On the 6th of February 2021, British novelist and playwright, Peter Kalu wrote our founding editor, Obinna Udenwe an engaging letter on the Black Lives Mater/End SARS protests that rocked both the UK and Nigeria in unimaginable ways. His response to Pete on the 7th of February 2021 has been published below. You can read Peter’s letter here.
Letter from Abakaliki, Nigeria: End SARS Protest
I am delighted and pleased to receive your letter, more so, because today is my birthday. I got a surprise birthday gift in the form of a party organised by my wife, Nwamaka and my friends. They had obviously planned this for days without my knowledge. The laughter, jokes and banter helped erase somewhat, the discomfort and sadness caused by the insurrection and invasion of the US Capitol building by angry white mob. Like you, I watched it on television all through the night of 6th January from my home in Abakaliki, Nigeria. I have also seen many images of the invasion on television and social media. They are not only chilling but saddening, to say the least.
First off, most of us in Nigeria and indeed the rest of Africa were born into this notion that America is heaven, an infallible big brother, run by leaders who are almost incorruptible to the point of sainthood. We tout AMERICAN democracy as the best. No day passes in Nigeria without people in various spheres making mention of American democracy and governance system as best and how Nigeria should endeavour to mirror it. Whenever a leader messes up here, which is quite often sadly, we are always quick to point out leaders in America in comparison. So you’d understand the shock seeing the American President egg his citizens on to the path of riot and insurrection. Though you’d be surprised to know that most Nigerians love Donald Trump as much as they love Jesus. There is this conspiracy theory making the rounds here that Trump was sent by God to stop the Christian faith from deviating from its established tenets and Joe Biden is painted as Anti-Christ. This is fuelled by numerous protestant religious institutions that litter the country. To argue otherwise is to invite all sorts of insults on oneself.
We live in terrible times, Pete. The riot and invasion of the Capitol Building, just as you said reminded you of the Black Lives Matter protest in the UK , reminds me, as well, of the End SARS protest that happened in 2020 here in Nigeria. While the riot in the US is a negative one that have been largely condemned by global leaders and indeed every right thinking individual across the world, the End SARS protest was welcomed and hailed across the world. It was the first time in recent memory that Nigerian youths rose in their numbers across the country to occupy the streets, protesting an end to the deadly police unit known as the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
I have also seen photos of the Black Lives Matter protests in the UK and I recall following the protest both in the UK and in the US on BBC and CNN back in 2020, especially after the unfortunate incident that led to the death of George Floyd. Unlike the riot and invasion of the Capitol Building, the Black Lives Matter protest was a positive one, which called for end to police brutality and racism. This we mirrored in the End SARS protest in Nigeria, where we called for end in Police Brutality in general and an end to corruption and bad governance.
The End SARS protest as you may know, started after officers of the SARS unit in Delta state shot and killed a young man, sparking protest in major cities such as Abuja, Lagos, Enugu, Port Harcourt and Jos, and indeed across the entire country. For the first time, Nigerian youths united across ethnic and tribal lines, political and religious divides to pursue a cause greater than them. The world watched young people gather in major parks, stadiums, and road junctions etc to hold vigils, sing, dance, perform poetry and entertain themselves while drawing the attention of government to their call for the disbandment of SARS and an end to brutality. The protest, especially the way it was organised and coordinated across the country, using social media mostly, were a surprise to our leaders. They were astonished that we could raise funds among ourselves to buy food and medical supplies. I like that you point out the involvement of white young people in the Black Lives Matter protest in the UK. I think this heralds a shift in thoughts and perception on humanity and this could be attributed to social media that makes inter-racial interaction more robust and pronounced today.
In Nigeria, It was surprising to see Christians and Muslims alike hold their prayers at protest grounds. The elites, especially young celebrities gave needed boosts to the protest. Artists like Phyno, Flavour, Davido led and performed at the protest grounds and Wizkid joined the protest in London. Songs like those of Fela Kuti, African China’s ‘Mr President’, Raz Kimono and Eedris Abdulkareem’s ‘Nigeria Jaga jaga’ reverberated from microphones across protest grounds. At Lekki Tollgate (which later became infamous for hosting the shooting of protesters by armed men believed to be of the Nigerian military), mounted speakers released songs from the aforementioned artists and others such as Tuface Idibia, Wizkid, Tiwa Savage, Burna Boy Teni, Davido and Naira Marley etc. The protesters were also spurred by a glowing list of celebrities like the footballer Ighalo, and the boxer Anthony Joshua, the filmmaker, John Boyega, Kanye West and Adekunle Gold, to mention just a few, who gave their support and solidarity.
Here in Abakaliki, we protested for over three days, blocking the roads that led to the Abakaliki Government House until the Governor came to address us and set up a panel of inquiry into police brutality in Ebonyi State. It’s a shame that just like the riot in the US, the Nigerian End SARS protest turned into a riot that led to looting of shops and warehouses, but in all, the government got the message clear – ‘that someday, the poor would have nothing to eat but the rich’.
I believe that just like the US will become stronger after the insurrection, a lot of things will change for the better following the End SARS protest, especially as most young people now know that it is possible to hold a robust protest in Nigeria. I think the government will now know to watch their actions going forward, knowing it is not going to be a difficult task getting the citizens to rise in a protest or a riot.
I hope you have a great day, Pete.
A British Council International Digital Collaboration Project @LitBritish #wahalaconvo
Featured image courtesy of Obinna Udenwe