Police brutality in Africa has been a longstanding issue that must be addressed through dedicated global action, says Abimbola Aladejare, a leading women’s rights activist in Nigeria.
“Youth are tired of failed governance,” said Abimbola, Founder and Director of The New Generation Girls & Women Development Initiative (NIGAWD), which is a knowledge partner of AWRA.
“Many cases of police brutality have been swept under the rug by police and higher authorities. Young people are currently still being victimized by police.”
That’s why addressing police brutality and law enforcement reforms should be at the top of the list when it comes to global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), she added. But, until that happens, young people must be well-educated of their rights in case of police violence.
“African girls and youth should learn and know their fundamental human rights so as to identify and reject police harassment and brutality,” said Abimbola. Most recently, the issue came under focus in October, when mass protests against police violence turned into anti-government demonstrations in Africa’s most populous country.
Led by youth and women, tens of thousands of Nigerians mobilized through social media calling for demonstrations and demanding the abolition of the federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), which has been long accused of torture, violence, and extrajudicial killings. At the time, the hashtag #EndSARS was seen trending on social media around the world for several days.
The SARS police unit was initially set up decades ago in efforts to reduce violent crime and kidnappings in Nigeria. Later, however, SARS became known for the ill-treatment of the public, particularly young people.
On October 22, Human Rights Watch joined forty other civil society groups to call for an end to the use of excessive force against protesters in Lagos and across Nigeria. HRW also called for urgent review and implementation of police and security reforms, as well as compensation to survivors of police brutality.
After the latest violent crackdown on #EndSARS protestors, Abimbola advises youth, particularly people of color, to remain connected to human rights lawyers or organizations that they can reach in case of harassment or brutality.
She says that police violence in Nigeria has become so threatening that young people should remain vigilant and update their loved ones about their whereabouts. This includes avoiding late night outings alone.
Abimbola, now 33-years-old, has had her own experiences with police brutality on a few frightening occasions, once as a teenager and once as an adult. Both occasions, she says, were “painful and disturbing.”
When she was just a teenager, Abimbola recalls being sexually harassed by a police officer as she was leaving school. That day, Abimbola who was a frightened and confused child, tried to ignore the officer’s sexual harassment – this angered him even further. In broad daylight, he violently grabbed her by the arm and dragged her away to the police station where he detained her for several hours.
“I wanted to call my parents as I was being unlawfully detained as a child, I even told him to take me back to my school,” she said. “I insisted on calling my parents and I prevailed, but I was told to sit on the floor until my dad came and I was released; it was such a painful experience.”
In 2016, Abimbola witnessed a fellow woman rights activist kicked, verbally harassed, and beaten to the ground simply because a police officer that stopped their vehicle thought that she was speaking back to him.
With the latest lockdown measures enacted to curb the spread of Coronavirus, universities and many schools in Nigeria have been closed for several months. Adding to socioeconomic pressures, Nigeria’s inflation rate jumped to 14.23 percent. Now, many young, talented Nigerians want to leave the country due to poor governance.
“Police brutality is a major problem affecting young people in Africa – young women included – this is fueled by bad governance at all levels of government,” said Abimbola.
However, she believes that Nigerians and dedicated government officials looking to make positive impact can work together to create sustainable change for future generations.
“As young people demand and get the change they deserve, trust is crucial. If united, young people can create tremendous change,” she added.