and women who show up every day to demand a better Nigeria.

Daniel Owoseni Ajala, founder of Leap of Dance Academy

Photo credit: Wilson Owunka
Photo credit: Wilson Owunka

Who have you been reading or listening to about this? BBC Africa journalist Grace Epku and photographer Stephan Tayo have been posting a lot, as well as the whole dance community here coming together and collectively speaking out about this.

Whose voices do you want to uplift or honor? The youths who have tragically lost their lives for this cause. We need a better Nigeria, one devoid of corruptions and violence. We need to protect the next generation of Nigerians, and our kids are the future.

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